Author Archives: smcalhoon

Third week of Advent: Joy

advent joy

Dear God, we carry many burdens and worry over many things.  Help us to hear your promise in the Advent season, that in hearing, we may receive the Spirit’s gift of joy.  And may our spirits be kept sound at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.

Live Nativity

 

Advent devotions: December 16th

advent devotions

By Diana Cano

John 1:6-8, 19-28

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. …

This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said,

        “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’”

as the prophet Isaiah said.

Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

Advent is a season that I anticipate with great cheer and expectancy. For many, Advent is one of the most joyful and awaited seasons of the year. This season also makes space for the good news of Jesus to be shared. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the light that this world so desperately needs. The true meaning of the season is often replaced by the parties, Christmas cookies, twinkling lights, and presents.

The real celebration is of the true light: that a Savior was given to us (Luke 2:11). As believers, we have the confidence of knowing that Jesus Christ came into the world to bring hope, a future, and salvation to all people who accept him as their Lord and Savior. We proclaim that Christ is Lord, not only by our words but also by our actions.

As ambassadors of Jesus Christ, and as John came, so do we, “as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him” (v. 7). Our story and our testimony help shine the light of Jesus wherever we go. Let us be the light to people who don’t know the true meaning of Advent. Let us be the voice that helps direct them onto a straight path.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the gift of Jesus. You sent your only Son and you did it all for love. Help us not forget this ultimate sacrifice. Let us also be a light, so we can share the good news with people in need. May God’s presence in our lives be the best present we can receive and share with others this year. In Jesus’s name, amen.

Diana Cano runs the Family Leadership Initiative (FLI) program for Comunidad Cristiana de Grand Rapids, an RCA church plant in Grand Rapids, Michigan, that is pastored by her husband, Rodrigo.

Advent devotions: December 15th

advent devotions

By Gianni Gracia

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.

May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.

Between the “now” of our daily lives and the “not yet” of Christ’s return, the apostle Paul writes to encourage believers in the faith. First, he who sanctifies is God, who is also “the God of peace” (v. 23), a peace established on the cross. Additionally, God’s sanctification of us signifies our separation from a life of sin, and he creates in us the desire to devote ourselves to a life set apart for him.

Second, this sanctification is the transformation of a being in its entirety. Certain groups of people in Greece and Macedonia placed a low value on the human body, considering it merely a prison from which the soul must be set free. For this reason, many believers in Thessalonica felt overwhelming sadness and uncertainty when someone died because they were doubtful of whether or not buried bodies would participate in the glory of the coming of Christ. But Paul reassures the believers that, as a result of their sanctification through God, they will be entirely and completely conserved by the power of God to be accepted in the glory of Christ when he returns for his church.

Lastly, Paul affirms, “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this” (v. 24). In other words, the guarantee here is that our God is not a mediocre God, and that should fill us with an abundance of hope and trust. We doubt, we fail, and we feel the weight of our sufferings, but God does not doubt, God does not fail, and he does not falter. Hence, not only does God’s sanctifying work reassure and strengthen us, but it also renews our yearning for Christ’s return, where he will receive us as unblemished and blameless and with exuberant joy because it will be the moment in which we will ultimately fulfill our purpose.

Prayer: Jesus, come soon. Your people are here, and in the midst of our own struggles and the pain of a broken world, we yearn for your return. Only then will everything be made new. Only then will we will abide in your perfect presence forever. Help us be renewed in your sanctification today and every day. Amen.

Gianni Gracia is pastor of Vida y Esperanza Church, an RCA church plant in Miami, Florida.

Advent devotions: December 14th

advent devotions

By Liz Testa

Luke 1:46-55
And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
      and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
      Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
      and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
      from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
      he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
      and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
      and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
      in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
      to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Can you imagine what it must have felt like for Mary to be chosen by God to become the mother of the Messiah? What a sense of awe and wonder must have come over her—as well as a good measure of astonishment and even fear. Another person might have run in the opposite direction upon hearing such news, but Mary stayed calm and sensible, and most importantly, she listened. She listened to what the angel told her about God’s plan, about the presence of the Holy Spirit, and about the great impact this unfolding story would have on the whole world.

The angel also told her about her cousin Elizabeth, who was also pregnant unexpectedly. Mary listened to all this and moved forward with purpose. Whatever her initial feelings, she quickly went to visit Elizabeth, where she found joyful confirmation, affirmation, and companionship. This must have given her great confidence and peace, and allowed her to embrace her “chosen” status fully, resulting in her sharing this beautiful song of praise, known as the Magnificat.

The words of Mary’s song echo her own transformation from a startled, questioning young woman to a purpose-filled, trusting mother-to-be. When the Holy Spirit covered her, she not only became pregnant with our Lord and Savior, but was empowered with a deep sense of purpose, giving her holy boldness to embrace God’s favor and see herself among the faithful, in the family tree as one of those who fear God from generation to generation (v. 50).

