on the road...
As our world seems to spiral out of control, we spiral inwards towards the light of Christ.
We are setting up an outdoor Spiral experience! Come to church anytime throughout Advent and Christmastime to walk the spiral with your loved ones. It is sure to be an experience to remember for all ages. Follow this guide: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Sl1Gre1qHR7GmKzYaiUY3OPyrGeDSBp7/view?usp=sharing
Day Thirty eight Three King’s Day
Fulfillment is different for all of us. Many things can be fulfilling in life and a few that stand out for me are raising children, serving as a youth sponsor, helping in children’s Sunday School classes and helping with a church building in Honduras. I have always found fulfillment in God’s creation, and this year, spending more time outdoors, that was especially true. Fulfillment it can be something simple or significant…like a sunset.
Doug Wengerd (his photography)
Day Thirty eight Gift During the spring of my sophomore year of college, I was invited to live with ten other people at East Hall, an intentional living community (or ILC) at Goshen College. While I was reluctant to do so at first, as a quiet and sometimes anxious introvert, I eventually agreed. Little did I know, a year later, that this would be the best thing that happened to me in 2020. After moving into East Hall this year, one of our first house activities together was to determine our Enneagram type as well as love language in order to better understand one another. While I have always been the kind of person who sort of hates to be defined by a specific “type” or number, I was thankful for the reminder of my own love language which is quality time. Even though our love languages can be interpreted and used in different ways, I have felt like the best gift I have received this year is time. Time spent streaming the Sunday morning service with my family, time for walks on campus with friends, as well as time given by professors as a period of grace due to the crazy times that we are currently living in. Now I know that the word “gift” can have several meanings. I know for a fact that it’s definition has changed since I was younger. As a kid, I remember associating a gift with a physical object, typically given out during birthday parties or Christmas. Yet more recently, I have begun to associate a gift or gifts with time or the act of service for others. This definition has been especially meaningful to me during the pandemic, as face-to-face interactions and social gatherings are limited. Likewise, living in a “bubble” with 10 other people at East Hall has taught me the importance of relationships and has given me a new appreciation for the time that I am able to spend with others around me. I can recall one occasion, in particular, when I was having a busy day and felt overwhelmed by a certain project for one of my classes. As I described my frustration and feelings to several of my housemates, one housemate in particular took notice. Later that evening, I was greeted with a bar of chocolate and a handwritten note of encouragement on my desk in my room. In my case, a gift can be as simple as a handwritten note that lets someone know that they are cared for and supported. It doesn’t always have to be a grand gesture or something big. Sometimes the smallest things can mean the most. To quote one of my favorite hymns, “‘Tis a gift to be simple”. May it be so. Ephesians 2: 8-9 Anna Smucker
Day Thirty seven Journey in two parts
Reflecting on Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem, a lifetime of Sunday school artwork brings into focus Mary, discreetly pregnant behind her robes, and riding on a donkey beside her husband, though some quick research tells me she was more likely walking alongside him. The reverence of the artist usually painted her expression as sober, befitting the Mary that would appear in later bible stories – the mother of GOD after all. But in that moment, she was a young bride, an expectant mother, full of anticipation and excitement about the coming days, and likely little thought of the far-off years. Now THAT’S an attitude I can recognize. My own important excursion was not one that took me through deserts and countryside to distant cities, but through self-reflection and discovery, maturity and growth. It’s a journey that I believe puts me in sisterhood with that young Mary, though beyond that the parallels are surely limited.
Michelle Obama in her memoir, Becoming, wrote “Now I think it’s one of the most useless questions an adult can ask a child – What do you want to be when you grow up? As if growing up is finite. As if at some point you become something and that’s the end.” For sure. Here and there I focus all my energy on scaling some metaphorical mountain or another – for me maybe it’s grief or humility or some deep question about faith, for another it might be a wayward child, self-confidence or a leap of faith in her professional life – and when at last I wearily plant my flag at the summit, I look up only to find that I’m at the base of yet another mountain.
Much of life’s journey is spent as a child might spend a long car trip with the family. I whiled away those literal childhood miles turning pages of a book so that I didn’t have stare out the window at the open farmland, which seemed uninteresting to one who had seen too much of it, and too little of anything else. But the miles can hold less meaning when traveled so easily. I’ve found that my personal life journey was more consequential in those times when every inch was hard-won. No nose in a book here, but instead creating the path between who I’d always been and who I was meant to become with pickaxes and scuba gear and thigh high muck boots.
One sorrow that I experienced along the way was the awareness that my path had diverged from folks with whom I had long journeyed. I compensated by slowing my gait, beckoning and calling out to them, trying to close the divide, thinking the cost of my progress was too great…as if there was no cost to standing still. So on I went. Though separation and scrapes and bruises were some things that I experienced, so were independence, new experiences and insights, deepened relationships in which I was authentically known and appreciated, and curiosity rewarded. I traded what worked in the past for what is and will be necessary.
The Mary of the journey to Bethlehem didn’t need to be ready to be the Mary of the cross. She was just getting ready to be the Mary of the stable. Likewise, all of my experiences of the past led me to be better suited for what’s before me today. There’s a quote by E. L. Doctorow which says, “You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” Such is my conscious adulthood, each brave or clueless step forward lands, incredibly, on solid ground.
