The First Sunday of Advent: November 27

Matthew 1:1-6a
Devotional by Chris Currie
Art: "Live Oaks" by Auseklis Ozols

"An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David."

Wait, what? It all starts off pretty respectable and proper in relation to tradition. Matthew lays it out clearly: this is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham. He hits all the right notes, and our eyes glaze over until we pass over Tamar. What, Tamar, wasn’t she a the daughter-in-law of Judah (Jacob’s fourth son), who had an inappropriate encounter with her and which led to two sons, Perez and Zerah? What self-respecting Messiah would want all this dysfunctional family history in his family tree? It gets more sordid. Jesus is also in the lineage of Ruth and Boaz, and as you may recall, Ruth was a Moabite woman grafted in through her steadfast love and faithfulness to her mother-in-law Naomi. The ways of God seem to work through sordid and even suspect people. And that does not stop with Jesus’ family tree, but continues through the very people with whom Jesus sits at table and calls to discipleship.

Prayer: O Lord our God, thank you for coming to us through people we might otherwise write-off. Through Jesus Christ and his family tree, might we find our place, and hear your call. Amen.

Monday, November 28

Genesis 8:1-19; Psalm 124; Romans 6:1-11
Devotional by Harriet Riley

But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals...The waters continued to recede..." Genesis 8:1,5
"We have escaped like a bird from the fowler’s snare; the snare has been broken, and we have escaped. Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth." - Psalm 124:7-8
"In the same way, you also should consider yourselves dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus." - Romans 6:11

Advent is a season of longing. We long for Christ’s birth. We long for Christ’s entering a world which seems so dark. We long for a world made new.
Sometimes that longing defines our own personal Advent season. We don’t always inwardly reflect the bright and cheery world we see around us. We feel dark. We long for the world to change. We long for our differences with loved ones and neighbors to cease. We long for our physical suffering to end. We long for our malaise to end.
Our scriptures today remind us of our hope in Christ. Genesis 8:1-19 tells the story of Noah finding the long days of rain and despair ending as the dove comes back to his ark with an olive leaf. This symbol of hope reminds us that our own flood waters - whatever they are - will recede. Psalms 124 tells us that with God on our side we can escape the darkness of the world like a bird from a hunter’s trap. The Romans 6 passage gives us the promise of new life in Christ.

During my darkness times, I often use a practice my friend Karen calls One Good Thing. Even if I had a terrible day filled with dark thoughts, I can think of one good thing, that may only be that my boiled egg at breakfast was perfectly cooked. Try thinking of one good thing your day - one person’s kindness, one beautiful sight in nature, one small blessing of your day. That one good thing will help you to see God when you least expect it.
Madeleine L’Engle reflected that God did not wait until “the world was ready, til men and nations were at peace” to send Jesus. God sent his Son when we least expected it. Christ will come for you too.

Wednesday, November 30

Matthew 24:23-35
Devotional by April Weiser
Art: "Angel" by Ann-Kempter Wheeler (age 5)

As a college freshman, I had an assignment to draw something specific in the French Quarter. While sketching on a bench in Jackson Square, a homeless man sat down next to me. We began a pleasant conversation that lasted for nearly an hour while sharing some snacks I had. Eventually, it was time for me to leave. The man thanked me for spending time with him, saying he couldn’t remember the last time he enjoyed a young woman’s company. I had enjoyed our conversation and his words made me a bit sad to think about the loneliness that must also be a part of the life of the homeless. For a long time afterwards, whenever I had something to eat with me, I would share it with those I passed by who could use something nourishing. As witnesses to this habit, my daughters began noticing people who needed help leading to many conversations about gratitude and generosity. I am grateful to see that they have continued to grow into compassionate young women. Over the years, however, the number of people holding signs at so many intersections has significantly increased. The overwhelming frequency of these sights today, and those who mislead passersby with claims such as a never-ending pregnancy, risk us developing a more jaded view of humanity where it can be easier to just avert our eyes. I wonder if the Messiah were to return at this time, would anyone even recognize him, or is our society so full of skepticism in our modern hectic world that is inflicted with many who would deceive?

Prayer: Dear Creator of All, as Christians, we are called to keep our eyes and hearts open to the possibility of encountering you in whomever we meet, just as Christ frequently engaged the humblest of society, so may we remember to do so too. Amen.

