Category Archives: Advent Devotions

Advent Devotions: December 4th

advent devotions

By Benito Aguilera

Isaiah 40:1-11

 

Comfort, O comfort my people,
        says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
        and cry to her
that she has served her term,
        that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
        double for all her sins.
A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
        make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
        and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
        and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
        and all people shall see it together,
        for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
A voice says, “Cry out!”
        And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All people are grass,
        their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
        when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
        surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
        but the word of our God will stand forever.
Get you up to a high mountain,
        O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
        O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
        lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
        “Here is your God!”
See, the Lord God comes with might,
        and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
        and his recompense before him.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
        he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
        and gently lead the mother sheep.

Advent is a season in our Christian calendar year that calls us to prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of the Messiah. In our preparation, something happens in us. We begin to dust off the stories of the faith that remind us of the importance of Jesus’s birth and the anticipation of his coming again. Some of these stories are full of beauty and some are filled with heartache. We remember that God is not fully done shaping our journey, and during the Advent season we quiet ourselves and ponder the truth of that.

But what is interesting about today’s passage is that it calls us to be a little less introspective as we journey through Advent. In fact, it calls us to do the exact opposite of quiet reflection. “Cry out!” says the Lord to the prophet. Tell the people that the Lord is coming to feed his flock and gather them in his arms, like a mother does with her newborn child.

This news is not for us alone; God will gather his whole flock. The passage reminds us of God’s restorative mission in the world and in our lives.

As we begin our Advent journey this year, let us first be reminded that we are children of God and that Jesus will come to make us new. Let us also remember that this journey is not only for ourselves; instead, we are called to invite others to join us. It is a time that we “cry out” because we have good news to share. Jesus is coming! Prepare your hearts and minds, remember the stories of God’s faithfulness, and bring people along with you on the journey. Jesus is coming to hold us all in his arms.

Prayer: God, give us the courage to cry out to all people and share the good news of your coming. Amen.

Benito Aguilera is a pastor in Holland, Michigan, who will be planting an English-speaking Hispanic church in 2018.

Advent devotions start tomorrow

advent devotions

Welcome to Advent and the RCA’s Advent devotions series. Advent is a time of waiting, of preparing our hearts as the celebration of Jesus’s birth approaches.

This year’s devotions were written by Hispanic leaders in the RCA and come in both English and Spanish. The days follow the Revised Common Lectionary texts.

Advent Devotions

advent devotions

Isaiah 9:2-7

By Doug McClintic

The term “great light” here in Isaiah seems strange to twenty-first century ears. We are used to an analytical and artificial understanding of light. We talk about the nature of light waves and particles. We bathe in artificial light that streams from tablets, phones, LEDs, and millions of bulbs. In Isaiah’s world, without much in the way of artificial light, the imagery jumps off the page. The people have seen a great light! When is a light a great light?

The light is great when it is contrasted with deep darkness and shadow. The Hebrew word for “the shadow of death,” צלמות (tsalmâveth), speaks of a curtain of gloom, deception, and decay that has been drawn across the minds of a people in exile, a people under occupation, a people numb to the lies of a culture of death and violence. A culture in which the religious professionals of the day were locked, as many are today, in compromise and “peacemaking” with the idols and idolatries of the times. Treaties were signed with the false seal of tolerance and expediency. In such dark times the light is warmer, the light is more welcome, and the light is more winsome as it shines upon us with the power of the Spirit and with the certainty of revelation. A weary people embraces the light even while the elite shrink from the light’s moral clarity.

The light is great when it is embodied in the person of Jesus Christ. “I am the light of the world,” Jesus says in John 9. Without him all is darkness, but with him “all is calm, all is bright.” This great light was cast in all its brilliance across a cattle stall in Bethlehem, and across the shores of Galilee, and across the hill of Golgotha, and the across the stage of human history—forever altered by the Living One, who was dead and now is alive forever (Revelation 1:18).

The light is great when it shows the way beyond even the advent of Jesus and his light-giving presence in the region of Galilee. The prophet points to a day beyond our wildest dreams, our deepest aspirations, and our most fervent hopes. This is a day of victory, a day of justice, a day of abundant harvest, a day of liberation from the yoke of oppression and persecution. This is the dawn of the final age when the light bursts forth, never to be extinguished! The King and the Lamb become the center and source of light in such a perfect and powerful way that even the faithful sun is no longer needed to light the way!

O Christian, join me in longing for, in laboring for, and in leading toward that glorious day when in his light we shall see light. Let us adopt the attitude of John the Baptizer who did not confuse himself with the light but who witnessed to the light! Let us reflect this flesh-embodied light in all that we say, think, and dream; own, buy, and sell; write, pray, and think; treasure, give, and keep.

Prayer: Father of Lights, multiply your light in us and through us for the sake of a world walking in deep darkness. Grant that we may be shining witnesses to the true Light who is coming into the world. Amen.

Doug McClintic supports church planting in the Synod of the Great Lakes as Church Multiplication catalyst of Luminex Collaborative. 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.

