Devotions for Advent
Grateful appreciation to Cheryl Watts and Jane Smith for their
extensive work in the production of this Advent booklet.
Searching . . .
Howard Williams
Within these pages the writers will serve as our guides on the
journey. Read them carefully because their gifts are gifts from
the heart. They tell of their own journeys, their own faith and
for some, their own doubts. Many thanks is extended to each
and every one for their work.
During this advent season we will embark upon a pilgrimage.
As in the “old days” when pilgrims actually traveled to the city
of Jerusalem, the journey will take time and effort. But what
great reward when we arrive. Hope. Peace. Joy. Love. Light.
Just for fun, I googled the word “love.” I found 181 million
items containing the word “love.” I found a “love calculator”
and a great pasta recipe. But I didn’t feel loved. I also googled
“peace” (45.5 million), joy (20.7 million), and hope (71.9
million). Each time I found some very interesting, and
sometimes strange, information. But at no time did I feel or
experience what I was searching for.
Today, in our current world, searching for something has an
entirely different meaning than what it used to mean. We used
to physically search, painstakingly search, for information, for
people, for a church home. Today, we google it. Google is the
name of a search engine on the web that has now become a
verb. When we google something, we simply enter it into our
computer and presto, 2,365, 298 items will magically appear on
our computer screens. Each item containing the word or phrase
we entered.
City of Hope
for the
Searching. . .
Handy Avery
My contribution to our Advent worship will not be beautiful
banners, but will be stanzas for us to sing as we light the advent
wreath each week. It is my hope that the words convey my own
yearning to live this season throughout the year.
Hope surrounds our Advent season, as we celebrate God’s
When, beyond all human reason love came down in Jesus’
Jesus gave us hope of heaven as He died and rose again.
Now with hope we wait His coming when He’ll bring God’s
kingdom in.
As I sat behind my desk thinking what could I do now that
would enhance this theme, I jotted down some words. In the
next few minutes I became Handy the poet. I laughed out loud
thinking of myself writing poetry. I remembered Miss Anna
Brown telling me the best poem I would likely write would be
“Handy’s a poet and he knows it because his feet are
Longfellows.” In spite of Miss Anna, this poem was written:
In August, the ministerial staff sat around the conference table
to discuss Advent themes for 2004. Several ideas were
explored and all of them good. As we were deciding to
continue the discussion next week Jana shared a memory from
Crescent Hill Baptist in Louisville, Kentucky. She held the
memory of banners made with the theme Searching for the City
of and with the last word added for each of the four traditional
themes of Advent. We all became excited about how we could
personalize this for our Advent worship. My first challenge
was to borrow these banners. After several calls and with
appropriate begging included, our use of the banners was not to
Isaiah2: 1-5; Romans 15:7-13
November 28
Gene Sapp
Writers of the Old Testament were full of hope that God would
not leave them without a true shepherd and would intervene in
history and fulfill their expectations for all his people. Every
Christmas should serve to remind us that the Advent they were
hoping for and we have experienced far exceeded their
expectations. As we join in this season of hope we should
know from God’s inexpressible gift in Christ that we are in His
keeping, all is well, and that the best is yet to be. Our lives
should therefore be filled with hope and the belief that the
highest of anyone’s expectations will be greatly exceeded when
each of His children experience the ultimate revelation of the
“City of Hope.”
As we go through life our confidence in God’s care can be
shaken and fear of the future might dim our hopes. Serious
illness, emotional distress, broken relationships, financial
insecurity, terrorism, war, etc., fill our lives with many degrees
of uncertainty and uneasiness and we with the Psalmist cry out
for God’s protection and deliverance.
In our scripture for this day in Advent, the Psalmist prays
for protection from wickedness, evil and cruelty. He
acknowledges his fear of shame and begs not to be
forsaken. He must have pinned this prayer in his later
years for he acknowledges his hope in God since his
youth and his many experiences of God’s gracious
kindness. One might conclude that although he has lived a
life of hope and praise, he fears God might forsake him in
his old age.
Psalm 71: 1-8
November 29
November 30
Robin Schneider
Happy Holidays!
Once we can get through our selfish phase of wanting our own
plans to be paramount, we can see the many miracles of His
Kingdom in action every day. There are plenty to be seen right
there at Weatherly Heights Baptist.
One of the best prayers for each other is “that you may know
Him better” – to experience deeper spiritual enlightenment.
Believing in this powerful HOPE that God gives to us is
believing that everything IS going to be alright” – according to
our Heavenly Father’s plan.
