WEEK 2: CANDLE OF LOVE
2021 Union Church Advent Devotional
Second Week of Advent
Sunday, December 5
The Incarnation & Love
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. 37 For nothing is impossible with God.”
Luke 1: 34-37
Read- Luke 1: 26-45
Most of us hate change. I’ve met some people who have claimed to “love” change. But when I’ve talked to them about it, what they really seemed to like is helping others change (often so that they wouldn’t have to). Change is hard. And being forced to change rubs most of us the wrong way.
When Gabriel came before Mary and told her that she would be the mother of the Messiah, Mary was a little perplexed. She knew how babies came to be. She knew what might happen to her in her hometown, if people found out that she had become an unwed mother. She also could guess how the world might change if the Messiah was finally truly coming. “How will this be” is a very legitimate question knowing all the upheaval in store for Mary.
Today is the second Sunday of Advent. The day we traditionally ponder how Christ brought God’s love to the world through the incarnation. As I’ve been thinking about love and how it relates to this story of Gabriel and Mary, I’ve found myself wondering if love is even possible without change. Think about it. Let’s say you fall in love with someone deeply. Who you’ve fallen in love with and the type of love we are talking about here doesn’t really matter. Maybe you’ve made a new friend who you care about deeply. Maybe a new child, or grandchild, or nephew has joined your family. Maybe you are thinking about a new boyfriend or girlfriend, husband or wife. Whoever it is, the only way they will ever know that you love them, is if you change.
If you continue to go about your days exactly as you have before, the person you esteem will never know you care. And if you continue to go about your days exactly as you have before, the question would need to be asked… do you really love this person? When we love someone we want to tell them, we want to show them, we want to be near them, we don’t want them to ever question how we feel. To love someone else REQUIRES us to change. The only way we could try to live our lives without change is to try and get by only loving ourselves.
Love is at the heart of the incarnation of Christ. God came into this world to tell us just how deeply he loves us and to show us just how far he would go to care for us. God wanted to be near us and he wanted us to never need to question how he feels about us. And the incarnation of Christ changes everything. Thanks be to God!
Advent Prayer/ Candle of Love
We invite you today and in the devotions this week to light 2 candles, including the Advent Candle of Love.
Gracious God, we thank you this day for the gift of Jesus, whose love for the world was so great that he was prepared to die for it. Lord, we thank you for your sacrificial mission, which we remember started here at Christmas. Hear us now Lord, as we offer up to you our own prayers. Hear us as we share with you the places where we need to experience your love and touch. Hear us as we pray for those we know whose hearts need to be filled with your abundant love.
In Christ’s name we pray. Amen
By Pastor James Holeman
SECOND WEEK OF ADVENT
December 6, 2021
He Comes Down from Heaven
"No one has gone up to heaven
except the One who came down from heaven,
the Son of Man who is in heaven..."
John's Gospel 3:13, Jerusalem Bible
The early news wends its way...
The first preaching of the preachers say,
"The kingdom of heaven is near!
Heaven's kingdom is here!"
What is it like?
What is it like—for the One who is in heaven—
(We could almost say the One who makes heaven—heaven!)
What is it like for him to come down from heaven?
And what is more like heaven when he comes down to us?
Is heaven there or here?
Where is heaven?
With the archangels and seraphim?
Or in the womb of Mary?
And then with his birth—
The stable where ox and ass and cattle feed?
Are the angels leaving heaven
To sing their song over the hills of Bethlehem?
Or do they feel as they draw near the place of the Nativity
That they are coming to heaven—
To that Holiest Place where he who was with God in the beginning
And is God—
Is become flesh and is dwelling among us?
Think of it!
He who is at the heart of the throne in heaven,
Angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim, powers and dominions
Worshiping and adoring him,
Hearing melodies and words that we can only dimly guess,
Songs so beautiful that our hearts would break for wonder
If we heard them,
A cataract of praise where he is able to discern
Every strand of song from every single singer—
Now plunges himself into utter silence
Until his nascent bit of embryonic humanity forms ears to hear
The flow of blood, the swish of fluid, the beating of his mother's heart.
Think of it!