Deanna Beth Chupp
graphic by Elijah Voth
Day Thirty-six Star O beautiful star of Bethlehem
Shining far through shadows dim
Guiding the wise men on their way
O beautiful star of Bethlehem
O beautiful star the hope of life
Guiding the pilgrims through the night
Into the land of perfect day
It will give out a lovely ray
O beautiful star of Bethlehem
O beautiful star the hope of grace
For the redeemed, the good and the blessed
Jesus is now the star divine
Brighter and brighter He will shine
O beautiful star of Bethlehem
O beautiful star of Bethlehem
Give us a lamp to light the way
Unto the land of perfect day
O beautiful star of Bethlehem
O beautiful star of Bethlehem
By R. Fisher Boyce
Day Thirty-five Grace
Day Thirty-four Newness As I reflect on newness, I think back to the beginning of 2020. Hardly a week into the new year, I was on a plane headed south to Quito, Ecuador. Goshen College’s study abroad program, SST, has newness built into its structure. I would be living in Quito for six weeks, getting language and Ecuador culture lessons with my peers, all the while living with a host family I had never met and doing my best to fully absorb myself into their family life. Then, I would move to a different area of the country, live with a new host family, and be assigned some sort of service. If I could describe that newness in emotions, it would be a mix of fear, awe, longing, and excitement.
The first several weeks, I tried to approach newness in the best way I knew, using what I was good at: school. I identified areas of the Spanish language that I needed more vocabulary in and made list after list of words in these categories. I used verb flashcards another SST’er had made. When my Quito host mom and sister showed me the bus route I would take to school, I took numerous notes, then rewrote them in English and Spanish, and studied them. These practices were a crutch, helping me to ease myself into the newness with the tools I already knew how to use.
When I moved from Quito to Puyo, a city on the edge of the Amazon, and began living with my second host family, the same feelings accompanied the newness. But so did a strength that came from the knowledge that I have done this before . I was in new territory, but the lessons I had worked for in other new territories I had traversed came with me. My spunky younger host sisters, my energetic host parents, the countless church members to meet, and the kids I met at my service placement all kept me grounded in the present moments, and I started to intentionally face the newness, the unknown, with a sense of wonder. What would the newness give to me? I worked hard to approach the new and nerve wracking with wonder, holding the word inside me, turning it over and over in my mind, consciously striving for it to shape my responses and interactions.
Even now, I am struck by how quickly I can feel the emotions attached to these memories, and even remember little details. Likely, over time, some of this will fade. Even so, the old feelings remind me that the capacity for newness stays with us, as does our capacity for wonder.
I admit that I’m not sure what this means for a world marked by the newness of a global pandemic. Can wonder really aid us in this time marked by death, sickness, and pain? And does wonder really do the trick when the trauma and suffering brought about white supremacy, patriarchy, and homophobia is still rampant? Definitely not.
Newness is a reminder that life– and each of us– holds the capacity for change. It may be difficult and unwanted, or it may be desperately desired, but change is there. I will hold onto the wonder, knowing that it is held up by the hope that change will bring justice and peace, health and prosperity, for individuals and the world. I will hold on, knowing that in a world that feels like it is falling apart, to wonder “What good for us is there here? ” is the way I am sustained.
Poem (below): “The Thing Is” by Ellen Bass
Day Thirty-three Peace
Pleasure Exercise Academics Calmness Ease
I feel peace when I read. I feel peace when I play games with my family. I feel peace when I play sports with my friends. I feel peace when I learn at school. I feel peace when I hear the sound of rain. I feel peace all around me.
Day Thirty-two Truth Tell all the truth, but tell it slant–
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind–
As a woman who was raised Mennonite, I’ve been taught to always tell the truth, but I’ve been conditioned to “tell it slant.” Conflict-averse, I tend to talk around my opinions in order to affirm those of others. My instinct is to circumvent my understanding of the truth so I can avoid rocking the boat.
However, affirming the opinions of others does not create space for healthy relationships, and “slant” truth-telling hampers our progression toward deeper knowledge of God’s love. My unique life experiences form my perception of truth, and those are no less valid than the perceptions of truth that others hold. Telling the truth– or at least, my perception of it– is an opportunity for myself and those around me to gradually develop a fuller understanding of humanity and of God. We can enter into the holy space of truth-telling with the understanding that we hold only one perspective of truth and, “with explanation(s) kind,” learn and grow together. When we seek the truth in peace, we journey deeper into community with each other.
Day Thirty-One Glory
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Psalms 19:1 And yes, this is the second Glory in our Advent Spiral. Can’t have enough of glory these days.
When our son, David was growing up, we had a family activity Advent calendar. Each year Len and I would incorporate known events like Christmas pageant, parties, and tree trimming with traditions like cookie baking and caroling, and then we’d throw in things like shopping for mittens for a mitten tree or taking treats to an older friend. We tried to make it a little different every year. When David reached Middle School, the Advent Calendar didn’t seem quite so exciting to him, but we persisted. On St. Nicholas Day, December 6th, we had arranged to take rattles to the babies in the hospital. (Now remember this was about 30 years ago, so we could all go up to the obstetric ward and visit with permission, and owning a toy store, we had a ready supply of wooden rattles.) David thought this activity pretty lame, as were most of them that year, but went along with it. When we arrived at the hospital, there were only three babies. We presented the first two to their mothers without much to do. The nurse told us that the third one was a preemie, just born that morning. The nurse suggested we should take a look. I can still see the awe in David’s eyes as he looked at this tiny infant laying in its hospital bed. David compared his thumb with the infant’s fist, and the baby took hold. It was a Kodak moment, with only our memories for film. Then we went in to see the mother and present the rattle. The mother was young and interested in hearing about Advent; what it was, what it meant, why we would be giving away rattles. We had a lengthy chat with her, affirming our own beliefs and convictions about what the birth of Jesus means. We all went away full of wonder and amazement that such a simple act, giving away rattles, could make such an impact on our understanding of the Christmas season, of God’s presence in the world, and the value of outreach. We had not gone to marvel at the newness of birth or intending to spread the gospel, but we did both. It appears the heavens went before us declaring the glory of God and we got to be a small part of the declaration.