Into adulthood, I began KNOWING that it is true – everything
is ultimately going to be alright. As we all experience various
sufferings (disappointment, regret, grief, loss, physical pain)
then love and lift one another in Christ (“I’m praying for you”),
an incredible peace happens in one’s soul and among a group
of believers.
WHAT? Most of us heard that assurance first from our parents,
then tried to keep believing it as we became adults. Then true
to form, I began to question the concept’s validity in my teen
years with the response, “But you don’t understand!”
“Everything is going to be alright.”
Ephesians 1:17-19
Frederick Buechner
To look at the last great self-portraits of Rembrandt or to read
Pascal or hear Bach’s B-minor Mass is to know beyond the
need for further evidence that if God is anywhere, he is with
them, as he is also with the man behind the meat counter, the
woman who scrubs floors at Roosevelt Memorial, the highschool math teacher who explains fractions to the bewildered
child. And the step from “God with them” to Emmanuel, “God
with us,” may not be as great as it seems. What keeps the wild
hope of Christmas alive year after year in a world notorious for
dashing all hopes is the haunting dream that the child who was
born that day may yet be born again even in us and our own
snowbound, snowblind longing for him.
December 1
Bob Nore
Armed with God’s answer to my prayer, I read a chapter of the
New Testament each night and slept peacefully for the rest of
my two-month assignment. I learned God is with me even in
my suffering. I found the words of Romans 5 to be true: that
my suffering strengthened my character, deepened my trust in
God, and gave me greater hope for the future.
Living conditions left a lot to be desired, with temperatures
already over 110 degrees F, a severely overcrowded camp, dust
and sand everywhere, SCUD attacks, and very long work days.
On about my third day there, I was moving my gear to a bunk
that had just been freed up. I sat down on the bottom bunk,
feeling sorry for myself and wondering for the hundredth time,
“What in the world have I done?”. I missed my wife Debbie
terribly, and knew she was having a hard time too. Soon I
found myself praying for God to show me how to get through
the trials I was facing. My prayer finished, I stood up and
immediately saw a pocket-sized New Testament on what I was
sure had been an empty bunk.
In January of 2003, I was on a spiritual high. My regular morning
prayers often ended with the warming of my heart that told me the
Holy Spirit was with me. Home life was peaceful and full of joy, and
I was in top form as a civilian project manager with the Army Corps
of Engineers. In mid-March of 2003, with our military on the verge of
attacking Iraq, our commander asked for volunteers to support the
military effort. Convinced that I was the right man for the job, I
volunteered, and by end of March was on the ground in Kuwait.
Romans 5:1-5
December 2
December 3
Michael Malone
When my son, Sean, came into my life I began to see the hope,
the line from me to Jesus to God. Returning to hope has made
me a better person, a better husband and, I hope, a good father
for my son. Since I turned back to hope, and reaffirmed my
connection to Jesus, to God and to the church family, life is
much brighter. Life is good.
In this passage, Jesus is referred to as the High Priest, “in the
order of Melchizedek.” Jesus is my high priest, who enters into
my holy of holies, my soul, and ties me to God with the
promise of hope. So hope was always there for me. Jesus, the
anchor of our souls, was there for me, even when I refused to
Living in that kind of darkness can seem easier than walking
into the light. I know it was for me. At the time, not caring
seemed simpler. But have you ever really tried not caring about
anything? It takes a lot of work.
Recently I endured a loss of hope, and having faith isn’t easy
when there is no hope. Without hope, life’s unfairness can be
overwhelming. Without hope, the things that used to bring me
peace and comfort no longer worked. Church seemed
unimportant and I felt removed from God’s grace. The
comforts of my marriage and my talents seemed somehow
diminished. Without hope, life simply wasn’t as bright.
I’m sure we’ve all had the complaint escape our lips… “That’s
not fair.” I know I’ve said it a time or two, and thought it more
than I want to admit. No one ever promised me that life would
be fair, least of all God. Yet God did promise us something in
these verses. He promised us Hope.
Hebrews 6: 19, 20
Chip Ledbetter
The Matthew Henry Commentary on this Psalm ends with the
following passage: “Let thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us; let us always
have the comfort and benefit, not according to our merits, but
according to the promise which thou hast in thy word given to us, and
according to the faith thou hast by thy Spirit and grace wrought in
us.” I am hopeful that over the next four years, and for many years to
come, we will seek to bring peace to our world. All of the armies in
the world cannot equal God’s steadfast love, the source of our hope.
We must reach out to those who are hurting and in need and share the
Good News of God’s steadfast love for each of us. Let us use this
time of Advent to begin a healing celebration of peace, hope, and
compassion for all people.
