Advent Devotions

advent devotions

Romans 1:5-7

By Andrea DeWard

The beloved church that was home from cradle to college invited me to preach Thanksgiving through Christmas. What a joy and honor to be welcomed as a daughter of the church. Decades of grand worship gatherings on holiday mornings are preserved as idyllic snapshots in my mental scrapbook:

Friendly deacons stationed to greet and pass out bulletins. Young parents ushered into the sanctuary, holding newborns and toddlers. Red-cushioned pews filled from front row to balcony. Hymns sung by heart in four-part harmony. Worshipers of all ages and stages gladdened and grateful for God’s good gifts—provision at Thanksgiving, baby Jesus at Christmas, resurrected life at Easter.

My mind memorializes these scenes of familiarity and belonging as if Hallmark scripted a “home for the holidays” movie. Peppermint-sticky children grin as grandparents sneak them another treat. College students gulp down cookies and punch in between welcome home hugs. No one remains anonymous. My faith community of the 1980s and 1990s was a place “where everybody knows your name” and even the out-of-town boyfriend and the visiting sister-in-law were considered honorary members.

You belong to the church. You belong.

It’s a lovely picture. Yet the experience and expression of the people of God is more than idealized images of a cheery church family. The full message and meaning of God’s love and calling cannot be conveyed by an annual greeting card. In Advent, we consider the significance of God made flesh in Jesus, coming to be like us so we would come to be like him. We wait for grace delivered in person, gifting faith far richer than any purchased present wrapped in bright bow. The Word will arrive with newborn lungs to announce a new birth, a born-again birth into a new family, a holy people:

“Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake. And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 1:5-7, NIV)

You are called to belong to Jesus Christ. You belong.

I spent 21 years at that first home church, followed by 18 years of church ministry. This year, however, our family hasn’t had a church home. It’s the first significant period in our lives without a set place to be every Sunday. Romans 1:5-7 reminds me that we belong to Jesus, we are loved by God, and we are part of God’s holy people. But we do not belong to a particular church family right now. Instead, we’ve taken the opportunity since January to experience a breadth of church ministries from our unique dual vantage point as pastors-turned-guests.

After nearly a year of checking the visitor box, I’m looking forward to being “home for the holidays.” This season, when I return to the church of my youth and look around at the people of God gathered in that place, I’m sure I will marvel at newborns held in their mothers’ arms and wonder how those once-young girls fast-forwarded into parenthood. Likewise, I’m sure people who remember me as a young girl will marvel, “Your daughter looks just like you!” and wonder how my toddlers turned so quickly to teens. We’ll nestle into a pew with grandparents and we will be welcomed and embraced.

You belong to the church. You belong.

I’m grateful to have a place to call home for a brief bit. But I’m increasingly aware that my lifelong experience of joyful church gatherings is not the experience of many. For some, it is painfully clear they have been excluded from full belonging among those called to be the people of God. And so I go into this season with deeper questions on my mind. The Word made flesh comes to speak grace and peace, but do we? And by “we,” I mean we who have “received grace” and claim the title “holy people.” Are we inviting others, including those who seem very different from us, to belong? Instead of my sentimental holiday vision, imagine this scene at worship at my childhood church on Christmas morning:

The church of old “where everybody knows your name” has many new faces. The weary parents are an interracial couple with biracial children. The kids chomping peppermints have ADHD and autism. The grandpa has alcohol on his breath. The college student looks depressed and anorexic. The out-of-town boyfriend is Palestinian. The visiting sister-in-law is accompanied by her wife. The young mother is in fact still a teenager. And the preacher is a woman. Then there’s Jesus in the midst of them all.

You are called to belong to Jesus Christ. You belong.

Will we learn their names? Will we embrace them? Will we speak grace and peace like Jesus does? In this Advent season, we live in expectation of the Christ child, the One who lights our way in the darkness. As we prepare to receive him, to receive grace anew, may we also become ready to call each person near and far to receive this abundant gift of grace offered to all, with hospitable words and intentional deeds.

You also are called, you also belong, and you are loved. Grace and peace.

Prayer: God and Father of this wild, beautiful family, give us a new love during this season for our brothers and sisters, near and far. You have been gracious and invitational; give us hearts to do likewise.

Andrea DeWard, a former church planter, serves on the executive team of Great Lakes City Classis and helps churches in transition. The 2016 Advent devotions were written by RCA church planters and parent churches.

The Advent devotions follow the Common Lectionary texts. You may use the devotions in a number of ways, but you are encouraged to do the following:

  1. Read the passage through at least once. (Each devotion includes a link to the Scripture passage for the day.)
  2. Reflect on the passage and pay attention to how God might be using it to speak to you.
  3. Read and consider the devotion.
  4. End in prayer. You may begin with the prayer offered at the end of each devotion or pray your own prayer.

Posted on December 16, 2016, in Advent Devotions, Worship. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Advent Devotions.

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