Friday, December 2

Acts 13:16-25
Devotional by Miriam Hollar
Art by Caroline Wheeler (age 8)

In this passage from Acts, Luke captures one of Paul’s sermons in a synagogue -- to both Jews and Gentiles. Paul gives a history of God’s redemptive action from the days of the Israelites in Egypt through John the Baptist pointing to Jesus as the promised Savior. Paul’s words tie generation to generation showing God’s continual response to the changing needs of those God loves. Abundant mercy and compassion are echoed in every historical turn until Paul arrives at Jesus as seen by John the Baptist who is “not worthy to untie the strap of his sandals.”
What hope is passed to us by this recounting of 1,500 years of God’s saving love and perseverance. We are reminded that God gives continually to us – whether we deserve it or not. God is never stopped by human rejection or forgetting.Advent gives us opportunity to review and remember God’s patience and love which is so encompassing that God sent Jesus, his only son, in human form to teach us more fully of that love.
As we prepare to welcome the baby Jesus on Christmas, give some thought to your own family history. Where have you do see God’s redemptive action in the stories from your own family? Who has led the way for your deepening love of God? Take some time to draw a timeline of those events and people so you can see the active creating by God in your own life – and then give thanks to God.

Prayer: Loving and merciful God, thank you for our history. Through the stories and grace of so many teachers and leaders, help us to open our hearts to you and to discern the ways you call to us to teach and lead others. In this Advent season, support us to make time to hear and understand the creation around us and respond in love. In Jesus’ name we pray, AMEN.

The Second Sunday of Advent: December 4

Matthew 1:6b-17
Devotional by Chris Currie
Art: "Native Passion Flower, Butterfly, Vase and Moth" by Saskia Ozols

Jesus’ genealogy also runs directly through Israel’s history, including King David and King Solomon, and also mentions that Solomon was the son of the ‘wife of Uriah,’ also known as Bathsheeba. A child born in controversial and unstable circumstances becomes the King of Israel. A foretaste of what is to come in Christ. Jesus’ lineage makes its way through the biggest threat to Israel’s existence, the captivity to Babylon, but the family tree finds a way to persevere in the face of destruction and make a way where there is no way, eventually through Joseph, bringing into the world Jesus, the Messiah. Matthew is clear that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Davidic monarchy (king), the Abrahamic covenant (promising a people, a land, and a blessing to the nations), and Matthew does not mention it here, but Jesus’ also fulfills the Mosaic covenant (law and prophets), reminding those gathered before him in the sermon on the mount, ‘I have not come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill’ (Matthew 5:17). Jesus’ family tree both connects him to all the strands of Israel’s life and also connects him to people that could easily be airbrushed out or papered over…Rahab the prostitute, Ruth the Moabite, the child of Uriah’s wife. There is a clear message here: God’s grace and mercy shine through all kinds of human brokenness and incorporate people we might just as soon write out of the story. This Messiah has the power to include them and help us to see that they too have a role to play in his story and gifts to be put to use in service to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Let us pray: God thank you for using all sorts of human beings at your disposal to further your work in this world. Receive our own brokenness and tattered fragments of our lives, and help us to see and act on our own God-given calling; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Monday, December 5

Psalm 21:1-7
Devotional by Lou Hoffman
Art: "Poinsettia" by Nancy Rix

In Thy strength the king rejoices, O Lord; and in Thy help how greatly he exults! Thou hast given him his heart’s desire, and hast not withheld the request of his lips. For Thou dost meet him with goodly blessings; Thou dost set a crown of fine gold upon his head. He asked life of Thee; Thou gavest it to him, length of days for ever and ever. His glory is great through Thy help; splendor and majesty Thou dost bestow upon him. Yea, Thou dost make him most Blessed for ever; Thou dost make him glad with the Joy of Thy presence. For the king trusts in the Lord; and through the steadfast love of The Most High he shall not be moved.

King David rejoices — there is a feeling of good things to come, manifested generations later when Mary gives birth to Jesus Christ, and the kingly line of David continues.
Christmas pageants reenact this story year after year, and the one I remember most vividly took place when I was in the seventh grade at Ravenscroft School in North Carolina. My best friend and I are waiting to find out who will be chosen Mary, each hoping for the role. Our little drama — our secret wish — and the actual drama of the pageant will be played out in a small Episcopal chapel, St. Saviour’s in Raleigh. We are not chosen. It is Dorothy (gift of God), shy, petite Dorothy, who wears the blue shawl and sits by the wooden manger. She is perfect. The pageant with shepherds and kings and angels unfolds, and, disappointment aside, we have a feeling of good things to come.

Dear Lord, as we celebrate the Christ Child, help us to remember the Christmas message of hope and joy throughout the year.