The Word who speaks with the Father and the Holy Spirit
In the primeval counsels of eternity;
Who speaks creation into existence;
The angelic intelligences of the cosmos,
Imparts to them what little of his knowledge they can bear;
Who speaks and know all that God knows-
Now relinquishes all knowledge of himself or anything else,
Knows only the trauma of being born into a strange, cold world,
No longer knows who he is,
Knows only what every human being coming into the world knows,
And like us all, with his inarticulate cries
Expresses his distress, hunger, thirst and need
Because, like us all, it is all he can say
And like us all, it is the only way he can begin to breathe
The cold night air into which he is born.
Think of it!
He who as the Only-begotten God
Wields all power and rules with all authority,
Commanding principalities and galaxies,
Governing quarks and quasars, sparrows and rainbows,
Lets go of it all and comes down from heaven,
Losing everything, becomes weak and wanting,
A baby in his mother’s arms.
And yet, even though he lets heaven go
And comes down,
It seems that heaven would not be bereft of him
And so follows him to earth
And is here-
With a cloud of witnesses at his birth!
The Incarnation: Twenty Five Poems for Advent on the Word Made Flesh by Thomas Ryder Worth, pg 16
Chris Tomlin, "Christmas Day"
His Name is Wonderful
SECOND WEEK OF ADVENT
December 7, 2021
Anyone for Patience?
Love is patient.
1 Corinthians 13 v 4
Read 1 Corinthians 13
A colleague once told me about a very embarrassing experience. He had flown out of town for a speaking engagement. The flights were badly delayed and so he arrived at his hotel very late and exhausted. The young man at the reception desk asked for his name, looked for his reservation, and after a few minutes said, apologetically, “I’m sorry sir, but there’s no record of a reservation in your name”. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. More pointedly, it destroyed the theologian’s patience—he flew off the handle.
Eventually the young receptionist found him a room and asked my friend to sign the paperwork. He wrote his name, and then the address of the (well-known!) theological seminary where he taught. The young man looked on in amazement and gasped, awestruck: “You’re really Professor _________ ______ from ____________ Seminary? I just became a Christian a few months ago. What a privilege to meet you!”
It can happen to the best of us! Something makes us snap. Later, we protest in embarrassment, ‘I don’t know what came over me. I’m usually very patient!’.
But that’s not true. It is just that we have never really been tested. Only impatience-stimulating situations show whether we are patient or not! The Christmas season will present plenty of opportunities to test our patience: packed trains, traffic jams, crowded shops, orders we made on websites arriving too late—or without batteries—not to mention difficult relatives or over-excited children!
In the course of his teaching on love, Paul turns from negative to positive characteristics of love. It’s interesting—don’t you think?—that he begins with patience.
The English word “patience” can be used to translate several different words in the Greek New Testament. Paul’s verb here (makrothumeō) means “to be long-tempered”. He seems to have associated this with humility and gentleness (Ephesians 4 v 1-2; Colossians 3 v 12). It shows itself in the way Christians “bear with” one another.
The Bible contains some great examples. A quarter of the book of Genesis is devoted to describing how God developed patience in one man. The story begins with a naïve and impatient seventeen-year-old boy who then experiences fourteen years of suffering, injustice, and disappointments. As a result, he learns humble trust in God. But then it turns out that these long years of painful training have prepared him to exercise the kind of patience that will be needed to negotiate the following fourteen years as Prime Minister of Egypt. Now he has the wisdom to manage seven years of bumper harvests in order to cope with seven years of famine.
The young man’s name was, of course, Joseph, and his story is told in wonderful detail in Genesis 37 – 50. The end result? His brothers come to Egypt and eventually discover who he is. The whole family is reunited with him. But when their father dies, his brothers fear that his kindness has been only temporary, and that his apparent longsuffering has been simply a slow building up of a head of steam that will propel his revenge. They do not need to fear, because Joseph has in fact learned to be patient, gentle, and longsuffering. He has learned how to love.
What is the explanation? His brothers “meant evil” against him. But he knew that “‘God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today’ … Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them” (Genesis 50 v 20-21).