Joining the heavens and the skies in declaring the glory of God can mean just showing up, being willing, being open. How will you join the praise this season? This year? Loanne Harms
Day Thirty Radiant
My beautiful great-niece. Just take a moment and look at the expression on her face.
Her look is radiant. The decorations, the beautiful cake, the presents tell her without words that she is a treasured part of this family. She is loved.
I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to Him are radiant with joy; their faces will never be ashamed.
I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to Him are radiant with joy; their faces will never be ashamed. Psalms 34:4-5
I wonder when you feel the radiant joy that comes from knowing you are loved. I wonder how you can spend more time seeking the Lord so that, without words you can know you are a treasured part of God’s family. Cynthia Nyce Kauffmann
Day Twenty-Nine Treasure
There are quite a few verses in the Bible about treasure (including both nouns and verbs). Here are only three of them (NIV). Isaiah 33:5-6 says “The Lord . . . will fill Zion with justice and righteousness . . . . the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.” Matthew 6:21 says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Perhaps the most familiar, especially during this time of Advent, is found in Luke 2:19: “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”
Living during a pandemic has a way of illuminating one’s priorities in stark contrast to activities we may have filled our lives with before March of 2020. Those activities have now fallen away like leaves in autumn. Gary and I have hunkered down in our home, and projects are being attended to that I could not find time to focus on before now. The hours for my part-time job are now done on our home computer; commuting time is saved. We all know that it has been easy to focus on what we have lost, especially the physical contact with family and friends; I missed the in-person contact with work colleagues or students at Goshen College, whether it was students from Waterford Mennonite or the ones I met at the ASK Desk. Now, the only other people I saw besides Gary were clerks and customers at the grocery store or on other errands.
However, as the months went by in this pandemic, I began to wonder if God was asking me to be more thankful, especially for things that I too often took for granted. I have enough food, a safe and comfortable place to live, and much more. There is a lot that we have not lost. However, with all this extra time to reflect, what is it that I actually treasure?
As I think about this, I know that I treasure my Christian heritage, my personal relationship with God, my life with Gary, and my family and friends. However, treasure implies more than just being thankful. What do I spend my time on? Is that what I treasure most? It is a good question for me, personally, to ask. I am interested in many things. However, is it time for me to focus on what is most important?
The question of how I spend my time smacked me right in the face when I thought many times about COVID19. With this lethal virus, what is it that I want to finish before I die? I mean, I have really, really thought about it! I always have numerous “projects” sitting around (or filed away) at home; some I pick up even after years of sitting. What is it that I treasure the most? Is this what God wanted me to learn from the pandemic?
I am not thankful for the pandemic, but I am thankful that I slowed down enough to ponder much that I might not have previously considered before this extended at-home time!
Do you know what God has been saying to you? And what you treasure?
Day Twenty-Eight Wonder The word wonder makes me think of things that cause amazement or awe or possibly even terror. For me wonder often includes nature or the presence of God.
Here are a few examples in my life when I’ve experienced wonder: *When driving west, the first time I can physically see the Rocky Mountains in the distance. It’s the same feeling every time. *Standing behind a low wall at Presbyterian Hospital in San Juan, Puerto Rico, watching the waves break in the moonlight. I did this dozens of times while my wife taught Lamaze classes. It never got old. *Experiencing the genuine smile of a child in response to something I’ve done as a teacher. *Hearing Pomp and Circumstance at a graduation, and Come Let Us All Unite to Sing in a large Mennonite church – both as a 5 or 6 year old. When music moves me I get goose bumps on my arms and back. It still happens. That’s how I know it’s good. *Camping at 10,000 feet and experiencing the Milky Way being so bright I couldn’t sleep. *Finding a wildflower called Bloodroot in the Indiana woods. It is incredibly delicate and beautiful. *Attempting to comprehend an image from the Hubble telescope that includes a nova or super nova. It is impossible to NOT think about God. *Watching a birth. From humans to calves to praying mantises, birth is amazing. *Sitting in Olympic Stadium in Berlin thinking about what it was like for Hitler to watch Jesse Owens win four gold medals. *Rounding a curve in the trail in Colorado, almost stepping on a very large porcupine. The quills were glinting in the sunlight – mesmerizing. It simply shuffled away, unconcerned. What causes you to experience wonder? John Zehr
Day Twenty- Seven Hallelujah
Day Twenty-Six Proclaim I PROCLAIM the Lord is good–always.
Even when our prayers are not answered as we would have wished as when our son passed away in 2011 of melanoma cancer.
But this summer I was accepted for a procedure at Cleveland Clinic to remove the tremor in my right hand. The Open Door SS class prayed for us each time we traveled.
I could Proclaim His goodness along with our class when the procedure was successful. Praise the Lord.