Wednesday, December 7

Genesis 15:1-18
Devotional by Michele Murphy
Art: "From the Center" by Candy Cranch, M.E., NBCT

I don’t consider myself a patient person. I’m too easily excited, especially when I am really looking forward to something like my husband and I traveling with our daughter who lives abroad, going with my sons to an LSU game, or attending my nephew’s wedding with my siblings and spouses. That is why the Bible story of God telling Abraham his descendants would outnumber the stars has always been difficult for me. Abraham obeyed God, even though it meant wandering for many years, but his reward was very slow coming. The most important blessing he and Sarah wanted was children. I wonder how Abraham felt knowing that he would father a great family but may not be around to watch his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren grow and succeed. I don’t think I would have that much patience. God gives rewards according to his timeline – which is usually slower than ours.
The preacher Fred Craddock gave this analogy. “We think giving our all to the Lord is like taking a $1,000 bill and laying it on the table—‘Here’s my life, Lord. I’m giving it all.’ But the reality for most of us is that God sends us to the bank and has us cash in the $1,000 for quarters. We go through life putting out 25 cents here and 50 cents there. Listen to the neighbor kid’s troubles. Go to a committee meeting. Give a cup of water to a shaky old man in a nursing home. Usually giving our life to Christ isn’t glorious. It’s done in all those little acts of love, 25 cents at a time. It would be easy to go out in a flash of glory; it’s harder to live the Christian life little by little over the long haul.”

God had called Abraham to be faithful in small things – not large. Maybe that is what we are called to do too. Be faithful in the little things like attending worship or serving on a committee, help with a potluck meal or teaching children about Jesus. During this advent season, let us all try to do this faithfully and to the glory of God.

Friday, December 9

Ruth 4:13-17
Devotional by Emily & Andrew Tatum

Reaching for God in Moments of Vulnerability - Ruth 4:13-17

In our most vulnerable moments, we find protection through faithfulness to God, family, and friends. In the Book of Ruth, Naomi loses her husband and two sons, leaving her a vulnerable member of society. In this time of tragedy, Naomi finds hope through her daughter-in-law Ruth, who leaves her home and people to care for Naomi. Ruth 4:13-17 is the happy ending to this story where Boaz, recognizing Ruth’s kindness and faithfulness to Naomi, marries Ruth and they have a son, Obed, grandfather of King David. Throughout this story, both Ruth and Naomi lean on their faith to shepherd them through their vulnerability and in the end, they are blessed with continued generations of their family.
We recently welcomed our son, Charles Edward Tatum, beginning the next generation of our family. October 26th started as any other day, we both got up that morning and started our morning routines, but the day turned when it became evident that it was time to go to the hospital. Shortly after arriving, the doctor confirmed Charles would be delivered that day. After brief excitement, we then looked at each other and started to question: ‘Can we do this by ourselves? Are we ready at home?’ At that moment, we had never felt more vulnerable. We turned to God in prayer to ask for strength to navigate us through the day. Twelve hours later, we welcomed Charles into our family! We look forward to Charles joining his church family at SCAPC where he will learn to lean on God as he navigates the vulnerable moments throughout his life.

We turn to God in Prayer: Dear God, give us the strength to trust in you, especially during our times of vulnerability. As we celebrate Christmas, let the birth of Jesus remind us of how you carry us through our most vulnerable moments. Allow us to recognize your love and faithfulness through our families, friends, and church community. Amen.

The Third Sunday of Advent: December 11

Matthew 3:1-6
Devotional by Chris Currie
Art: "John the Baptist" by Leon Hinson

I am guessing John the Baptist greets us at Advent to remind us that there were numerous messianic expectations swirling around Israel around the arrival of Jesus. Many of them tended to climax in the form of an armed insurrection and rebellion against the imperial occupation of Rome. If a Messiah did not come to liberate Israel from Roman rule, what was a Messiah good for? Here we meet John out in the wilderness calling Israel out to the wilderness and proclaiming ‘repentance,’ ‘for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ We think repentance means an introspective audit and request for forgiveness for the ways we fall short, but repentance has more structural and broader meaning as well. It means to change direction, to go against the grain, to turn around, to follow a different way of life than the one we thought was the way to fulfillment and the kingdom of God. John is preparing us that the way toward that kingdom will come less in the form of armed revolt and answering all the religious questions correctly, and more in the form of a way of life, loving our neighbors, sharing what we have, being generous with our resources, and sitting at table with whomever God drags in the door. John the Baptist also reminds us that there is something a bit wild and eccentric about the life of faith. It is an unconventional way of life even if we try to domesticate it with eggnog, evergreens, and elves.