Advent Devotions

advent devotions

Titus 3:4-7

By Doyle DeGraw

We live in a day of much distrust. In recent Gallup polls, 70 to 80 percent of us don’t trust the government to do what is right. Distrust is often rooted in fear. When fear becomes the narrative of a person or a community, the potential for a cycle of pain and hurt becomes inevitable. When fear is embedded in a story, it is unhealthy for individuals and their relationships.

Relationships that are based on fear are characterized by pain, humiliation, desperation, shame, fear of rejection, and abandonment. When we are afraid, we do not feel safe. When we don’t feel safe, we don’t trust. When we don’t trust, we avoid pain, especially in relationships that breed or enhance the fear we feel.

When writing to Titus, the apostle Paul describes a remedy to this infection. In verse 3, he describes the reality of the past, identifying lifestyles of selfishness that are fear-based and irrational, lifestyles infected with lies and distortions that show up in emotions, passions, and lusts rooted in fear. Then he describes the present reality: the appearance of a Savior who invades the culture with the antidote to fear. That antidote is love, mercy, and grace, which draw people together.

What things change because of the coming of Jesus? He saves us. Despite our fear and lack of trust, and despite our foolish, stubborn self-sufficiency, he frees us from malice and envy toward him and one another by washing us with a rebirth through the Holy Spirit. The effect is threefold: it brings forgiveness of past sins, it offers a quality of life never known before, and it gives an inheritance of hope for a different future—one that redeems the past and present. Jesus does a spiritual renovation by the generous pouring out of his Holy Spirit!

The good news of Advent is a Savior, who by his death and resurrection prescribes a remedy for fear. Instead of focusing on fear, through the Savior we are enabled to focus our resources on doing good and living in harmony with the law of love, a law which is healthy for everyone!

No wonder that, as the Savior’s birth was announced, the angel declared to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all people” (Luke 2:10, NIV).

Prayer: Jesus, you preached freedom for prisoners, and we are shackled by the past and present without it. Come, Lord Jesus, and cast out every fear. Perfect us in love for the sake of your kingdom!

Doyle DeGraw is pastor of Crossroads Church in Stony Brook, New York. 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.

Advent Devotions

advent devotions

Titus 2:11-14

By Dustin Neeley

In this short passage, the apostle Paul lays before us a significant gospel feast.

He sets the table by telling us that the coming of Jesus now offers salvation for all people. What wonderful news for sinners like us! Next, he reminds us that gospel grace trains us to walk away from sin and into holiness and communion with God, on mission for his glory. What wonderful and compelling truths! Solid food for those who want to keep growing.

But then Paul invites us into the season of Advent in which we now live—a season of waiting between the first and second coming of Christ. Like a pause between dinner courses, it is a season between fullness and joy through his Spirit on the one hand, and the emptiness and sorrow of living in a fallen world on the other.

Each time we hear good news, we can look forward to the day when we will experience the ultimate good news—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Similarly, when we hear tragic news, we long for this day as well, and pray for and work to bring the kingdom until it comes in full.

In a sense, we experience Advent not only in December, but each day of the year. May God fuel us to live for his glory today as we await his glorious return.

Prayer: Sometimes we are so focused on what we dream of, long for, and even groan for, that we forget what you have already done in the birth of Jesus. Sustain us with joy in your salvation and remind us of your new mercy every morning as we wait for all things to be made new.

Dustin Neeley is pastor of Refuge Church in Franklin, Tennessee. 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.

Advent Devotions

advent devotions

Psalm 97

By Randy Weener

Our minds get mired in the messes of political gridlock, fractured families, and crowded calendars. Our hearts ache over the leading articles in our newsfeed announcing the carnage of yet another earthquake, flood, refugee trauma, or terrorist strike. Piercing through that hovering cloud of despair come these welcome words: “The Lord reigns.”

Creation is the first to receive this good news in the opening verses of Psalm 97. Hope resides in a righteous and just ruler who will prevail. Before him the mountains will melt, the heavens will herald and the peoples will behold his glory. The result: “Let the earth be glad; let the distant shores rejoice” (v. 1, NIV).

But there is good news for God’s people as well. In the final five verses the psalmist turns his attention to lifting our spirits. The Most High Lord is above all—all the earth, all other gods, all circumstances that raise our blood pressure and steal our sleep. He is ruler, sovereign, in charge, aware, and on his throne, and he is the victor. Therefore, “rejoice in the Lord, you who are righteous, and praise his holy name” (v. 12, NIV).

But how can it sound so good when it looks so bad? Don’t be deceived. God’s supremacy might surprise you. It surprised Jesus’ disciples. Who recognized his reign as it was inaugurated in a cattle stall, in the person of a defenseless infant, birthed and tended by a peasant girl carrying a passport from a forgettable village? Even 30-plus years later they hadn’t figured it out as he was paraded into Jerusalem for his coronation, only to be executed as a criminal. The Lord reigns. But don’t just look for the obvious. Listen to the transformational testimony of a new Jesus-follower, be awed by the restorative power of once-charred turf, and celebrate unlikely companions locking arms to right an injustice.

The Lord still reigns!