As we eagerly anticipate the celebration of the birth of the One
who changed our world forever, we are now recovering from
another bitter, divisive presidential election. Dr. Freeman has
reminded us that no matter the outcome of that election, and
any election, God is still God. This Psalm reminds us that
nations and armies may come and go, but God’s love is
As Christians, we believe that Jesus is the
manifestation of that steadfast love. All of our earthly abilities
depend on Him and are of no account without Him. We need
not fear whatever might be against us, so long as we have hope
in His grace and mercy.
Psalm 33:16-22 (NRSV)
December 4
City of Peace
for the
Searching. . .
Jana Williams
God, may we join the Christian church universal in passionate
pursuit of justice for each of the least of these. May
righteousness and peace kiss in our lifetime.
May righteousness and peace kiss each other.
When children around the world are no longer living in the
streets under threat of murder and torture by police . . .
May righteousness and peace kiss each other.
When the 150 million children living with malnutrition
worldwide can feel the comfort of a full stomach each and
every day of their lives . . .
May righteousness and peace kiss each other.
When children as young as 7 or 8 are no longer forced to serve
as soldiers in military forces . . .
May righteousness and peace kiss each other.
When the 120 million children in the developing world, more
than half of them girls, are able to attend school, protecting
them from a life of poverty and disease . . .
May righteousness and peace kiss each other.
When every child feels safe with their mother and father and
has no reason to expect bruises and beatings at their hands . . .
May righteousness and peace kiss each other.
When each and every child in the world reaches their full
potential as a child of God, free from fear, violence, poverty,
racism, and injustice . . .
May righteousness and peace kiss each other.
When not one more African child will be added to the 12.3 million
orphaned by HIV/Aids . . .
When children no longer die of six common childhood diseases
preventable with $17 worth of vaccinations . . .
May righteousness and peace kiss each other.
Psalm 85:1-13
December 5
December 6
Bonnie Jones
Ooh my, it will be grand and glorious. Hmmmm, wonder if
there is any rickrack in Heaven.
Creative words of prophesy ring clearly in my head. As I
read this scripture, in the eleventh chapter of Isaiah, poetic
prose akin to that of a nine year old's joy when presented
with a special dress, a creation trimmed by one who loved
her, is seen. How can I compare this to the stump of Jesse?
That which flows toward the divine, has definite
graces...Our Lord will reach out his hand a second time to
reclaim the remnant of all those who are left.
Music hangs in the air with remembrance of
lyrics....Creation Will Be At Peace. If you heard the choir
sing it, you remember it too, I'd say. A mind's eye picture
of these animals, whose once opposing forces are now
mingled, aware of each other's kinship, satisfied in
harmony, their hostilities annulled.
Did your Mother ever make you a dress from fabric
remnants? We often went the ten miles from Dandridge to
Jefferson City to shop. Belk Hudson had just such a table,
with, I'll say the word again, remnants. These cloth ends
were left to be sold at a discounted price. Knowing the
fierce tactics brought forth when a sale exits, women
grabbed, dug, hand over fist feverishly looking for the
choicest of the woven threads. I wore a many a skirt or
blouse made from those leftovers. They were often
trimmed with rickrack or lace. Creations based on patterns,
whose stoic dotted lines were embellished by the hands of
a craftsman, which defied the odds of the plain and simple.
She liked to apply "fuss" all over the front. She loved fuss.
Isaiah 11:1-9
Jodie Lindstrom
Why do we have conflict? I believe we fight and have warfare
because we have rejected God's provision for peace. We are not
centering on the cross. Jesus dying on the cross is the very heart of
Christianity. The sacrifice Jesus made on the cross is the secret of
Christianity's survival through the ages and the hope of its victory in
the ages to come. The cross is more than just an example or symbol
of Christ's sacrifice. It is a system of ethics. It is God saying to all of
us, " I love you. I am willing to forgive all your sins because of the
cross." Jesus died to make reconciliation possible. You and I must
live to make the message of reconciliation personal. Outside of the
cross there is bitterness, intolerance, sedition, ill will, prejudice, lust,
greed and hatred. Within the effectiveness of the cross, there is love,
fellowship and new life. The only human hope for peace lies at the
cross of Christ.
I remember learning about World War I, "the Great War, the war to
end all wars". But it wasn't. As I write this there are thousands of
soldiers, some we hold dear, fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Whether men shoot and fight with one another or not, there is
"warfare" in the home, between husband and wife, between parents
and children, between brothers and sisters, between neighbors and
friends, between boss and employee.
As long as I can remember there have been organizations,
conferences, studies and plans dedicated to bringing peace to this
world. It seems to me that I heard about the peace talks in the Middle
East on the nightly news for a very long time. Much money and time
has been spent on finding a formula that would bring peace on earth
and goodwill toward men.
