WEEK 4: CANDLE OF PEACE
2021 Union Church Advent Devotional
4th Sunday of Advent
December 19, 2021
THE INCARNATION & PEACE
Read- Matthew 2:1-12
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” Matthew 2: 7-8
Do you know the phrase “Stranger Danger?" From early on, my mom and dad taught me about the danger of strangers. I remember as a kid, being taught to cross the street, rather than walk right past a windowless van. It makes sense to teach our children (particularly when they are young and unable to appropriately defend themselves) to be careful around strangers. But I wonder if it is possible to over-teach this carefulness. Is there a danger in teaching our kids to grow up fearing strangers even after they become adults?
I say this, because I wonder how the story of Jesus coming to earth would have been different if Herod had not been afraid of the prophesied Messiah. When the Magi appeared before Herod talking about a coming king, what would have happened if Herod hadn’t been fearful of this stranger being born in Bethlehem?
Herod didn’t really have anything to be afraid of did he? Jesus wasn’t coming to take his job. The Son of God’s sights were much bigger. Israel wasn’t his focus; his eyes were on the Kingdom of God. Kicking Herod out of his palace was not on Jesus’ agenda; Jesus was busy fixing the rift between all of humanity and heaven.
So what would have happened if Herod hadn’t been afraid of Jesus? What would have happened if Herod hadn’t looked at Jesus as a stranger and potential interloper? What if Herod had meant what he said when he told the Magi to find the Messiah for him so that he could worship him too? What if Herod had left his palace, and actually joined the Magi on their hunt?
As long as we view others as strangers, we will never experience the peace of God. If we keep Christ a stranger, we will never be made right before God, we will never be forgiven, and we will never experience God’s eternal Kingdom. But in the similar way, as long as we continue to view others here on earth as strangers to be feared, we will continue to see turmoil and conflict, even in places there actually isn’t any. The Incarnation of Christ, is all about God dwelling among us, so that God would no longer be a stranger. As Christ’s hands and feet, let us strive to make sure that God continues to not a stranger to our neighbors.
Advent Prayer/ Candle of Peace
We invite you today and in the devotions this week to light 4 candles, including the Advent Candle of Peace.
Great God of All, we thank you this day for the gift of Jesus, who brings peace into turmoil and conflict. We thank you this day for the promise of peace found only in you. God, we offer up to you this day our prayers for peace, trusting that you will make your presence known in each and every situation.
In Christ’s name we pray. Amen
By Pastor James Holeman
December 20, 2021
LIGHT IN DARKNESS
The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 1:5 RSV
The Light which shines in the darkness is a kenotic kind of light.
He empties himself of all his power and brilliance
which would have consumed us in a flash.
He is truly the Light which the darkness cannot overshadow or comprehend
The darkness would have understood a power play,
a flash of unimaginable brightness: power overpowering power.
And the darkness, holding all humanity hostage, as it were,
would have triumphed in its own obliteration,
because we would have perished, too.
Instead this Light shines by his grace and his truth,
his beauty and his faithfulness,
his holiness and his love, his care and his compassion,
his pathos and humor in dealing with the human enigma.
Like a candle shining in a mine
to show us the way out, so he came, not as the sun to banish all shadows
and turn all to brilliant white,
but to show us the way, step by step,
out of our prisons, out of our darkness.
He is so small and subtle!
He is so insignificant in his coming that no one notices
the homeless couple making do with a cave or a stable,
their lodging for the night,
A place for Mary to give birth to her firstborn Son.
This Light, emptied of all his brilliance, crying in the night,
coming to live among us – and, as if he could not help himself –
shine nonetheless – shines in our hearts –
to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God
in the very human face of the little Lord Jesus,
nestled in his Mother’s arms, asleep on the hay.