During this Advent season, as we once again await the coming of the Christ child, how might we embrace the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, emboldening us, like Mary, to live into God’s plan for us?

Prayer: Holy and loving God, thank you for the example of Mary, who listened, believed and embraced your plan for her life. Like Mary, empower us to live confidently, joyfully, and boldly into our callings so that others may experience the liberating love, hope, joy, and peace of the one we call the Messiah. In the name of Emmanuel, God with us, we pray. Amen.

Liz Testa is the RCA’s coordinator for Women’s Transformation and Leadership

Advent devotions: December 13th

advent devotions

By Enrique Cuevas-Castillo

Psalm 126
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
      we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
      and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
      “The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
      and we rejoiced.
Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
      like the watercourses in the Negeb.
May those who sow in tears
      reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
      bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
      carrying their sheaves.

The psalmist reminds us that, although we live with the joy of the Lord, and his mercies are new each morning, tears are also a reality in the life of the believer. Jesus never promised a life free of affliction and tears, but he did promise us a life that is victorious over problems: “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33). So what can we do when we are faced with painful situations?

I grew up thinking that money was used for two things: saving or spending. I either put my money in my piggy bank or I bought material goods. As an adult, I have realized that there is a third option: investing the money to obtain returns. God encourages us to carry out this third option with our tears and our pain. He doesn’t want us to keep back or avoid our tears, nor does he want us to squander them. Instead, God wants us to invest them by offering them in prayer to him so that they produce returns of joy, of character, and of maturity in our life.

Have you ever viewed tears as an investment? We have a God to whom we can pour out our tears, our frustrations, and our pain because he understands us and transforms us through them. These days of Advent remind us that we have a God who became flesh, who came into this world and experienced suffering, affliction, and pain. Advent also reminds us that this affliction gives a return of salvation and eternal life for those who believe.

Just as the return doesn’t happen overnight, the tears that we pray before God will take time to bear the fruit of joy, character, and hope. But we are assured that, by sowing our tears in Christ, we will reap the fruit of justice with rejoicing.

Prayer: Holy Father, I remember and give you thanks for sending Jesus, your beloved Son, the man of sorrows. Through him, you justified and took away the iniquities of your people. Through your Holy Spirit, help us to pour out our tears and sadness in your presence, knowing that you understand us, console us, and strengthen us. Amen.

Enrique Cuevas-Castillo is pastor of Iglesia Alas de Aguila, an RCA church plant in Allendale, Michigan.

Advent devotions: December 12th

advent devotions

By Carlos Corro

Isaiah 61:8-11
For I the Lord love justice,
      I hate robbery and wrongdoing;
I will faithfully give them their recompense,
      and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants shall be known among the nations,
      and their offspring among the peoples;
all who see them shall acknowledge
      that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
      my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
      he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
      and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
      and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
      to spring up before all the nations.

People and history are filled with layers upon layers of complexity. In the face of that complexity, we can easily ignore two of the deepest truths that Advent attests to.

First, humanity is deeply broken and in desperate need of a Savior. We live in and are a part of a sinful world, a world of broken relationships with God and neighbor. This is true for all people, in all times and all places. Second, the work of God through the incarnation of Jesus Christ is both greater and more mysterious than we want to admit. The Word became flesh to save us and now through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Word becomes flesh in us, in order to restore us and equip us for the continued work of redeeming all of creation back to God.

This Scripture passage paints a rich portrait of people coming together through the redemptive power of the gospel. In this biblical account we see the living God causing “righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations” (v. 11). Rather than conforming to the patterns of this world, Advent invites Christians into a new perspective that encourages each person to joyfully embrace their own culture and at the same time celebrate the cultural differences of other sisters and brothers in Christ.

In a broken world often marked by tribalism and suffering, the gospel offers expressions of unity through praise and hope for oneness without sameness. In the kingdom of God, diversity within God’s people is not just a nice commodity for contemporary Christianity. Instead, multicultural worshiping communities serve as a faithful witness of the living image of God to the whole world.

Prayer: Living God, continue to renew and transform us during this Advent season. Teach us your ways and remind us to praise you in our rejoicing and even in our grieving. Transform and conform us more into the likeness of your son, Jesus Christ, in order that the Word may become flesh in us. Amen.

Carlos Corro is pastor of Imago Church, a church plant in Visalia, California, and president of the RCA Council for Hispanic Ministries.

Join us for Christmas Eve lessons and carols at 5:00pm

Join us for our live nativity. The live nativity is scheduled for Saturday, December 16th at 4:00pm

Second Sunday of Advent: Love

Advent-love 2