Ephesians 2: 11-12
December 7
Cindy Durst
December 9
When my day has truly become crazy, I find a quiet walk
observing the beauty of God’s creation will soothe and bring
peace to my soul. This is a time that I don’t walk with my
headphones or anything that would distract me from finding
peace in my surroundings. Instead I choose to hear God’s
musical gift to me; a bird’s song, the rustle of leaves….. Take
time during this busy Advent season to listen to music that will
bring peace to your soul.
Words of old and new favorites run through my mind and soul;
It is well with my soul (When peace like a river attendeth my
way,…) A Gaelic Blessing ( Deep peace of the running wave to
you, Deep peace of the flowing air to you, Deep peace of the
shining stars to you, Deep peace of the gentle night to you,
Moon and stars pour their healing light on you, Deep peace of
Christ the light of the world to you, Deep peace of Christ to
you.), O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (O come, Desire of
nations, bind all peoples in one heart and mind; bid envy, strife,
and quarrels cease; fill all the world with heaven’s peace.)
It will come as no surprise to those who know me that I cannot
read today’s scripture without “singing” it in my head to
Handel’s Messiah; “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on
earth, good will towards men.” Music is such an integral part of
my worship experience and I am thankful every day for God’s
great gift of music.
Luke 2: 8-14
December 8
Debby Sharp
A colleague of mine recently underwent some tests to
determine whether she had breast cancer. She spent almost two
agonizing weeks waiting for her results to come in.
Fortunately, her findings were good, but she made a comment
to me at that time that seemed very insightful. She said, “This
has made me really think about how many people I interact
with everyday who are quietly hurting as they go about their
daily routines –people whose problems I have never taken the
time to notice.” We sometimes fail to notice the needs of
others close to us, but God is always just a prayer away. He
can give us peace of mind and a heart open to helping others
when the rest of the world cannot be depended upon. Our own
personal “city of peace” can be a part of our everyday life if we
take the time to cultivate our relationship with God. He also
gave us a bridge to that relationship through his own son. This
Christmas, I thank God for every blessing that I have taken for
granted and I hope to pass on some of God’s peace to others
around me. I hope that God will bless your advent season with
peace, joy, and a sense of wonder at the gift of our gracious
Isaiah sends a powerful message to us in these verses if we are
open to receiving it. God’s gracious action will allow his
people to “come and go from Zion in joy and peace.” Isaiah
suggests that we do have a responsibility, though, in accepting
God’s plans. We must forsake unrighteous ways if we are to
be “ready” to receive his word and the peace that comes with it.
Isaiah 55: 1-13
Mary Jane Abernathy
With the help of the Prince of Peace, may we all commit to
being peacemakers in our community.
Christians have much to learn from other faiths in their
communities, just as other faiths can learn from us. By
extending love to all our neighbors, we enrich our own lives
and enrich the lives of others, many of whom are lonely for
Who are the "peacemakers"? Twenty-first century, post-9/11
peacemakers are going to be those who make a personal
commitment to tear down those walls between themselves and
those around them who are different. They are going to extend
their friendship to all their neighbors, thus fulfilling the
imperative we have to love our neighbors as ourselves. People
become persons to us only if we get to know them.
Leon, a co-worker, was in his mid-fifties, and pretty embittered about
life. Most of the time he was sour, but on Friday afternoons he was
usually in a good mood, and could be quite pleasant. One of Leon's
stories had to do with a Christian family next door, whom Leon and
his family, conservative Jews, came to know through the families'
children. One Christmas the Christian family wanted to place a Star
of David on the top of their Christmas tree. They asked Leon whether
he had a Star of David, or knew where they could get one. On course
Leon got one for them, and they happily used it on their Christmas
tree for years. What a wonderful thing for the Christian family to do!
This small act of Christian love and its affirmation made a lasting
impression on Leon.
Matthew 5:9
December 10
Jim Norris
During this Advent season of waiting and preparation, may we
examine our lives and where needed, embark upon the journey
of healing that leads to the promised peace of God.
Sarah’s words were God’s word for me. They were words that
cut through my ego defenses and spoke to my deepest, truest
self. Soon thereafter I began the difficult journey toward
forgiveness and eventually reconciliation with this person. This
journey does not ask us to gloss over hurts and wrongs done to
us. Rather, it calls us to embrace the pain of those wrongs, to
let go of our right to anger and resentment, and to allow Christ
to lead us on the path of healing.