The Incarnation: Twenty Five Poems for Advent on the Word Made Flesh by Thomas Ryder Worth, pg 68
December 21, 2021
THE PART IS NOT THE WHOLE
Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
1 Corinthians 13 v 12
Read 1 Corinthians 13:12
Have you ever spent a lot of money and a considerable amount of time preparing the perfect Christmas gift for someone… only for them to brush it aside? Sometimes our best efforts at expressing our love are rebuffed.
In the upper room, Simon Peter proved to be very resistant to the way Jesus expressed the fact that “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13 v 1). How could his Master rise from supper, take off his outer garments, wind the slave’s towel round his waist, pour water into a basin, and then, kneeling before each of his disciples, wash their dirty feet?
What a display of love! But it was not to Simon Peter’s taste and he protested. Jesus’ response is significant: “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterwards you will understand” (v 7). He was referring to the foot-washing. But his words also applied more broadly to Peter’s whole experience with Jesus. The Master knew what he was doing; Peter would only understand “afterwards.”
Jesus could have said the same to Abraham, or to Jacob, or to Moses, or to any of a multitude of other people whose life stories are told in Scripture. Jesus’ words are true of every believer who has ever lived. We get to understand fully only “afterwards.”
That was especially true for Joseph. Placed in a pit by his brothers, sold into slavery in Egypt, falsely accused by Captain Potiphar’s wife, unjustly imprisoned, forgotten by Pharaoh’s cupbearer—how often he must have asked, even if it were with growing submission, Lord, what are you doing? Do you still love me? I don’t understand you. Eventually he saw that the Lord was working in his own life: for 14 years teaching him patience in order to train him to exercise it for the next fourteen years. But Joseph also realized that God was working in the lives of his father and brothers to undo the consequences of their sin and jealousy. What was intended to harm him was, in the hands of the Lord, meant for good.
The same could be said of Naomi. Sadness upon sadness seemed to punctuate her life: emigration from the only land in which God had promised blessing; the death of her husband, Elimelech, and then of her two sons, Mahlon and Kilion.
Yet these events would lead to the conversion of her daughter-in-law Ruth (Ruth 1 v 16-17 is more than nice wording for a wedding service!). And that in turn led to Ruth’s marriage to Boaz, and the birth of their son, Obed.
But even Naomi knew “only in part”. She was never able to read the closing verses of the book of Ruth, where we learn what God had planned for afterwards. If Naomi had asked the question, Why has life been so bitter? it was not fully answered in Ruth’s marriage and child-bearing. No, the answer to that question is not to be found until the last word of the book, which records the final name in the Ruth-Boaz family tree: David (4 v 22).
Yes, God’s purpose was bigger and more far-sighted than the birth of Obed. He had the birth of King David in mind.
But that’s not all. The family tree in Ruth 4 v 18-22 reappears in Matthew 1 v 1-17, in the genealogy that begins Matthew’s Christmas account: “and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king … and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ” (v 5-6, 16). Here, then, is the ultimate answer to Naomi’s Lord, what are you doing in my life? God was getting things ready for Jesus!
Everything in the Bible points us to this. We can see the same pattern in the life of Joseph. He did not know all the “good” that God was intending when he was sold as a slave into Egypt. Did he understand enough to think that it might have something to do with God’s covenant with Abraham? Might Egypt be the land God had in view when he promised “your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But … they shall come out … And they shall come back here” (Genesis 15 v 13-16)?
But even if Joseph grasped that, he knew little of how God’s purposes would finally be fulfilled in the incarnation, when the ultimate seed of Abraham, Jesus Christ, would bruise the head of the serpent (12 v 3; 3 v 15; Galatians 3 v 16; Revelation 12 v 1-17).
What the Lord said to Peter he could have said to both Joseph and Naomi: “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterwards you will understand” (John 13 v 7). For Joseph, Naomi, and Peter there was an “afterwards.”
