The First Sunday of Advent: November 28

Jeremiah 33:14-16
Devotion by Catherine Karas
Art by Remy Karas, age 4

The season of Advent is a season of waiting. It is a season of assurances to come. It is a season of hope.

If there is one thing our current culture isn’t particularly good at, it’s waiting. We are the generation of instant gratification. Information is at our fingertips. Fast food chains can be found up and down our streets. We want what we want…and we want it now.

Being a person of faith in our current world is tough because God makes it clear that so much of faith is about waiting. Some of my most fervent prayers were the things I waited the longest and prayed the most fervently for- a baby I longed to carry or a family rift I yearned to heal.

Sometimes it can be hard to find hope when circumstances look bleak. The story of Jeremiah serves as a reminder to us of what assurances look like in the midst of chaos.

In the time of Jeremiah, Assyria was in constant turmoil, and eventually it would fall to its enemies just as he had prophesied. Jerusalem was destroyed. Its people were exiled, and Jeremiah was imprisoned. Things were about as bad as they could get.

But, in the midst of bleakness, Jeremiah offered hope. He reminded the people that the Lord would fulfill His promise to them, and that out of this ruin, He would deliver justice and righteousness to them. They would just have to wait and have hope.

Jeremiah’s faith never wavered even when he was waiting surrounded by destruction and chaos.

Dear God, During this season of advent, give us a heart prepared to wait.
Remind us that in the chaos of our world, you are our hope.

The Second Sunday of Advent: December 5

Malachi 3:1-4
Devotion by Emily & Andrew Tatum
Art by Neve Christiansen, age 7

This holiday season, we are spending Thanksgiving with Andrew’s family in Athens, Georgia and Christmas with Emily’s family in Nashville, Tennessee. As we prepare to see our families for the holidays, preparations ahead of this Christmas seem higher stakes than previous years. While we plan more elaborate meals, fancier wrapped gifts, and a little more Christmas lights in the yard, on the inside we are preparing our hearts and minds to focus on the simple Christmas traditions with loved ones. With the development of the vaccine and decrease in cases, this holiday season is jam packed with any excuse to get family and friends together, making up for the time spent at least six-feet apart. As we reflect on how much the pandemic has changed us and our lives, we remember yearning, praying for a time that we could visit family members, attend church, and be with loved ones without a serious concern for one another’s health.

In the book of Malachi, the Israelites have returned to Jerusalem following a 70-year exile, reclaimed their land, and rebuilt their temple. As their once fervent faithfulness begins to wane, the prophecy of Malachi is sent to remind the Israelites where their praise and thanksgiving should be directed. Malachi 3:1-4 speaks of the coming Lord and what that day means for the followers that fear Him. It will be a day of purification for the faithful who will in turn bring “offerings in righteousness to the Lord”. As we enter the Advent season, Malachi 3: 1-4 is our reminder to prepare our hearts and offerings to the Lord rather than focusing on our return to normalcy—or newfound normal. As busy as the coming days may seem, remember that offerings of gratitude and love are the ones that God is excited to receive. May we embody these gifts as we gather to celebrate the birth of Jesus this Christmas.

Dear Lord, we give thanks for the opportunity to gather together in celebration of your Son, our Savior. Please grant us the serenity to offer the gift of love granted through you to our neighbors, family and friends this Christmas season. Amen.

The Third Sunday of Advent: December 12

Zephaniah 3:14-20
Devotion by Julie Nice
Art by Katie Brendler

"Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion…Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!"

Zephaniah, I hear you: your voice bellows across the centuries! Advent is the time to ramp up the singing.

But it’s different right now. For the second Christmas in a row, I am not singing beloved carols and glorious anthems while comfortably nestled among the second sopranos of the Chancel Choir. And the holidays ahead seem rather thin and less colorful without some of the usual seasonal events offered at our church in a normal year. This is something I am painfully aware of as a member of the Congregational Life Committee–yes, we are “the party people” and we aren’t getting to do all our favorite activities this year.

Yet Advent is about waiting, isn’t it?