Day Twenty-Five Holy Christmas in Minnesota Minnesota is a special place to me – land of my childhood. It has sacred qualities in its reality and in my memories. I view this place as holy – not because it is perfect, but because I saw God’s light and beauty shining through in daily and seasonal life. Christmas was simple during my childhood years in northern Minnesota. Our little church building was formerly a one-room schoolhouse. The church was not decorated for Christmas. The only picture in the room was the famous one of Jesus standing at the door knocking. Yet there was excitement in the air as we gathered for a Christmas program where all 25 people in the congregation had a part. Everyone received a gift at the close of the service – a brown paper bag containing peanuts, a few hard candies, and an apple or orange. It was a joyous and sacred time. The Psalmist captures the essence of this gathering in Psalm 40:16 But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who long for your saving help always say, “The LORD is great!” The celebration of Christmas in our home was also modest. The snow-covered spruce trees in the forest never made it into our living room! We put up a few decorations made of construction paper – shapes of bells, stars, snowflakes, and multicolored paper chains. My mother would get out two displays. One was a small cardboard creche that unfolded to tell the first Christmas story. The other was put on the table in the kitchen where meals of savory, home-grown food were enjoyed by our family of five. It was a carousel of angels that rang bells while spinning from the heat of the candles. The family would read Christmas stories, hear the biblical accounts, and share a few small gifts while staying warm from the heat of the wood stove. This was a holy, special, love-filled time. Etched in my memory is the grand holiness of the Minnesota winter landscape. The long nights and brutal cold form little islands of light and warmth – the family gathered in the house, the animals in the barn, and the small community gathered in the church. The scenes from creation are vivid for me: – the squeaky crunch of snow underfoot when it is 30° below zero – the expansive array of the forests blanketed in snow – the glorious curtains of northern lights unfolding in the sky – the groaning of ice cracking on the lake as the temperatures dropped – the cathedral formed by long strands of frost hanging from the ceiling of the hay loft All these experiences from my Christmas memories inspire an adoration for a loving, holy God who is the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. My Christmas response to the word “holy” is framed by the Psalmist in this declaration from Psalm 96:9, Bow down to the LORD in God’s holy splendor! Tremble before God, all the earth! – Luke Gascho
Day Twenty-Four Wisdom
Our word of the day is WISDOM. Our scriptures tell us that WISDOM comes from God. God gives us both knowledge and WISDOM, but they are not the same. Knowledge is an accumulation of facts. WISDOM is the ability to make sound and faithful judgements. An important biblical image for WISDOM is Sophia, which in both Hebrew and Greek, is translated as WISDOM. These passages refer to WISDOM as being with God at creation, just as the writer of the gospel of John speaks of Jesus being with God during creation. In Luke 2, we are told that Jesus grew in WISDOM and stature. Just as Jesus entered into discussions with others, we are also able to grow in WISDOM by talking with others and listening to what they are saying. In Proverbs 13, we are told that WISDOM is found in those who take advice. This will always involve listening. It would appear that another aspect of WISDOM is being able to have the humility to confess that we have been wrong or don’t know. In James 3 and Proverbs 11 we are told that WISDOM comes when we are humble. Sometimes the wise person will say, “I do not know”. We do not always have the answer or truth, but the wise person will keep searching. As we ask God for WISDOM, we might pray from Ephesians 1:17, “Keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, may give you the spirit of WISDOM and revelation, so that you may know God better”. Jerry and Barbara Landes
Day Twenty-Three Mystery
Mystery is defined as “something that is difficult or impossible to understand or explain.” I have found that the word itself tends always to cause a response, sometimes positive and other times negative, but rarely have I seen a “neutral” response. These days, I find it hard to reflect outside of the context of what it means to be living in the middle of a pandemic that has abruptly changed our lives. As we were getting ready to celebrate last Christmas (2019), there is no way that we could have imagined what today’s reality would be. When and how things will change back to a new normal? It’s a mystery for many of us. As I reflect on God’s everlasting love, there is so much that I do not understand. I have always been fascinated with the first part of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” How can love be so profound that you are willing to give up that which you love most? How can love be so deep that you are willing to forgive me when I am not worth it? How can love be so sincere that is willing to accept me not for who I am but despite who I am? The whole period of Advent has always been a mystery to me. We are called to wait! We all live busy lives in a culture which associates time with money and busyness with effectiveness! I am supposed to wait. My days are busy with all the responsibilities that I carry, yet I am called to wait. Patience is not always my greatest virtue, yet I am called to wait! For me, part of the mystery is the fact that I do not always understand. It is much easier to focus on words and definitions that are very concrete rather than in terms that are vaguer and more open to a variety of meanings and interpretations. It is hard for some of us to live in ambiguity or in “gray areas” for which the answers are not always clear. I find that focusing “on the mystery of the season” challenges me to first look inward into my own heart. At times the profoundness of God’s words is found in their simplicity. “Love your enemies” is simply clear and concrete; so, then we could say that it should be simple! The reality is that we know that it is not. The words put forth by Jesus at the Sermon on the Mount” are clear and direct, yet when I stop to deeply reflect on what I am being called to do, it is a mystery how can I make it happen in my life. I recently read that in biblical Greek, the term mystery refers to “that which awaits disclosure or interpretation.” Perhaps this definition of mystery is what I need. Maybe in this time of Advent part of the mystery is for each of us to remind ourselves of what an incredible, extraordinary act of love was given to us in the Christ child; a love so profound that we might not be in our human capacity be able to comprehend it totally. At the same time, it might serve as a reminder as we “wait” of how much more we need the Christ child in our lives. Maybe part of the mystery of the season is the gift of space that waiting provides us as we are reminded of our own incarnation as a child of God, a child which God loves so much that gave us the gift of the Son so we could have everlasting life! I know that I do not have the answer to the deep, profound mystery of being a child of God, trying to be faithful to what we have been called. I am not sure that I know what the new year will bring, and when things will change. Perhaps the mystery is to learn to wait with anticipation. I do know the unconditional love of God and remind myself once again how important and how needed is the Christ child in my life; the Son of God whom in a few days we will celebrate his birth! Hosanna to the Savior! Carlos Romero
