Advent: Day 21

* This post is part of an Advent devotional being posted daily during Advent 2014. For an intro to this series of posts, please read the initial post here

Saturday 20 December                   

Read: Isaiah 54:1-10

(light three candles)

Reflection

“Sing, barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.” How harsh and out of place these words must have sounded at first! Think of Sarai, Abram’s wife, when the Lord visited them and promised a child. She responded with laughter – not from joy, but to protect herself from opening a dream deferred and destroyed. What else could she do after decades of her yearning, only to have her prayers for a child seemingly fall on God’s deaf ears. The promised joy of children and the fullness of life they bring seemed too cruel to dare imagine again. For that matter, think of Rebekah and Rachel and Hannah who also pleaded to God in the midst of their barrenness. In their own stories, each of these women depict the story of God’s people as a whole: so full of hope, yet seemingly so barren. When would they taste and see and hold the abundant and overflowing life God had promised them. Continue reading

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Advent: Day 20

* This post is part of an Advent devotional being posted daily during Advent 2014. For an intro to this series of posts, please read the initial post here

Friday 19 December                   

Read: Isaiah 52:7-12

(light three candles)

Reflection

Most schools in North America begin their two-week holiday break today. Christmas Day is less than a week away and many of our Christmas celebrations have already begun. “The signs of the season” are all around us. Trees and sugar cookies alike have been decorated. Presents are wrapped and beginning to accumulate. Meals are planned and special desserts are being baked. Laughter and games around family tables are anticipated, if not already taking place. Continue reading

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Advent: Day 19

* This post is part of an Advent devotional being posted daily during Advent 2014. For an intro to this series of posts, please read the initial post here

Thursday 18 December                   

Read: Isaiah 49:1-7

(light three candles)

Reflection

Those of us who live in North America (and perhaps elsewhere in the world) have a tendency to think in “us-vs-them” categories. Some of it is friendly competition: Canada national hockey teams vs anyone else; or, U.S. Olympic basketball vs the rest of the world. We cheer for and delight in our professional and collegiate teams. We adorn ourselves with all sorts of team toques, jerseys, and t-shirts. The more fanatical among us will even decorate our vehicles or a room in our house according to our allegiances. Continue reading

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Advent: Day 18

* This post is part of an Advent devotional being posted daily during Advent 2014. For an intro to this series of posts, please read the initial post here

Wednesday 17 December                

Read: Isaiah 44:1-5

(light three candles)

Reflection

Perhaps, one of life’s greatest questions, which nearly all of us ask at one point or another is “Who am I?” The challenge many of us face is that most of our responses to that question have a certain level of instability and insecurity to them. We might say I am a beautiful person. But shifting cultural definitions, age, disease, and tragic accidents all threaten our beauty. We might say I am an intelligent person. But even the most intelligent among us face the threats of Alzheimer’s and dementia, brain injuries, addictions, and emotional breakdowns. We might identify ourselves by our jobs, our family structure or reputation, our parenting skills, our financial success, our ability to communicate, or any number of other things – all of which can be undone in a moment. Those who take this question seriously come to recognize the frailty of our lives. Continue reading

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Advent: Day 17

* This post is part of an Advent devotional being posted daily during Advent 2014. For an intro to this series of posts, please read the initial post here

Tuesday 16 December                

Read: Isaiah 43:1-7

(light three candles)

Reflection

The passage opens with a call not to fear. This call makes sense in those situations when we are afraid. Arguably, when we are afraid, joy becomes impossible. This repeated refrain of “be not afraid” gains extra importance during the Advent season. Think for a moment about how many times it comes up in scripture. Abraham, Hagar, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua all heard these words from God’s own  voice. “Do not be afraid” echoes as a constant refrain in Isaiah and Jeremiah, and returns in Ezekiel, Daniel, Joel, and Zechariah. Angels tell Zechariah, Joseph, and Mary not to be afraid. And Jesus repeatedly reassures his disciples that they do not need to afraid.   Continue reading