Prayer: Lord, lift our eyes from what is discouragingly obvious to recognize that you reign, even today. Gift us with the privilege to encourage someone else today with that good news.

Randy Weener is classis leader for Great Lakes City Classis and Church Multiplication catalyst for the RCA. 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.

Advent Devotions

advent devotions

Psalm 96

By Ricardo Velázquez

During World War I, accounts say a spontaneous truce happened in the trenches between German and British troops when soldiers from each side took turns singing Christmas carols. When the British began to sing “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” the German troops joined them in a chorus heard through the night on that “peaceful” battlefield. It is such power that makes the songs of Christmas so great, and we enjoy them because they are among the most recognizable songs in the world—songs that tell and reflect the spirit of the season. They share with the world the message of peace on earth through the birth of Jesus.

Songs have a powerful way of uniting people through compelling messages and the feelings they evoke. They offer such a unique expression of personal stories and experiences. Knowing this, the psalmist asks us not to just sing songs we know, but to sing a new song too! Though not all of us are gifted with musical talent, our experiences with our Savior need to be expressed and shared with all the earth. The message that tells of his salvation is needed still. All the nations need to hear of his marvelous works among all the peoples. Our songs need to share the value we give our Savior, through our praise, our trust, our offerings, and our worship of him.

This season, let’s enjoy our wonderful, traditional carols, but also actively share and express our newest stories of God to a world that needs joy, peace, and goodwill for more than just a season, with new songs of our daily life in him!

Prayer: God of the ages, sometimes you build on the old, and sometimes you do something totally new. May our songs this season capture the joy of both what you have done and what you are doing!

Ricardo Velázquez supports leadership development for the RCA and works with Hispanic church planters. 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.

Advent Devotions

advent devotions

Isaiah 62:6-12

By Tom Elenbaas

All around the world, people commute to work or manage daily living in communities aching for grace.

In this passage, I hear promises that cause my heart to ache, longing for a harvest of grain, for ripe grapes to become new wine, and for a level path with boulders removed to make safe passage possible. We long to raise the festival banner, turn up the music, and sing, shout, and dance! But our mouths are dry, our tongues caked in the dust of drought. We see only cracked earth and fields parched, brown with death. We stumble through crooked pathways in the darkness.

“Listen,” it seems Isaiah is saying to those shouting from the walls. “Cry out—without quitting—and do not let the God of goodness sleep through your pain. Remind God of the promises he made to you—of new wine, new grain, and new grapes in the splendor of his house.”

This is an invitation into a new reality despite the difficulty of the day. Whether we are brick-makers in the baking sun of Egypt or sons and daughters slaving today in a consumer culture of our own appetites, here is the promise of a new city. One translation says, “Pass through, pass through the gates!” (NIV), while another says, “Go out through your gates … Go out! Prepare the way for the rest of your people to return!” (NIRV). Both are true. There is an invitation to us to both enter the gates of gladness from wherever we are in the kingdoms of emptiness and to go out, removing boulders and obstacles for others, raising a banner that proclaims, “This is the place of life!” Come, Lord Jesus. Come, Savior. Come, Redeemer, so that we will be called “Sought After” and “the City No Longer Deserted” (v. 12, NIV).

Prayer: God of promise, keep your promises to us who are waiting and longing for your coming again!

Tom Elenbaas is senior pastor of Harbor Churches in Hudsonville, Michigan. 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.

Advent Devotions

advent devotions

Matthew 1:18-25

By Ed Schneider

Joseph is righteous. That’s the foundation of this passage.

The word “righteous” was used with great intention by the writer. Being called righteous wasn’t simply synonymous with being some nice guy who had demonstrated good moral clarity. From a biblical perspective it was far more. This term designated people who by their wisdom, stature, and presentation were mature and firm representations of what God calls the obediently faithful to be. Joseph represented the embodiment of godliness.

Joseph, being a just man, was not willing to disgrace both Mary and her family. Humanly speaking, he had every right to be angry and frustrated by the circumstance Mary had presented to him. Mary and her family were under a cultural contract of sorts. She had broken the terms of her engagement and was soon to be exposed. Yet Joseph couldn’t see the value in causing more damage. So what was he supposed to do?

God showed him what to do by opening Joseph’s eyes and heart to a greater understanding of God’s immeasurable grace.

The Scriptures clearly testify that Mary had been intentionally touched by the Divine. God is dramatically declaring that anyone or anything that the Divine touches in any way becomes both blessed and also a profound blessing to others, regardless of what current culture may demand or argue.

Joseph was called to bring Mary completely into his life and to openly celebrate her life, even if it did not fit neatly into the accepted norms of current culture.

Just like Joseph, when God calls, we are to welcome and receive the people who make us uncomfortable or who seem unclean, so that they may experience through us the practical display of God’s love and subsequent empowerment.

Just like Joseph, we are called to move beyond what we already know to fully experience what God has in store.

Prayer: God of grace, give us a fresh understanding of the way your grace operated toward and between Joseph and Mary. Help us live into such immeasurable kindness and patience, even if the culture around us condemns.

Ed Schneider is the Fresh Start pastor of Trinity Community Church in Kent, Washington. 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.

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.