Day Twenty Two Rejoice
“An Almost Perfect Blessing”
For every clouded sunrise Each hang-nailed rainbow The smeared-ink greeting or mangled embrace For the rimmed-out putts The off-centered bullseyes Like near ripened avocados That are a bit harder to swallow The sleeted Christmas The bittersweet chocolate That divine flaw Each time you color outside the lines Or drive through yellow lights bound within them May your fog-veiled views Like stained glass Guide you to stories Crafted and blurry And may the off-key harmonies with sharp-stringed instruments Lead you to sing along in unison And dance flat-footed Stumbling as you go For it is on uneven floors that we learn to balance And hold ourselves upright So may you seek the lessons You all but understand And may you rejoice That beauty can come In the ideal blemishes That leave us wanting for more
J. E. Misz
Day Twenty-One Turn – When Life Doesn’t Go As Planned
I’m Joseph. Mary and I had a wonderful plan. I was really excited. Mary and I are on the way to a life together. We’re engaged and plan to marry after the appropriate time of engagement. A good plan full of love and joy. But then – an angel tells of a baby to come, and name him Jesus! What’s with our plan to marry? How can this be? Whose child is this? I must end this plan for a wedding. A sharp turn from my dreams. The angel says “no, the wedding will be, and you will have a son. God is with you in this turn of events, this change of plans.” I’m well on my way to a good career. Carpentry work is going well. I can provide for my family. But then Caesar Augustus, the Roman occupying ruler, says I must go to my place of birth to register, for taxes I will need to pay. But my work. The wedding. The baby. I must turn from my work and travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem? Caesar, do you know how far that is? Do you care? Must I turn from my work, a disruption to my plan? One hundred miles, and how many miles a day can Mary and I travel – with Mary in the last weeks of pregnancy? How long will it take, and expenses along the way? We need the money for the baby coming soon. How many miles per day can we walk? How many days will it take? You do the math. This is a turn, a change in plans not of my choosing. Bethlehem at last. We’ve been days on the way, a dusty dirt road. Tonight, we’ll be in Bethlehem. I must get Mary to a hotel, a nice warm shower, and a good soft bed. She has been so brave these many days of travel on the way to Bethlehem. It’s been so hot and dusty and so hard for her with the baby nearly due. A nice hotel. A good warm shower. A good soft bed. That’s my plan. It’s a good plan. What? No room? The hotel is full? Even people sleeping in the lobby? A turn, a change of plans? But where do I turn? I have no other plan. The stable, the barn with the cattle and sheep and donkeys. The hotel manager says we can turn in that direction. Really? That’s where I have to take Mary? And I’m guessing there’s no warm shower in the barn. I hope the baby doesn’t come tonight. The barn is no place for a baby to be born. This turn of events was not my plan. It’s warm with the animals in the barn. The smells of animals are really strong in here. I’m a carpenter. I like the smell of fresh cut wood, but I don’t think I like the aromas of the barn. Mary’s not doing so well. The best we can do for a bed is some straw and hay. She’s having pain, birthing pains. What do I do? I’ve never delivered a baby. I am afraid of this turn of events, this change from my plans. The baby is on the way. What do I do? Don’t panic. God, why are we here? Why now? The baby cries. Jesus is here. Mary is tired, but she and the baby are doing well. At least we have some privacy here in the barn, this out of the way place. I like the quiet after the long journey and all the stress of the day. My plan is for some quiet sleep, as best we can on the hay with the animals beside us. Sleep, that’s my plan. But the quietness is broken. What now? Someone is approaching, on their way to the barn. Not one, but several shepherds coming into the barn. Where is our quiet privacy? Why are they intruding into our quiet place? They say angels in the sky told them Jesus, the Savior was born, here in the barn. Angels, you say. “Lots of angels. A huge flock of them, or whatever your call lots and lots of angels. And they were singing about peace on earth!” I smile and nod, accepting this turn of events, a change I did not plan. Who’s there? An angel? Where are all these angels coming from? You have a message for me sent from God? Don’t go back to Nazareth? But how can that be? My home, our home with our new baby. And my work, my carpentry work. I have customers waiting for me. I already delayed their work to make this unplanned trip to Bethlehem. I’ll lose work. I need the income. I have a family now. Turn from all I have worked for to provide for my family? Where would I go? What would I do? Show me the way. Really? Go to Egypt, and go right now? With Mary and the newborn baby Jesus? God, you do realize Egypt is going south, and my home in Nazareth is north? That would be going in the opposite direction. I think that’s a 180-degree turn. This turn is not in my plan. And Egypt is even farther away from here than Nazareth, way more than one hundred miles. And the way would require traveling across the desert? Where is the stability of steady employment, familiar community, support of friends and family? I have looked forward to a good way of life for our little family. This seems like a drastic turn away from all I had hoped. Life seems so out of control! I had a plan! Who’s control? I don’t need to be in control. You will go with me? You have been with me in all these turns and changes happening to us along the way? You have a plan? And even when bad things happen, you’re still there, walking with us? I felt so alone at times on this journey when things haven’t turned out as I had planned or thought they should. But I see now you have been with me along the way on every turn that has come. Regardless of the turn of events in my life, the good or the bad, you’re always present with me. I just need to let you guide me around every turn which comes my way. But what about my plan? God, I guess I need to put my plan into your care, and let you guide me through the twists and turns of life. Okay, let’s get on the way. But God, I must admit I had a hard time seeing your presence with us when the hotel manager said the only place we could go was to the barn. That wasn’t a joke, was it? You didn’t do that just so future generations could have a nice manger scene for Christmas, did you?