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Advent: Day 16

* This post is part of an Advent devotional being posted daily during Advent 2014. For an intro to this series of posts, please read the initial post here

Monday 15 December                     

Read: Isaiah 42:10-17

(light three candles)

Reflection

The ancient world had gods for every territory. There were gods of the seas, gods of the valleys, gods for the desert spaces and still other gods for the mountaintops. And it did not stop with physical terrain. There were gods for war and gods for the harvest. The underlying belief was that the uniqueness of each space and the seasonal and tribal circumstances determined which god needed to be appeased in order to ensure survival and well-being. A persistent, if not pervasive, fear lingered: the gods were just as volatile as any greedy human, but more powerful. Joy lasted as long as your gods were properly attended to through sacrifices. Any possibility of joy vanished when the gods of another town, tribe, people proved themselves greater than yours through war. Military might and the gods of war are not new inventions.  Continue reading

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Advent: Day 15 – Third Sunday

* This post is part of an Advent devotional being posted daily during Advent 2014. For an intro to this series of posts, please read the initial post here

Third Sunday of Advent: December 14 – Everlasting Joy

Our Context  

Joy so often seems like one of those fairy tale illusions: an impossible legend of a life lived happily ever after. The contemporary narrative of our lives is a little more sobering and less dramatic. After we’re born, we go to school to get an education to get a good job to afford a decent life – all so that we can retire well and escape from work and responsibility for a few years before we die. Somewhere along the way, we might get married, have kids, and even live to see our grandkids, or if we are particularly blessed, our great-grandchildren. But for the most part, we settle for the trinkets of our culture: constant entertainment, exotic vacations, and weekend getaways.

We know almost nothing of the joy that springs from gratitude. We can barely fathom a joyfulness that deepens and matures in the presence of tragedy or provides strength to endure the unexpected trials that will come our way. Happiness born from stable circumstances or our pleasure-filled escapes from reality serve as substitute sweeteners. That deeper and more elusive joy seems to be little more than a rumor of a world so very different from our own. Where is the joy that will light our way?  Continue reading

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Advent: Day 14

* This post is part of an Advent devotional, being posted daily during Advent 2014. For an intro to this series of posts, please read the initial post here

Saturday: 13 December                

Read: Isaiah 42:1-9

(Light two candles)

Reflection

There are many things we seek to establish. On a playful side, we establish house rules and ground rules before starting games in order to avoid potential conflict. More significantly, most of us seek to establish a positive reputation and a good name for ourselves. Athletes seek to establish personal bests and world records. As a society we want to establish a rule of law, schools and foundations, churches and institutions. We strive to establish ourselves in a profession, to establish safe neighborhoods, and to establish a better life for our kids. Continue reading

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Advent: Day 13

* This post is part of an Advent devotional, being posted daily during Advent 2014. For an intro to this series of posts, please read the initial post here

Friday: 12 December                   

Read: Isaiah 40:21-31

(Light two candles)

Reflection

We live in a culture that sees self-sufficiency as a necessary and defining mark of our transition into adulthood; and we have wholeheartedly and almost unquestioningly embraced that value. It’s not simply an immigrant work ethic that has coaxed us into pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. No, it’s much more. We idolize independence, whether in the form of a driver’s license or the sudden riches of a lottery win or the lifestyles of professional athletes and Hollywood stars. Continue reading

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Advent: Day 12

* This post is part of an Advent devotional, being posted daily during Advent 2014. For an intro to this series of posts, please read the initial post here

Thursday: 11 December                   

Read: Isaiah 40:1-5

(Light two candles)

Reflection

We are so often our own worst critics. As with the psalmist, we can honestly cry out in anguish that we know our sins and they are ever before us. How desperately we need this word from God! “Comfort, comfort my people. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for.” Comfort. Tenderness. Not characteristics that we typically associate with God. No matter how many times we hear about God’s love and even the number of times we sing about God’s love, we have a tendency to view God with fear that at any moment he will punish us. It’s as if we walking on egg shells around God. Continue reading

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