Joseph’s story is like a movie version of Romans 8 v 28: “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good”. God has ways and means of making everything work for good for his people. He has a purpose for their lives. When you know this, it builds longsuffering into you.
The secret to this kind of patience doesn’t lie in natural disposition. There’s a weakness to be found somewhere inside you, even if you haven’t yet discovered it. Some of us seem to be amazingly patient with big things but then we fly off the handle at the trivial ones. But love is always patient, always longsuffering. It can be patient in difficult situations because it knows God has a plan. It can be patient with difficult people because it knows they are God’s image (Genesis 1 v 26).
Love is not a commodity that comes down from heaven waiting to be unwrapped. No—it is actively exercising patience with other people and with the circumstances God has ordained. It is being able to take the long-term view, knowing that nothing can happen to us without the will of our heavenly Father. Love acts and reacts without tensing up in irritation because life isn’t fair, without blaming other people for what we are experiencing, and without planning how we’ll get even.
Have you ever wondered about these words in Charles Wesley’s Christmas hymn “Hark! The herald angels sing”?
Late in time behold him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Was Wesley complaining that Jesus was too late—that he might have (should have?) come earlier? That would be a misunderstanding of Wesley. He knew well enough that Jesus was born “when the fullness of time had come” (Galatians 4 v 4). But, as the phrase “late in time” indicates, it was after centuries of preparation.
What does that say about the Son of God, who became flesh? He was patient. He waited, as it were, until all was ready—when David’s royal line had reached perhaps its lowest point, in the home of a Nazareth carpenter and a teenage mother.
The child in the manger is the perfect example of divine patience. The rest of his life gave expression to it. How longsuffering he was. He experienced opposition, virtually from the moment he stepped into the world. Later he tasted misunderstanding in his own family, who didn’t trust him. And then those disciples—so often foolish, at the most critical juncture in his life, they disappointed him. “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me?” Jesus asked Philip (John 14 v 9). “Could you not watch one hour?” he asked Peter, James and John (Mark 14 v 37).
And then, on top of it all, there was betrayal by a man who had broken bread with him a matter of hours before—then an illegal trial, false witnesses, a judge with no moral fibre, a wrongful conviction. And then the spitting, the abuse, the humiliation, and the shame and agony of the cross.
If you want to know what patience is, what longsuffering looks like, all you need to do is to read through one of the Gospels. Yes, “love is patient.” Jesus was patient. And if the Lord of loving patience lives in you, your love will be patient too.
But there’s more. For if you think about it, the greatest illustration you know of his longsuffering is the way he has been so longsuffering towards you.
Who or what has tested your patience in the past few days? How did you respond? How do you imagine Christ would have responded if he were in your shoes?
Whate’er you, Lord, ordain is right:
Your holy will abides;
I will be still whate’er you do;
And follow where you guide;
You are my God; though dark my road,
You hold me that I shall not fall:
Wherefore to you I leave it all.
Whate’er you, Lord, ordain is right:
You never will deceive me;
You lead me by the proper path:
I know you will not leave me.
I take, content, what you have sent;
Your hand can turn my griefs away,
And patiently I wait your day.
Whate’er you, Lord, ordain is right:
Here shall my stand be taken;
Though sorrow, need, or death be mine,
Yet I am not forsaken.
My Father’s care is round me there;
You hold me that I shall not fall:
And so to you I leave it all.
Samuel Rodigast (1649-1708), altered.
Ferguson, Sinclair B. . Love Came Down at Christmas: Daily Readings for Advent (p. 36). The Good Book Company. Kindle Edition.
SECOND WEEK OF ADVENT
December 8, 2021
Had the whole world gone mad?
Or was it just his little corner?
Life under the Romans was hard, but he was a good carpenter
and he could earn his living well enough.
He was not like that Joseph of old,
who had dreamed of destiny and dominion.
What he wanted, what he dreamed of was a quiet life with Mary,
loving her and providing for the children they would have together.
She had seemed like a virtuous young woman,
lovely in her love for their God, her kindness to people,
and her poetic singing of the Psalms.
Yes, he could grow old by her side
as they would help each other through the years.
But now someone had gotten in ahead of him!
His dream of having a family with Mary was crushed.