Several years ago I was going through a stressful time of
transition from parish ministry to launching a ministry of
pastoral counseling. I was experiencing ongoing conflict
with a significant person involved in the process. I would
often vent frustrations and anger to my wife. One day my
12-year old daughter, Sarah, upon overhearing me, spoke
these words: “Daddy, it sounds like you see this person as
your enemy. Jesus told us to love our enemies.” Out of
the mouths of children can come wisdom and truth. The
Apostle Paul puts it this way in today’s scripture lesson:
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.”
Romans 12:14-21 - If possible so far as it depends upon you
live peaceably with all.
December 11
City of Joy
for the
Searching. . .
Dean Johnson
Today, think about the blessings that God has given you this
year. Do you have something to celebrate? Do you have
something to share with others? Does it make you want to
jump? Does it make you want to dance? Does it make you want
to sing? Celebrate those blessings and write them in the space
Mary celebrated and sang because she was happy and
because she knew that God was giving her a special
blessing. Not only was she going to have a child, she was
going to be the mother of the Messiah!
God knew Mary’s heart and how devoted she was to the Lord.
Mary went to her aunt Elizabeth’s house to tell her the news.
Mary was excited and wanted to share the news with someone
that would understand. I imagine she kept it quiet to prevent
drawing attention to herself and to prevent gossip about her not
being married.
When Mary discovered that she would be the mother of the
Messiah, she
may have thought, “O.k., God, if that is what your plan is, then
so be it. I’m here to do whatever you need me to do.” She did
not doubt, as did Zechariah on the announcement that his aging
wife would have another child. She did not laugh, as did aging
Sarah, Abraham’s wife, on discovering that she would be
pregnant with a child.
Isaiah 35:1-10, Luke 1:39-56
December 12
Kelly Freeman
Before I knew it, the pilot announced we were entering
Birmingham airport. As I looked out the window, I felt a great
flood of relief, like water rushing over me, sweeping away the
stress and anxiety. I felt joy well up in me. I knew this place. I
talked like these people. I could buy black-eyed peas here, get
sweet tea. I knew people who could, who would take care of
me if I needed them to, if I could not hold up any longer. I
could drive here, recognize streets and places. I was safe.
Someone I love once observed about me, “Places mean a great
deal to you”. They do. This city does. There was no snow on
the ground and I remember the wisteria was in full bloom.
In March, there was still snow on the ground in Washington,
DC. Not much, but enough to remind you that winter had not
left. I packed our bags for the flight to Birmingham. My bags
and Chally’s bags were a breeze, but traveling anywhere with
Hannah was a daunting task. Not only was she a baby, she was
a sick baby, requiring all the infant paraphernalia plus drugs,
medical instructions, and a healthy dose of anxiety that
accompanies sick children. There was a transfer in Charlotte, a
dash to the new terminal lugging a fat baby, a five year old, one
huge diaper bag plus a carry-on stuffed with absolutely
necessary items for distraction of children during a long flight.
We boarded the final flight and I occupied myself by keeping a
grumpy baby happy and an active little girl entertained.
Isaiah 12:1-6
December 13
Rachel Jordan
We know, because it has always been so, we will have trials
and suffering in this life on earth. There is joy in knowing, as
Jesus knew, that God is always there to help us through them
and when this life is over, we will go home - the home that
Jesus went to prepare for us.
Expecting too much from ourselves can keep us from
experiencing the joy of our salvation. In Phillip Yancey's book
'The Jesus I never Knew', he tells the story of Leo Tolstoy.
Although he became a great writer, he wanted so much to live
up to the ideals that Jesus spoke of in the Sermon on the
Mount. When he failed, he could not forgive himself. At the
end of his life he had become a deeply unhappy man.
I grew up in a small country church where fear and guilt were
preached more than the love of God. As I grew older I made
lots of mistakes and felt more guilt. Like most of you I went
through what has been called 'a dark night of the soul'. I was
feeling so guilty and down on myself that I didn't want to live
any longer. In a dream, Jesus said to me "you are a beautiful
person and I am going to take care of you". It was so real that I
believe God sees all of us as beautiful and good, and is always
present within each of us. Fear and guilt can weight us down so
that we cannot accomplish our life mission.
Isn't it wonderful to know that we not only have angels, but the "great
cloud of witnesses" who have preceded us, watching over us and
sending us love?
Hebrews 12:1,2
December 14
Keith Noren
Jesus did come 2000 years ago to show us a better way. He came
during a time of great religious fervor that was often quick to
condemn and ostracized lepers, tax collectors, adulterers, Samaritans,
and Gentiles. What He showed to all the lost ones was love and
encouragement no matter what. I’m inclined to believe what the sign
says on the Impact Church on University Drive – “God loves you no
matter what”. That is the more lasting message of Christmas than
down that road further at the Mall.