Prayer: O Lord our God, help us to acknowledge and accept the wildness and eccentricity of the life of faith even if it makes us feel a bit out of step at times. Help us to know that people like John the Baptist prepare us for you even when they come cloaked in garb we would not choose for ourselves. Give us eyes to see and hears to hear; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Monday, December 12

Isaiah 29:17-24
Devotional by Gillian Egan

I was heavily pregnant in the 2013 Advent season, twinned with the Biblical Mary as we plodded those final weeks of pregnancy together. Separated by the history of two thousand years and seven thousand miles; bound by the communal and corporeal experience of the pains and indignities of late-term gestation. Mary did you know that your baby boy . . . was going to give you swollen feet?
I know that veneration of Mary is a more Catholic than Presbyterian tradition, but it is through her that I connect most easily to the Holy Trinity. We are mothers, Mary and I. We have shared the privilege and burdens of that role. We have gnashed our teeth on the childbirth bed, wiped the muck out of a newborn baby’s eyes while our body expels the remains of pregnancy, sat in squalor and smiled at the confused and furious infant in our arms, time for just a few heartbeats of rest to study his face before turning immediately to the work of caring for him.
Despite what you’ve heard in the (benign) propaganda of decades of Christmas Pageants, Mary almost certainly did not birth the baby Jesus in a barn in December. His real birthdate is unknowable, and he was likely born in a house full of extended family. (Frankly, I’d have preferred a barn.) Regardless, he was born of a human mother sometime, somewhere. In the weeks before he was born, his mother anticipated his arrival. Ad-vent – “coming toward.” Holding the joy and fear in duality as the end of the pregnancy barrels down at you – scared of the pain of labor, excited to meet the baby, uncertain about the work of child-raising that comes after. These are parts of the Christmas story that resonate most, the old visceral memories of my own babies’ births opening a window into the story of Christ’s birth.

The passage from Isaiah mimics the longing of a pregnant mother awaiting her due date. What strikes me is not just the longing, but also the knowing – a certainty that the deaf will hear, the blind will see, the ruthless will vanish. The baby will be born, this pregnancy will end. If we only have the patience to wait “a short time,” then all shall be well. The old, immoral order will be turned on its head – iniquity will be punished rather than rewarded, the poor will rejoice and the those that scorn and mock will be punished.
It will come, in a burst of pain and joy. And after is when the work will begin.

Wednesday, December 14

Matthew 8:14-17, 28-34
Devotional by Julie Nice

“Fear change? Leave it right here!” So reads a sign on a tip jar that I’ve seen in more than one New Orleans coffeehouse.
Imagine being one of those townspeople, frightened by men possessed by demons but even more terrified by the person who had an incredible power to get rid of those demons. Could you see yourself wishing he would leave town?
More than one pastor in my experience has said from the pulpit that if we always feel comfortable at church, something is going wrong.
Jesus’s example is clear and very challenging. His life story demonstrates how unjust human society can be, often with our compliance or neglect. Could it be because we are afraid to change, even if it might make the world a better place?
Then there’s Christmas. Everyone loves Christmas! A new baby is born who will change the world for the better. But that means he will change us. Are you ready for this?
Luckily, we have four weeks of Advent to prepare us for the birth of Jesus and the annual, celebration-filled reminder to keep love at the center of our lives. Hope gives us the courage to take that deep Advent breath and sing together– in loud, joyful, ringing voices– “Come, Jesus, come!”

Prayer: O come, Desire of nations, bind all peoples in one heart and mind.
Bid envy, strife, and discord cease; fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel. Amen.

Friday, December 16

2 Samuel 7:18-22
Devotional by Libbie Reiss
Art: "Rebirth" by Candy Cranch, M.Ed., NBCT

David could not understand why God would promise wonderful things to him like a house made of cedar (when God’s own dwelling is a tent) and a continuation of David’s ancestral line when David has done such terrible things in his lifetime as his murderous background exhibited. But God does promise to love David and care for him despite his many sins, and God does.
God has promised us, all of humanity, that he will love us and care for us despite our many sins and lack of faith, and that He will do what He has promised.
As a child, I was told this by my parents, grandparents, Sunday School teachers, ministers and Bible readings I would explore as I grew into adulthood. I, as ‘David did, found it hard to believe. As I began to think for myself as an adolescent, teenager, and young adult the thought that anyone or anything who really knew me could love me and want to care for me was beyond my comprehension. Thankfully, I continued to hear this from those important people in my life whom I loved and respected until I finally heard it myself from God, just as David did.
In this forthcoming Season of Hope, let us try to assure those who might still be doubting, that though we cannot know our exact paths, we can be certain that nothing we do will stop God from loving us as he promised David long ago. Perhaps we can even inspire our children, grandchildren, students, and young friends until they hear this from God Himself.