The same is true for us, as Paul says here: “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully” (1 Corinthians 13 v 12). Perhaps, as you look back at the end of another year, you find yourself asking, “Lord, what are you doing?” It might be that you can see glimpses of the good that he is doing—you know his purposes “in part”. But take comfort in the thought that one day, when you look back on your life from the vantage point of eternity, you will know fully. You will at last see the details of your life in the context of God’s grand narrative.
But Paul adds something that we may too easily ignore—something that gives Christians great comfort. At the moment we only partially understand the Lord and his ways. But here is our assurance and solace: he knows us fully and perfectly: “I have been fully known.”
If non-believers think about this seriously, it terrifies them. We can hide nothing from the Lord. Our hearts are like an open book before him (Hebrews 4 v 12-13). But what terrifies the unbeliever is a comfort to the believer. Everything about us is already known to our Lord. That is why so many Christians have loved the words of the Heidelberg Catechism:
Question 1: What is your only comfort in life and death?
Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yes, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.
How can we be so sure? Because the One who knows us is the One who loves us. He is the One whose hand was on Joseph’s life, whose love guarded Naomi through her darkest days, who stooped down to wash Simon Peter’s dirty feet. So we can wait patiently until “afterwards,” since we know we are loved by the One who knows everything about us, and who will love us “to the end” (John 13 v 1).
“Lord, what are you doing?” When have you asked that question in the past year? Why is it a comfort to know that you “have been fully known” by God?
Alone with none but thee, my God,
I journey on my way.
What need I fear when thou art near,
O King of night and day?
More safe am I within thy hand
Than if a host should round me stand.
My destined time is known to thee,
And death will keep his hour;
Did warriors strong around me throng,
They could not stay his power:
No walls of stone can man defend
When thou thy messenger dost send.
The child of God can fear no ill,
His chosen dread no foe;
We leave our fate with thee, and wait
Thy bidding when to go.
‘Tis not from chance our comfort springs
Thou art our trust, O King of kings.
Attributed to Columba (521-597)
Ferguson, Sinclair B. . Love Came Down at Christmas: Daily Readings for Advent (pp. 143-144).
Matt Maher, "Hope for Everyone"
December 22, 2021
LITTLE HANDS, LITTLE FEET
Clutching at the air,
Crying as little lungs.
Take in air for the first time.
Eyes wandering aimlessly,
Unable to focus.
God became like that once,
To help us
God with us;
The Incarnation: Twenty Five Poems for Advent on the Word Made Flesh by Thomas Ryder Worth, pg 70
December 23, 2021
READ John 15:12-17
WHEN SOMEONE ASKS JESUS WHAT THE GREAT commandment is, he offers this summary: we are to love God with all our being, all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:28-33). This Great Commandment sets forth an amazing statement of what embodied faith is to be and do. We can look to it again and again and still learn more. It seems the simplest and yet it is the hardest, mostly because it is not about doing certain things, following certain rules, minding prohibitions but about the condition of the heart, about love. It’s hard to will your way into love, to make love into a daily routine like an exercise regimen or a new diet. We experience love in relationship, not abstraction. And yet for many of us, God is an abstraction at best and at worst a feared tyrant who constantly threatens punishment and eternal torment for those who don’t get it right. If you weren’t raised with such an idea of God you are incredibly lucky. For those of us who were raised with such an idea, loving God—which begins with trusting God—can be a tough task.
But even if you don’t face the difficulty of fearing an angry God, there can also be the difficulty of God’s remote nature. No one has seen God or has the sound of God’s voice in her or his memory bank to draw on. The incarnation of Christ offers us a human life to give shape to God’s nature and illustrates in vivid pictures what we seek to know about God. Jesus performed miracles, and we can study them. Jesus told stories, and we can repeat them. Jesus had relationships, and we can emulate them for our lessons in love.
You can see Jesus’ love in his patient dealings with his disciples. I have sometimes wondered about Jesus’ choice of the disciples, who at times in the Gospels seem so obtuse, so clueless, that it is hard to see why he kept them around. The disciples had seen Jesus work miracles. Maybe at first they hoped he would work a miracle for them. Perhaps they thought that by association, he would make them wealthy or important. But as the days and months went by, what developed between the disciples and Jesus was something else, something close enough that Jesus tells them in their last meal together that he no longer sees them as his servants but as his friends.