This parable comes within a discourse of Jesus’s parables all
about “lostness” – a lost sheep, a lost coin and this parable
about a lost son. The 3 parables together cause me to wonder,
as a church do we seek out the lost, the marginalized, and even
those that marginalize themselves (such as the son in this
parable). Do we seek to open up our “lostness” to each other –
a prerequisite to healing? While Weatherly can be proud of
several ministries reaching out to the “lost” (internationals,
disabled, Appalachians), do we seek those that through their
own wayward ways have lost their way? Or are we like most
churches today and the Pharisees of yesteryear, the last place a
sinner would be welcomed?
The parable of The Prodigal Son is really a misnomer; it should
be called The Prodigal Father. This name change has
effectively changed the Webster’s definition of “prodigal’
from “lavishly generous” (applied to the father) to “licentious
living” (applied to the son). Its message is that we never can
sin so deeply to cause God our Father to withhold His love and
generosity. Jesus’s coming 2000 years ago (to show us the
way) is just one form of God’s lavishness on us even while we
are living licentiously.
Luke 15:11-24
December 15
Henri Nouwen
There is not one of us whose life has not already been touched
somewhere with joy, so that in order to make it real to us, to
show it forth, it should be enough for Jesus simply to remind us
of it, to make us remember the joyous moments of our own
lives. Yet this is not easy because, ironically enough, these are
likely to be precisely the moments that we do not associate
with religion. We tend to think that joy is not only not properly
religious but that it is even the opposite of religion. We tend to
think that religion is sitting stiff and antiseptic and a little bored
and that joy is laughter and freedom and reaching out our arms
to embrace the whole wide and preposterous earth which is so
beautiful that sometimes it nearly breaks our hearts. We need to
be reminded that at its heart Christianity is joy and that laughter
and freedom and the reaching out of arms are the essence of it.
We need to be reminded too that joy is not the same as
happiness. Happiness is man-made--a happy home, a happy
marriage, a happy relationship with our friends and within our
jobs. We work for these things, and if we are careful and wise
and lucky, we can usually achieve them. Happiness is one of
the highest achievements of which we are capable, and when it
is ours, we take credit for it, and properly so. But we never take
credit for our moments of joy because we know that they are
not man-made and that we are never really responsible for
December 16
Linda Strange
God loves us dearly. He's always there for us. And the best
part? He's a great LISTENER! His ear is always attuned to us.
All we have to do is ask.
I believe He not only cares about those mountains, but also
about who I write every day.
I take that to mean we can ask God for big things and small. In
the lowest points in our lives, our problems may seem like a
mountain we just can't quite climb. But with God's help, those
same mountains become hills for us to climb together.
As I've grown older, I realize God DOES want to hear about
everything. He wants to help us through anything that bothers
us, no matter how small it may seem. If it's important to us, it's
important to God. How do I know this? It says in John 16:24
"Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask
and you will receive, and your joy will be made complete."
So I tried not to bother Him with things like "Who should I
write today? Who should I call? Who needs an encouraging
word?" Those things seemed trivial to bother God with.
I spent time pondering the definition of "little things." Did God
really not want to hear about my smaller problems?
As a child, I prayed for my playmates and my family. Then I
asked God to help me through college and guide me to
someone special to marry.
Someone once told me not to bother God with little things. I
should be able to handle those myself.
It's easy to pray for others, but sometimes harder to pray for
ourselves. We pray when we lose someone or when we fail in some
way. It's harder to ask God for small things.
John 16:16-24
December 17
Jan Johnson
Yes, Paul is serious.
I have never suffered as much as Paul. But there have been
times in my life when circumstances have caused me to hit
“rock bottom.” These were times of grief, depression,
questioning, and searching; and the “pat” answers were not
sufficient. They were certainly not times of rejoicing or giving
thanks. As I reflect back, I did not get all the answers to my
questions, and the pain and grief were not immediately erased.
But I got something better. As Randall O’Brien says, “God
showed up.” Nothing changed but everything changed. And in
the midst of suffering, I found the peace that passes all
understanding, and, yes, I could say joy. Andrew Murray says:
“the presence of Jesus cannot but give joy”, that Paul
understood the paradox of the Christian life as “the
combination at one and the same moment of all the bitterness
of earth and all the joy of heaven… the joy of Christ can
overrule the sorrow of the world, can make us sing while we
weep, and can maintain in the heart … a deep consciousness of
a joy that is unspeakable and full of glory.”