The full choir is not able to sing together right now, but I have a new and somewhat startling appreciation of what a joyfilled experience it is to sing heartfelt, inspiring hymns surrounded by the congregation of our church. If I wait impatiently for this pandemic to be over so we can go back to normal, I may miss some new insight into a richer future for our church and for myself. Now is the time to be open to new possibilities.

Zephaniah, yes, the Lord has already removed the disaster from me. He has brought me home and gathered us all together. There’s no need to wait. Rejoice and sing!

The Fourth Sunday of Advent: December 19

Micah 5:2-5a
Devotion by Sarah Chancellor-Watson
Art by Leon Hinson

The words of the prophet Micah come to us in a time where war with the Assyrians is imminent and the people are increasingly hopeless when faced with the odds of surviving a siege from such a powerful nation. Micah’s prophecy stands as one of strength and hope as it invokes imagery of Israel’s great king David. As a boy he was anointed by God to be Israel’s king, although he was the youngest, smallest, and least likely to be chosen out of his father Jesse’s sons. Later David, still young and small, will defeat another mighty foe from Israel’s history – Goliath and the Philistine army. His skills honed as a shepherd boy defending his flock, along with God’s power, prove to be more than enough to topple the towering giant.

In the season of advent these words also remind us that God’s power and strength are found in the most unlikely places, and in the most unlikely people. God’s rule and reign is more like a shepherd caring for their flock, and less like a general amassing an attack. The peace of God’s kingdom will not come from the usual places and people of power, it will come from the margins and will begin in the ordinary everyday lives of those whose lives reflect the teachings and example of the Prince of Peace – Jesus Christ.

When was a time where you received an unexpected blessing from an unlikely source?
What would it mean for you (for us) to live out God’s peace in our everyday lives?
What is one small thing you can do this week to share the peace of Christ with your neighbors?

Prayer: Holy and Mighty God, you show up for us in the most unexpected ways to share your peace. Come to us again in this season of advent to reveal to us your visions of shalom and bring your comfort and peace in all the hurting places in our hearts and in our world. Amen.

Christmas Eve

Isaiah 9:2-7
Devotion by Chris Currie
Art by Caitlin Wallace-Rowland

"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who have lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined"

I don’t know about you, but I have a rolling collection of my favorite hymns that I carry with me and that flight about my head or become ear-worms from time to time. There are about 15-25 of them lodged there that in any given moment I claim is my favorite. Right now one of those hymns is 377 in Glory to God, ‘I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light.’ The final verse goes like this: I’m looking for the coming of Christ. I want to be with Jesus. When we have run with patience the race, we shall know the joy of Jesus. In him there is no darkness at all. The night and the day are both alike. The Lamb is the light of the city of God. Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus.

By this point in Advent, we are ready for a break. Christmas trappings have been frontloaded since early November, and we running out of patience to run the race. The darkness of the days, the darkness of our world, the darkness of our attempts to have Christmas on our own terms all conspire to snuff out the small frail light that promises to overtake every corner of our world. Perhaps worse than giving way to our culture’s coopting of Advent and Christmas, are our misguided attempts to ‘keep Christ’ in Christmas which usually leads to heated if trivial debates about whether it is appropriate to have a nativity scene in a shopping mall. These words from Isaiah though, remind us that all our efforts to ‘keep Christ’ in Christmas or all our handwringing and despair about the darkness are wastes of our time. The Light shines in the darkness. God becomes something feeble, frail, and of little value and worth by our conventional measurements, and God transforms our world and us through this person’s life and ministry. He takes all the darkness that is in us and in our world and it just makes him shine even brighter. As you welcome the Christ child in these days, I hope that this is your best Christmas ever, not because all your wishes were granted or you even got the right holiday feels, but because you caught a glimpse of the light of Christ and the brightness of God broke through in a way that propels you deeper into the life of faith and service of Christ’s kingdom.

In him there is no darkness at all. The night and the day are both alike. The Lamb is the light of the city of God. Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus. So therefore, be of good cheer and may the light that shines in the darkness not just be visible to you, but may it coopt you and be reflected by you in these days.