Day Twenty BLESS!
God’s primary activity on the stage of history is to bless all people of all time. God’s intent is that everyone should be well and live well in every aspect of life. God has done great-life enriching things (blessed us). God calls us to bless him (to declare his praise). God calls us to bless one another in the human family in word and action. Blessing one another is a full-time, life-long calling. Hear God’s call to Abram in Genesis 12:1ff. “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing…in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Abram believed God and set out on his faith journey to be blessed and to bless. Jesus is a descendant of Abraham. Jesus’ coming to earth is a highlight of God’s blessing all the families of the earth. Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit when Mary, the mother of Jesus, stops in for a visit. Elizabeth says to Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb…And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord” (Luke 1:42ff). And Mary responds, “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…” (Luke 1: 46ff). Zechariah blesses the Lord at the birth of his son, John, the Baptist (Luke 1:67). “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.” When Jesus was born, an angel of the Lord announced a blessing, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. Then a multitude of angels appeared and blessed God, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” (Luke 2:8ff). When Joseph and Mary took Jesus to the temple, Simeon and Anna blessed/praised God for the coming of Jesus (Luke 2:25ff). Let us be in the business of blessing God and of being the good news to others and to bless others at their point of need with what God has given us. Paul writes in Galatians 6:10, “So then, whenever we have an opportunity let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.” “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known upon earth, and your saving power among all nations. Let the people’s praise you, O God, let all the peoples praise you.” (Psalm 67:1-3).
Day Nineteen Learn
One thing that I have been able to learn recently is the importance of taking care of our community. For example, I had to learn to wear masks whenever I went places and saw people. It was a little difficult because it would get hot and it would be uncomfortable, but I have learned to handle it and understand the real reason for it. Understanding that I am wearing a mask to help keep my friends and family safe has helped to make wearing a mask easier because I understand the need for them. It is important to learn new things and it is important to be able to accept whatever comes to you that you might not be expecting. It is also sometimes fun to learn new things like a new sport or instrument. We need to be able to learn more things because if we didn’t, it seems like life would get boring because you aren’t trying new things and learning to do different things. Another thing that goes along with learning is perseverance. In order to learn something, you have to persevere, or you will never reach the end and be happy with it.
Day Eighteen Pray
Romans 8: 26-27 “In the same way, (as we hope and wait patiently for what we do not yet have), the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.” We are told to pray unceasingly. But so often we do not know how to pray. We tell others, ‘you are in my thoughts and prayers’. But how and when do we pray for the other? We feel inadequate, we do not have the words to pray, we feel distant to God. Does God really hear us? The Bible gives us many examples that God does hear, does care and understand. God also knows that we often do not know how to pray. That we are falling asleep when we are asked to pray, or forget to do it. Romans tells us that the Spirit helps us in our weakness and intercedes for us. If only we allow the Spirit to do so. If only we come to God with our weakness. And God hears, listens, cares. The Psalm writers did not know how to pray either, or did they? They cried out to God, let off steam and hurled all their anger and frustrations at God. In so doing, a transformation happened to them, they found means to give thanks and praise again. We can do like the Psalmists, pray in song or utter words that hardly make sense to us. God hears, listens, and cares. Let us groan and allow the Spirit to make sense of our groans. Let us wait patiently, in silence for God and allow God to hear us, to show us his love. Let us bathe in God’s presence in all circumstances. Let us breathe = pray our thoughts and feelings unto our loving, caring ever present God. Let us not forget to breathe, to pray. God hears, listens and cares. Ursula Hess
Day Seventeen Worship
Worshiping amid the beauty and pain of the world About three decades ago, Revelation 7 sprang to life in worship with brothers and sisters in The Eternal Sacred Order of the Cherubim and Seraphim, an African-Initiated denomination. The drumming pulled my heart into rhythms of exuberant worship. The white-robed congregation danced as One Body. Faces radiant with joy. “Everyone was there—nations and tribes, races and languages, …dressed in white robes before the Throne and the Lamb and heartily singing: Oh, Yes!
The blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving,
The honor and power and strength,
To our God forever and ever and ever!
Oh, Yes! The worshipers had come from the great tribulation…The One on the Throne will pitch his tent there for them: no more hunger, no more thirst, no more scorching heat. The Lamb on the Throne will shepherd them, will lead them to spring waters of Life. And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.” (Excerpts from The Message Rev. 7:9-17) My fellow worshipers were immersed in great tribulation – loved ones dying of malnutrition and malaria, under-employment, children taken from school to work for the family’s survival… And yet, in worship we were transported to heaven for a few hours. How do we hold together the beauty and the pain of the world? One of our cherished Anabaptist scriptures, James 1:27, tells us that true worship is to reach out to those who without homes and loved ones. We know about denying ourselves to serve others, although, how often do we actually practice it? How much do we know about stepping into Kairos-time and losing ourselves in worship? Contemplatives, like Thomas Merton, tell us that if we attempt to serve others without participating fully in God’s Presence and Love, all we have to share is “the contagion of [our] own obsessions, … ego-centered ambitions, delusions about ends and means, [and] doctrinaire prejudices…” In this Advent season, I want to move into joyful, unself-conscious worship that unleashes me for joy-filled, unself-serving attentiveness to others’ needs. I want to camp in Jesus’ presence and overflow with Jesus’ love that blesses others. This, I think, must be the Way from tears to the spring waters of Life.