The Fourth Sunday of Advent: December 18

Matthew 1:19-25
Devotional by Chris Currie
Art by Christina Carlisle

One of my favorite medieval thinkers was Duns Scotus. He was a Franciscan monk who grew up in rural Scotland near Berwick and was educated at Oxford University and taught theology at the University of Paris. One of the things he is known for saying is that ‘even if we had not sinned, God would have come for us.’ As the angel reminds Joseph, God desires to be God with us and refuses to ever live as a God who could be humanity-less. The fulfillment or ultimate expression of God’s refusal to be God without us is the coming of Jesus Christ, the human form of God’s steadfast love and refusal to turn his back on us. God’s intention from the very beginning has been an exalted humanity, creatures that flourish, and lives that reflect God’s grace and glory. Jesus Christ is ultimate answer to evil that prefers to prey on and demean humanity, Jesus Christ is the steadfast presence of God that brings meaning to our lives and enables us to flourish in all that we do, and Jesus Christ is the grace that finds a way to shine through a community of earthen vessels. Immanuel means more that static presence, but it is the presence of God that shows up in our lives when we question if we matter, Immanuel is the presence of God that helps us make meaningful contributions to the life of the world, Immanuel means the presence of God helping us use our God-given gifts to love our neighbors and impact this world for Christ’s sake. Immanuel means that Jesus Christ is no static presence and it means that at our best we are no static presence either, but we are liberated to respond to such good news by living active lives of gratitude, flourishing, and involvement in the lives of our neighbors, wherever they may be.

Prayer: O Lord our God, exalt us again this Christmas, we pray. Not for our own self-fulfillment and Christmas feels, but so that we may do something to enable someone else to flourish, to experience joy, and to share in our gratitude for your love for us all in Jesus Christ our Lord, Immanuel. Amen.

Monday, December 19

Genesis 17:15-22
Devotional by Kathy Randall
Art: "Waiting Through Winter" by Saskia Ozols

God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. 16 I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” Gen 17: 15-16

The name SARAH is beloved in Randall genealogy. Beginning with Lee’s maternal grandmother known by the derivative of Sarah as Sallie, the name has followed into the fifth generation. Lee’s Mom, Sara Dement was dearly loved and her name has found its way into many hearts. Spelled without the “H”, this matriarch was a woman ahead of her time. Her spices were in alphabetical order. Even her mail-order catalogues could be accessed with ABC ease. Small in stature, but tall in impact her principles can be observed through her family. A keen mind, she had the gift of kindness, while instilling in her children a sense of discriminating fairness. Honor was her ideal much like the Sarai of this scripture. God deemed Abraham’s wife as the future mother of nations. Sara Dement Randall made her mark through her lineage. Sara’s sister named her first daughter Sara Duvall. These two Saras knew a bond that could not be broken. Sara Dement Randall’s oldest and youngest sons named their own daughters Sara after their mother too – i.e., Sara Whelan and Sara Catharine. When asked professionally what the meaning of the word QUALITY meant to him, Lee replied “a job your mother would be proud of”. How is it that we see a name becoming a blessing to an offspring? Another generation has come forth via this endearment as a great niece’s child is Sara Scott. And, God has blessed each of them with the ability to laugh.

Prayer: God of the Ages, may we know your love through the joys of family. May we hold fast to the mannerisms that you have planted in our DNA. Thank you for the “do you remember” people in our lives. Help each of us to know that YOU can call us by name. Amen.