And yet she was saying that she had never known a man;
she had kept herself pure: this was the work of God's Spirit.
But what should he do?
They both were of the house and lineage of David,
descendants who kept a secret fire burning; a hope in a small corner
that some family among all their kin would be the family of Messiah.
Their women knew that a woman descended from David
would be the mother of Messiah, the Savior of their people.
Had those of David's kin looked over their shoulder and wondered
how God would bring to pass his promise within their family?
But they had never dreamed he would come this way!
They had never dreamed he would be conceived out of wedlock!
They had dreamed…but they had never dreamed of this.
Joseph had dreamed of a family,
But he had never dreamed of this trouble, sorrow, and scandal.
Who knows what he was thinking?
The people of his day had heard lots of excuses
When girls got into trouble-but never this one!
Either she was confused or misguided or she sought to misguide…
Each possibility seemed worse than the last-
Or was she telling the truth?
But in any case, what then?
If there was another man, he should get out of the
'If she was crazy, he should get out of the way.
If she was trying to deceive, he should get out of the way.
And if it was God—for sure he should get out of the way!
All the possibilities seemed to point to one solution.
He did not want to bring any more trouble to Mary than she already had.
He would divorce her quietly,
And then he dreamed a dream...
The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said
“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because
what is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.
She will give birth to a son
And you are to give him the name of Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins."
All that had happened to Mary accorded with God's holiness!
He need have no fear for her character, or her sanity—or his own!
God was at work and he, Joseph, was in the middle of it,
exactly where God wanted him
It was almost as if God said to Joseph,
“You know that dream of yours,
of having a family with Mary and growing old with her?
It’s not such a bad dream; in fact, I like it!
The kind of home you are dreaming of
is just what I was wanting for my Son!
I am not asking you to give up your dream of a family,
but could you make room in it for my Son?
Would you let your sons and daughters be his brothers and sisters?
Would you let your wife be his mother?
And - would you be his father here on earth?
Could you make room for Jesus?”
The Incarnation: Twenty Five Poems for Advent on the Word Made Flesh by Thomas Ryder Worth, pg 21
SECOND WEEK OF ADVENT
December 9, 2021
Dirt and Tears
READ John 9:1-7
THE WORD INCARNATION COMES FROM THE LATIN carnis, or meat. It is an elegant way to remind us that humans are made, basically, from meat. We’re meat that thinks. It’s an outrageous idea when you see it that way, and some believers are repulsed by the idea that Jesus was one of us in this manner, made of meat. In fact Marcion, judged a heretic by the early church because he would not endorse the Incarnation, was said to have refused to accept the idea that the Lord almighty was born into a bag stuffed with excrement.
There are days when having a body seems like Marcion’s worst estimate, an unnecessarily gross burden we must bear. To imagine that Jesus also dealt with the body’s smells and the small humiliations—that he was a baby with a runny nose or a teenager with acne—seems bizarrely implausible. And yet, this must be true. The doctrine of the Incarnation demands that we affirm Jesus in the flesh, in a body, subject to all the conditions bodies experience.
The Gospel writers have spared us most of those details, for which I thank them. But I wonder if Jesus’ awareness of his incarnation is reflected in stories like the one in John 9, where he literally gets his body involved in his healing ministry, uses his own saliva to make a poultice of mud that restores sight. Jesus seems quite willing to wade into the earthy realms of spit and sweat; he doesn’t shy away from the power of touch, the gift of tears, and when he is asked about the connection between sin and disease, he says quite abruptly that there is none.
Jesus’ response may be related to shame, and his ability to see how shame attaches itself and burrows into the tender places of our stories and our being. Maybe he had a tender spot about his own birth story, the shame of being so poor he had to have an animal trough as his baby crib. Poor people live with a lot of shame, the constant reminders of lack and limitation and the judgment of others. And in his living closely with the poor, the sick, and the oppressed, Jesus surely saw how shame inflicted as much suffering as illness and how intertwined they could be.