Day Sixteen REST
My family adopted a kitten named Albert in November and he has taught us some important lessons. Albert plays very hard and then rests so he can play again. He sleeps without worry so he can be fully ready to run again. I believe this is a perfect example of what resting should be. The definition of rest is to “cease work or movement in order to relax, refresh oneself, or recover strength.” God wants us to do amazing things, but also acknowledges the significance of rest. I think taking time to rest is especially important this year. It is easy to become consumed with our worries, and looking after ourselves is important. 🙂
Day Fifteen Go!
Each year there comes a dark winter’s day when the fog from the lake effect hangs thick and heavy over Goshen. Christmas lights are lit and downtown shops are all aglow, and an odd-little family loads up a mini-van and is driven rather slowly through slush and snow to the Chicago airport. It’s time to go. And… Each year there comes a rainy day when the muddy rivers reach far beyond their boundaries on the Aguarico river. The whole village of Zábalo floods, and the odd-little family takes passage on a canoe back upriver to the settlement where their vehicle is waiting. There they pile into a ‘98 Toyota Land cruiser and wind their way through the foothills and eventually to the Quito airport, two- or three-days’ distance from the village. It’s time to go. The Ross Richers are well acquainted with being the ones who go. This migratory lifestyle may seem odd to the modern human species, but they are not alone. Just as the animal kingdom is on the move each season, they too must go. It’s what feels right. They share the joys and pains of a migratory lifestyle with everything from fish and birds to tiny insects and massive whales. Andy Davis, a University of Georgia ecologist, says about the migratory life, “It’s hard; it’s a taxing, energetically expensive journey. It allows them to exploit different resources that they wouldn’t have been able to find if they’d stayed put.” Jane and Jerrell couldn’t agree more. Migrating from North to South and back again each year for the past six years has been taxing in many ways, but the benefits have far outweighed any of the costs. Being people on the go has allowed our family to tap into spiritual and community resources that we wouldn’t have been able to find if we had just stayed put. When Jesus said, “Go into all the world” (Mark 16:15), “Go to the lost sheep” (Matthew 10:6), “Go in peace” (Luke 7:50), “Go and proclaim the kingdom of God”(Luke 9:60), “Go, sell your possessions” (Matthew 19:21), “Go prepare the way” (Luke 1:76), “Go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19), he also promised, “the Spirit of truth who lives with you, will be in you.’” (John 14:17) At the end of each spring we find ourselves on a northward journey from the rain forest of eastern Ecuador, where we over-winter, to our home in Goshen, Indiana. We are accompanied by millions of monarchs also making their way north to countless backyards in the US and Canada. These butterflies could not complete the arduous round trip journey without the nutrients provided by milkweed and flowering plants found here in our ecosystem. Neither would our family be able to continue going without the spiritual food and community support of Waterford Mennonite Church. Together, let us continue to ask, “Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you…?” (Mark 14:12) just as Jesus’ disciples asked him before the Last Supper. Jane Ross Richer
Day Fourteen HONEY
Honey – a golden liquid 25% sweeter than sugar. A word used often to provide a picture of the promised future – a land flowing with milk and honey (Ex 3:8,Jer 11:5). And honey is used to describe the flavor of God’s Word by the human recipient (Ps 19:10, Eze 3:3, Rev 10:10). Let us explore honey a bit deeper. It is a product made by a very industrious insect, the honey bee, and it is full of all the nutrients needed by the bee society to sustain itself throughout the year. The color and flavor of the honey expresses the character of the pollen of flowers in its surrounding environment and the enzymes from the bees themselves. When stored in airtight containers it will not spoil. Honey was found in tombs of pharaohs thousands of years old that was still good. Honey can also be used as medicine to aid in the healing of burns. We use honey to sweeten our food and to given pleasure to our tongue when eating. We often use the term honey to express our feelings of love and care when speaking of or to those we love and treasure. What delight and joy we receive from this golden liquid – Honey. As we enter the new year of 2021, put a drop of honey on your tongue as both a promise for the future and a reminder of the sweetness of God’s Presence in word and spirit. Rachael Hochstedler
Day Thirteen Word
I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am still amazed at the power of a single word that can change everything.
Take Shakespeare, for instance. I remember teaching Julius Caesar for the first time and thought it comical (and perhaps too convenient) that by the time Brutus explains his actions to the crowd, they are fine with his words. But, just on the next page, Mark Anthony can string a few ideas together, get the crowd saying “Yes” to his ideas and then gives the crowd an object lesson that leads them to completely doing an about-face and ready to riot against Brutus. Or, if you don’t want to geek out with my literary reference, think of how a single word can change the intent and impact of our message. For instance, if I were to say “You are beautiful” that might conjure up a smile or a little embarrassment because we aren’t used to such complement. But what if I took away the intensifier and simply said, “You are beauty.” That’s not a surface idea; it’s something of the soul. John reminds us that God’s message to us came in the person of Jesus (In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God—John 1:1). And that’s one of the soulful messages for us during this Advent season: We might not be great at communicating with one another or with God, but it’s through Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit that allows us to be one with one another and with God. I’d like to leave you with the opening stanza of Michael Card’s “The Final Word” and feel welcome in listening to the entire song through this link. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U768-gCY0ds
You and me we use so very many clumsy words. The noise of what we often say is not worth being heard. When the Father’s Wisdom wanted to communicate His love, He spoke it in one final perfect Word.
Day Twelve Baptize
Day Eleven Mercy
The Pope* – “Jesus Christ Is the face of God’s mercy.” We desire mercy on the Earth as in Heaven. God’s mercy must shine through us?