Certainly Paul suffered greatly in his life – Shipwrecked,
imprisoned, beaten, naked, hungry, sleepless nights, stoned,
and to top it off, he was plagued with a “thorn in the flesh.”
After all of this, Paul writes: “I have learned to be content with
whatever I have.”
Rejoice always? Give thanks in all circumstances? Surely Paul
can’t be serious. Is the mother who watches her child go to bed
hungry every night to rejoice? What about the father who has
just lost his job and does not know how he will support his
family? Should he give thanks? We experience much suffering
in this world. Surely Paul can’t be serious.
I Thessalonians 5:16-18
December 18
City of Love
for the
Searching. . .
Howard Williams
If we are to find such a place, we must learn to live beyond our
fears, we must learn to love. Love God, love family and love
the Promise. As we journey in search of the city of love this
week, let us do more than what culture expects, let’s seek to be
obedient to God. I suspect that in our searching, in our seeking,
we shall find that place, that city, where Emmanuel reigns . . .
the city of love.
Wouldn’t it be great to live in a place where we were not
driven by fear? Fear of what others would think, fear of
what others might do, fear that arises from our own
insecurities. Where would that be? Scripture tells us that
“perfect love casts out fear.”
Then an angel appeared in a dream. It was a dream that
changed Joseph’s life forever. He remained with Mary, married
her and became the apparent father to Jesus. Joseph went
beyond custom, beyond convention, beyond culture and was
obedient to God. His love for God, his love for Mary, and his
love of a promise, allowed him to overcome his fear.
Have you ever noticed just how little we know about Joseph?
Perhaps, however, we know enough. Our passage today says
that Joseph was a righteous man. Because of this, he was going
to dismiss Mary after finding out she was pregnant. He was
going to be quiet about it and thereby not embarrass her. What
Joseph planned to do was honorable in his culture. He was
even going a step beyond cultural expectations by being quiet
about it.
Matthew 1:18-25; Isaiah 7:10-16
December 19
Donna Stott
As humans, we continually put conditions on everything. In
the end, it’s just the simplicity of the message Jesus asks of us;
love is another. In our search for the city of love, we only need
to read these verses and truly aspire to do as our Lord asks.
The text speaks of unconditional love and a willingness to lay
down one’s life for a friend. I believe it’s difficult for the
typical person to understand the depth of this charge, and I had
never put too much thought into these verses until I married a
career military officer.
Without questions, he had that
willingness to assume that task if called upon to lay down his
life for his country and fellow man. The phrase “Greater love
hath no man” took on a whole new meaning for me. We all
know love; it’s the unconditional part that gives us pause.
Jesus loved us before he was taken to the cross and he still loved us
after the cruel deed was done. All he asks of us is to love one another
as he loves us. All in all, a rather small task, yet we seem to have a
difficult time complying.
This lyric from a country music song, sums up the meaning of
these few verses.
“It’s a Love Without End, Amen”
John 15:12-17
December 20
Vann Hough
This advent season let us all focus our hearts on God's love
offered in His message and invitation for us to . . . come home.
All this time it might have been me at the foot of that cross
pounding iron nails into His wrist. Even so, He would offer me
no less love, no less forgiveness. As John put it, “This is real
love"! It is so simple! How had I missed it in the past? God is
love! They are three words that turned the world upside down,
that transform all sadness into joy and all defeat into victory.
We cannot fully appreciate the depth of that statement without
considering the object of His perfect, unconditional love: us!
As human beings filled with disobedience, we were deserving
of nothing but punishment and eternal banishment from His
holy presence. Yet God himself deliberately, as an act of His
great love, endured the punishment of the cross so we could
avoid it . . . because God is love.
There was a time in my life when money and business were my
gods. Success and career had been my altar of worship. But, in
1997 an event happened that became my call to . . . come
home. I had been pursuing a career up to this point, but I was
soon to realize that through this event Christ pursued me. God
had done so much for me and I had done less than nothing for
Him. It had taken the right combination of events for me to see
Jesus for who He really is. I understood that my sins were just
as terrible as those of the men who crucified our Lord.
1 John 4:7-12
December 21
Judy Swaim
Then, God let me see examples of His kind of love, the kind
that is described in 1 Corinthians 13, through two very special
people. First, Diane showed me unconditional love and
acceptance as my friend. Then, I met Glen, and he showed me
unconditional love and acceptance as my husband. From each
of them, I learned to be loved and, in turn, to risk loving
deeply. Subsequently, I learned the joy that comes from being
able to love. I have come a long way with learning to love with
God’s kind of love. My prayer is that I will continue to learn to
love with a love that is kind, unselfish, and God-like.