We too might first approach our friendships from the desire to get something for ourselves that we need. Our friends balance us and mirror us; they help us try out ideas, imagine new hairstyles and professions, and shape the contours of our identity.
When we base our relationships on trust and not fear, when we give of ourselves without calculating what we will get in return, we are obeying Jesus’ commandment to love one another. And we go one step more: we are becoming friends of God.
Being a friend of God doesn’t mean we are now so chummy with the Lord that we can forget about awe and reverence or give up prayer and spiritual disciplines in favor of the occasional text message. It means that our obedience to the Great Commandment is now based on a new level of trust, intimacy, and maturity. It means that those things we once understood as rules or commandments are now part of our deepest will and our deepest joy.
How has friendship contributed to your development as a person? as a follower of Christ? What distance do you need to close before you can know God as a friend?
Loving God, thank you for the friendships that sustain us. Give us the strength to be perceptive and faithful, honest and kind, and to love others as you have loved us.
Tidwell, Melissa. Embodied Light: Advent Reflections on the Incarnation (pp. 71-73).
HOW LONG HIS LOVE LASTS
For God so loved the world that He gave His
Only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him
should not perish but have everlasting life.
If you've ever wondered if anything separates us from the love Christ has for us, God answered that question before we asked it. So we'd see his answer, he lit the sky with a star. So we'd hear it, he filled the night with a choir; and so we'd believe it, he did what no man had ever dreamed. He became flesh and dwelt among us.
He placed his hand on the shoulder of humanity and said, "You're something special."
Untethered by time, God sees us all. From the backwoods of Virginia to the business district of London, from the Vikings to the astronauts, from the cave dwellers to the kings, from the hut builders to the finger pointers to the rock stackers, he sees us. Vagabonds and ragamuffins all, he saw us before we were born.
And he loves what he sees. Flooded by emotion. Overcome by pride, the Starmaker turns to us, one by one, and says, "You are my child. I love you dearly. I'm aware that someday you'll turn from me and walk away. But I want you to know, I've already provided a way back."
And to prove it, he did something extraordinary.
Stepping from the throne, he removed his robe of light and wrapped himself in skin: pigmented, human skin. The light of the universe entered a dark, wet womb. He whom angels worship nestled himself in the placenta of a peasant, was birthed into the cold night, and then slept on cows' hay.
Mary didn't know whether to give him milk or give him praise, but she gave him both since he was, as near as she could figure, hungry and holy.
Joseph didn't know whether to call him Junior or Father. But in the end he called him Jesus, since that is what the angel had said and since he didn't have the faintest idea what to name a God he could cradle in his arms.
Don't you think their heads tilted and their minds wondered, God, what are you doing in the world?
"Can anything make me stop loving you?" God asks. "Watch me speak your language, sleep in your earth, and feel your hurts. Behold the Maker of sight and sound as he sneezes, coughs, and blows his nose. You wonder if I understand how you feel? Look into the dancing eyes of the kid in Nazareth; that's God walking to school. Ponder the toddler at Mary's table; that's God spilling his milk.
"You wonder how long my love will last? Find your answer on a splintered cross, on a craggy hill. That's me you see up there, your Maker, your God, nail-stabbed and bleeding. Covered with spit and sin-soaked.
"That's your sin I'm feeling. That's your death I'm dying. That's your resurrection I'm living. That's how much I love you."
Gracious Lord, it's beyond my comprehension that nothing can separate me from your love or that you love what you see when you see me. That you, my Maker and God, would die for me is a wonder. Thank you for opening the way back to you forever.
In Jesus name, amen.
Max Lucado/In the Grip of Grace (Nashville: Word 1996): chapter 17