At the beginning and the end of his ministry there are important stories about Jesus and water, and washing away our sins and shame. He lets John baptize him, and ever after we are baptized, cleansed. At John’s telling of the Last Supper, Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. In these washings, Jesus offers healing from the conditions that cause shame: sin and sickness, physical and spiritual disease, estrangement from God and from our own wholeness. Two of the churches that have significantly influenced my spiritual journey have traditions of Maundy Thursday foot-washing services. Each time I have participated in that ritual I have found it to be so moving and inspiring, but each time I have also struggled to allow myself to fully participate. There is an intimacy to displaying our poor, tired feet—the corns or calluses, or our silly baby toe—and allowing another person to show us such deep care and tenderness as he or she washes and dries our feet. Tears and hugs and deep glances of appreciation often accompany this incarnate moment of worship.
Jesus offers us redemption from shame, the chance to let his embrace of humanity wash away our deepest humiliations. Then we can embrace our life in all its messiness, even the parts our mothers taught us not to mention, and live from a sense of freedom, gratitude, and wholeness.
What memory from your past can elicit a sense of shame? Pray for God to release you from any lingering shame, and for the next few days, each time you wash your hands, repeat this paraphrase of Jesus’ words from John: “That God’s works might be revealed in me.”
Holy One, let all who struggle with illness find strength in you, and assurance that their suffering is not a punishment but may become an avenue for grace to be made real.
Tidwell, Melissa. Embodied Light: Advent Reflections on the Incarnation (pp. 43-45).
SECOND WEEK OF ADVENT
December 10, 2021
GOD CAME NEAR
For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given
And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
It all happened in a moment, a most remarkable moment. As moments go, that one appeared no different than any other. It came and it went. It was one of the countless moments that have marked time since eternity became measurable.
But in reality, that particular moment was like none other. For through that segment of time a spectacular thing occurred. God became a man. While the creatures of earth walked unaware, Divinity arrived. Heaven opened herself and placed her most precious one in a human womb.
The omnipotent, in one instant, made himself breakable. He who had been spirit became pierceable. He who was larger than the universe became an embryo. And he who sustains the world with a word chose to be dependent upon the nourishment of a young girl.
God as a fetus. Holiness sleeping in a womb. The Creator of life being created.
God was given eyebrows, elbows, two kidneys, and a spleen. He stretched against the walls and floated in the amniotic fluid of his mother,
God came near.
He came, not as a flash of light or as an unapproachable conqueror, but as one whose first cries were heard by a peasant girl and a sleepy. carpenter. The hands that first held him were unmanicured, calloused, and dirty.
No silk. No ivory No hype. No party. No hoopla.
Were it not for the shepherds, there would have been no reception. And were it not for a group of stargazers, there would have been no gifts.
Angels watched as Mary changed God's diaper. Children played in the street with him. He may have had pimples and been tone-deaf. Perhaps a girl down the street had a crush on him or vice versa. One thing's for sure: he was, while completely divine, completely human.
For thirty-three years he would feel everything you and I have ever felt. He felt weak. He grew weary. He was afraid of failure. He was susceptible to wooing women. He got colds, burped, and had body odor. His feelings got hurt. And his head ached.
To think of Jesus in such a light Seems almost irreverent, doesn't it? It's uncomfortable. It is much easier to keep the humanity out of the incarnation. There is something about keeping him divine that keeps him distant, packaged, predictable.
But don't do it. For heaven's sake, don't. Let him be as human as he intended to be. Let him into the mire and muck of our world. For only if we let him in can he pull us out.
It all happened in one moment . . . a most remarkable moment. The Word became flesh.
There will be another. The world will see another instantaneous transformation. You see, in becoming man, God made it possible for man to see God. When Jesus went home he left the back door open. As a result, "we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye" Corinthians 15:51-52 NIV.
The first moment of transformation went unnoticed by the world. But you can bet your sweet September that the second won't. The next time you use the phrase "just a moment," remember that's all the time it will take to change this world.
Dear Lord, it’s impossible for me to fathom what it meant for you to take on human flesh and live as a man. Nevertheless, I believe in you. Help me to hope for even more – that one great day soon I’ll see you and be changed forever! In Jesus’ name, amen.
God Came Near/Max Lucado (Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2003)
King and Country, "A Drummer Boy Christmas"
SECOND WEEK OF ADVENT
December 11, 2021