By nature, I trust people and love people on a surface level
very easily. In contrast, I do not easily trust and love people on
a deep level. I spent many years hiding parts of my life from
almost everyone. Because I was in a marriage where I was told
most of what I did and thought was wrong, I learned to put up
barriers and to love a little less and to trust a lot less.
Probably the first time I experienced this love was with my
children. I loved them enough to want the best for them and to
put their needs and happiness before mine. I loved them
enough to allow them to experience difficulties and to learn
from their mistakes.
When I read these verses about love, I realize what a wonderful
and difficult action this is – to love someone so selflessly and
with such trust, passion, and total acceptance. Love is not just
an emotion, but also an action. It has taken me many, many
years to truly begin to love as Christ taught us.
I Corinthians 13
December 22
Ed Barnett
But we serve God’s purpose. Love in action is love; words fail.
“Showing love towards the alien” means sharing our selves and
our means. We may not be able to grasp the desolation of being
a stranger in a strange land but we can reach out. An alien
could be a visitor or merely a stranger and the effect of sharing
could remain unknown to us.
… and He shows love to the alien who lives
among you, giving him food and clothing. You
too must show love towards the alien, for you
once lived as aliens in Egypt .(vv 18b and 19,
But we must voluntarily with deep intention fear him, and yield
ourselves to His love and His service. Love otherwise is not
What then, Israel, does the Lord your God ask of you? Only
To fear the Lord your God,
Conform to all his ways,
To love Him,
And to serve Him with all your heart and soul.
(v. 12, REB)
Why would God couch such powerful commandments as a
request? He made us and knows our needs – even without our
acknowledging Him. Do each of us not have a “God-shaped”
hole in his soul that only God can fill? We blunder about and
deny His love and power to our own emptiness and destruction
– but, more importantly – to our own failure to experience and
share His wonderful love with those around us.
What Does the Lord Ask of Us?
Deuteronomy 10:12-22
December 23
City of Light
for the
Searching. . .
December 24
Most Gracious Lord, we wait silently before your
cross, expectantly, that we may receive the gift we
need, so that we may become the gift others need.
David B. Freeman
There is only one birth—and this birth takes
place in the ground and core of the soul… Not
only is the Son of the heavenly Creator born in
this darkness—but you too are born there as a
child of the same heavenly Creator and none
other. Meister Eckhart, Meditations with
Meister Eckhart
Wherever you are today, prepare Him room. Open yourself to
the One who entered the darkness and shined the light of hope.
I view Christmas Eve vespers as a sacrificial service. For
some, the year 2004 has been a difficult year. Loved ones have
died, as have dreams and hopes. For others, the year has been
good. Children have graduated and married. Some people
have retired. Today we will kneel side-by-side, those with
good years beside those with difficult years, and collectively
offer our years as a sacrifice unto God. Today we clear the
clutter from our lives and prepare room for a new and hopeful
beginning. We celebrate Christ’s birth as a birth of hope, the
offer of new grace, an opportunity rise to a new day.
Today we will assemble at the church for one more service of
worship. We will observe the Lord’s Supper. We will kneel
before the cross of Christ, receive the bread and wine, and hear
those familiar words, “This is the body/blood of Christ….”
This will be our final act of congregational worship before
Christmas Day, one last chance to prepare room in our hearts
for God’s gift of love.
Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room
Isaiah 9:2-7; John 1:1-18
Eugene Worley
Have a Merry Christmas!
If I get to the City of Lights before you do, please be sure to look me
up when you get there. I will be glad to see you. Won’t it be great to
talk about old times and to look forward to an infinity where there is
no night.
But today, more than any other day, we Christians have the audacity
to celebrate the fact that God not only does exist but that he came to
Earth 2,000 years ago to live with us. We believe that he walked
among us and that he died on the cross for us. We further believe that
he continues to walk with us today and that through Him all things
are possible. He has assured us that he cares for us and knows how to
give us good gifts. This new Jerusalem is the culmination of God’s
gifts to us. Today, it is my prayer that each of us can put aside all our
negative and unbelieving thoughts and accept with a faithful heart all
the promises of God.
more death, no more pain, We will all walk in the light together.
What a thought! What a dream! As we live our lives in this place
where tears, sorrow, pain and death are an integral part of living, it is
very hard to imagine that there will be a time when none of these will
exist. In our modern day of enlightenment, this makes no sense at all.
It doesn’t even seem logical much less possible.
WOW! What a thought for Christmas Day. God, the creator of the
Universe, will wipe away our tears and there be no more sorrow, no
Revelation 12:1-4; 22-25
December 25