Wednesday, December 21

Matthew 1:1-17
Devotional by Aiden Morriss
Art by Christina Carlisle

The genealogy of Jesus is a passage easy to skip over. While clearly it was important enough in Jewish history for two gospel authors to draw attention to it, it can be a challenge to find contemporary meaning in the flat list of ancestors from Abraham to Jesus. As such, the section is often left to be analyzed as a mere storytelling device, creating a prophetic and satisfying link between the savior and the first patriarch of the faith. However, there is perhaps more than just genealogy that can be learned from this passage.
Around a year ago, my grandfather passed away. As I made emergency plans to fly to Missouri to attend his memorial, I found myself with a good deal of time for reflection and prayer. During this time, I kept coming back to how upset I was at how little time I had spent with him in the years leading up to his death. He was a skilled tinkerer, and every visit he and my grandmother took to our house involved some sort of improvement project - whether we wanted it or not - and I often forewent the opportunity to assist him. While it is hardly a novel experience to realize that one has not appreciated a gift until it is gone, I remember vividly the moments in which I decided to go do something by myself instead of enjoying the learning experience and quality time with my family. As such, this passage reminds me of how important it is, especially around this holiday season, to spend time with family, to learn from them, especially in those areas they feel most passionately about, and to make sure that their memories, and legacies, persist. Just as the gifts of prophecy, leadership, and faith carried through thousands of years from Abraham to Jesus, so too can the gifts of our ancestors be carried through us.

Prayer: Lord, we ask that you walk with us in our highs and our lows. Help us to know the gifts You have given us while they are present, and aid us in sharing our own knowledge, skills, and time with our loved ones. Thank you for reminding us this advent season that even Jesus learned from his family. May we be as wise to honor your presence and power through those that came before us. Amen.

Friday, December 23

Luke 1:46b-55
Devotional by Beth Poe
Art: "Night Bloomer" by Auseklis Ozols

This year’s Advent theme, “From Generation to Generation,” is inspired by words drawn from the song of Mary (Luke 1: 46b-55), known to us as the Magnificat. It is a beautiful song of praise and thanks for the blessing that God has bestowed on Mary personally and for the promise that God is fulfilling, through her, for the benefit of all humble people of faith. It is a song of hope, reminding us that, from generation to generation, God has kept his covenant with Israel, lifting up the lowly and filling the hungry with good things. It is a prophetic song, assuring us that the mercy that God showed to Abraham is infinite, extending to every believer then, now, and forever.
Mary sings her song to her cousin Elizabeth in one of the most intimate scenes in the Gospels. Still a virgin, Mary has just received the news that she will bear a son and that Elizabeth, who is well past childbearing age, is also pregnant. In her excitement, Mary rushes to her cousin’s house and bursts into song. It is a familiar song, essentially the same song sung centuries earlier by Hannah, who, after suffering years of shame for her infertility, had borne a son, Samuel.
How did Mary know this song? Certainly not from studying Scripture. Girls in those days were not taught to read and write. They learned what they knew from their mothers: spinning, weaving, meal preparation … and songs. Whenever women in ancient times met at the well, or at the river, or at someone’s house, they told stories, and they sang. The older women taught the younger ones. So it was that the Song of Hannah passed from generation to generation, eventually becoming the Song of Mary, and perhaps of countless other faithful women along the way.

Question to Ponder:
When your extended family gets together for a special occasion—whether a holiday, a wedding, or a funeral—what stories dating back to an earlier generation are told every time?

Saturday, December 24

Isaiah 9:2-7
Devotional by Sarah Chancellor-Watson
Art: "Waiting" by Candy Cranch, M.Ed., NBCT

This Christmas my son, Chance, is two years old. Like most toddlers his “modus operandi” is one of constant curiosity and exploration, and because of this we’ve had modify the way we decorate our tree in order to protect our many delicate and sentimental ornaments; from the silly souvenirs we’ve bought on our travels, to symbols that capture the meaning of the season, to ornaments that mark the milestones of our lives. Last year we simply put up a “baby fence” around the tree to keep it safe from tiny hands, but Chance is now much too clever for that to be a deterrent to the bright shiny objects that he desires. This year my tree is little more top heavy as all the breakable baubles are kept up high allowing Chance access to the less fragile ornaments at the bottom of the tree to satisfy his curiosity.
The themes of Advent speak much to what it is to be human – hope, longing, peace, love, transformation, and joy. And during this season where memories are evoked for us and we feel so many different emotions – pain and sadness, overwhelmed and exhausted, content and cheerful, it’s important that we hold on to one of the most important messages of the season: that in the birth of the Christ Child – God with us, Emmanuel – God meets us right where we are, wherever we are.
So today, as Christmas Eve begs us to stay a little while longer in Advent anticipation before Christmas Day – what are you grabbing hold of this season? What messages and symbols of hope, love, peace, and joy are you able to access? Where can Christ meet you today?

Prayer: Holy God, as we end this season of waiting, we pray that you will indeed meet us where we most need you and meet this broken world where you are most needed – as Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. Amen.