Aaron Lehman *Pope Francis
Day Ten PATIENCE
“Patience is the ability to endure difficult circumstances, such as perseverance in the face of delay; tolerance of provocation without responding in annoyance/anger; or forbearance when under strain, especially when faced with longer-term difficulties.” (From Wikipedia) In other words, it is the ability to wait for what is not yet. One can wait impatiently or one can wait patiently. The latter is waiting without inner or outer protest. James 5:7-8 Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. (In other words, accept the pace of natural progression) You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. However, if “with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day” (2 Peter 3:8) then “near” could be a very relative term! The belief behind an attitude of impatience is that what is in the present moment is not good enough for me. It reveals the belief that in order to be happy or content we need something that we don’t have yet. It does not mean living without hope for something better in the near or far-off future, but living with contentment and gratefulness with whatever one has in the present moment. So, Advent is a time of waiting in anticipation of what it is not time for yet. “The time has not yet come” (sound familiar as a Biblical phrase?) What is the value in needing to wait for what one longs for? I suppose we can see the horror of not learning to wait if we imagine giving a child whatever he or she wants whenever she wants it and watching what kind of adult monster he or she turns into! So, one value in learning to wait is that it develops character. Is there joy in anticipation? What is the benefit in looking forward to something better without having it yet? Could it be that one benefit is learning that life being good is not about controlling it, or making it into something that pleases us in the moment, but allowing it to develop freely without conditions as we surrender to being faithful in the moment? There is mystery in that, for sure, but it is a holy mystery! Patience is not just about waiting for some change in one’s circumstances. It is also about learning to be patient in the movement from having answers to not having answers in the moment and being at peace with that, as illustrated in the following poem by Ranier Maria Rilke:
Have Patience Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves . . . Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer. – rainer maria rilke
And then there is this, when we get impatient with our own growth toward maturity: Patient Trust in Ourselves And in the Slow Work of God Above all, trust in the slow work of God. we are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability . . . . And that it may take a very long time. And so I think with you. Your ideas mature gradually . . . . let them grow let them shape themselves, without undue haste. Don’t try to force them on, as though you could be today what time (that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will) will make you tomorrow. Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give our Lord the benefit of believing that His hand is leading you, and accepting the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Here is a story of the long painful road to blessing and the lessons learned: https://joyfullifemagazine.com/waiting-the-long-discipline-of-surrender/ So wherever we are in the journey to Bethlehem, to the stable, to Jesus, it is exactly the right place to be. Just be where you are and be willing to take the next step when it is time. You will get there!
Day Nine COMFORT The first thing that pops into my head when I think of comfort is the song, Comfort, Comfort O My People. The second thing that pops into my head is the word comforter, as in a warm blanket to wrap oneself in. We are in what feels to me to be a very uncomfortable time in our world, but we have to remember that our Comforter is still with us. Our Comforter has remained constant through all the changes we have endured. Are we letting our Comforter wrap us in warmth this year, or are we too preoccupied with distractions and worries to remember that we were not meant to do this on our own? Comfort, comfort, O my people Speak of peace, now says our God. Some verses that allow me to feel comforted when I find myself worrying are: John 14:27, Matthew 6:25-27, Philippians 4:6-7, and 1 Peter 5:7 May you read them and feel that you are wrapped in the warmth of God’s comfort. For the glory of the Lord Now o’er earth is shed abroad; And all flesh shall see the token That his word is never broken. Melissa Chupp
*lyrics by Johann Olearius based on Isaiah 40
Day Eight Speak
In the beginning, “God said…”.
In Genesis 1 Scripture notes God speaking several times, “bringing forth created order out of the formless, empty darkness that was covered with deep waters.” What kind of speaking has such power? Is there significance, power with “speaking” for whomever speaks? In Genesis the ability to “speak” gives change, enlightenment, creation, empowerment. God’s speech gave light, order, beauty and life–plant, animal, and, the pinnacle of creation, human beings, created in God’s image. All that God spoke into existence is now in relationship to each other… and to God. And it was “very good.” Then “the serpent, the shrewdest of all the wild animals the Lord God had made, one day asked the woman, ‘ Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?’ ” That which God has created is now questioning what God had spoken. The question raised by the serpent is a misstatement of what God had said “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden, except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.” The woman clarified what God spoke to them but at this point, the serpent outright lies to her, speaking “You won’t die,” and contradicting the authority of God. God’s communication with us is one step closer to becoming muddied in our minds by the twisting and distortion of God’s words. At this point God’s sovereignty is being challenged and the serpent, God’s creation, is claiming to have the “knowledge of good and evil” by denying God’s spoken words. Humankind tends to see only the “one tree” of which they are not to eat. We see and we want! And we take! Focus is on the one “do not” and we do not see the extravagant abundance God has given in all other gifts. We disregard God’s life-giving instructions and provisions, to follow our own limited understanding, based on spoken words that have distorted the truth. The outcomes: violence, distrust, fear, death, hatred, murder, toil, suspicion, pain, doubts, insecurity, broken dreams and relationships. What can be trusted? What is truth? The foundation of God’s authority and sovereignty is now called into question for the rest of time. But not for eternity for the tree of life will not be accessible until the right time has come to pass and all is restored as God designed. (Romans 5:6, Ephesians 1:10)) God’s beloved creation has fallen into disobedience and sin but God, in his love, continues to speak:
- So God said to Noah. . . (Gen 6:13+)
- The Lord had said to Abram . . . (Gen 12:1+)
- Then God said to Jacob. . . (Gen 35:1+)
- God called to him (Moses) . . . Exodus 3:4+)
- The Lord spoke to Joshua . . (Joshua 1:+)
And to many others, including Samuel, David, and to many prophets.
- Isaiah 61:1-2
- Jeremiah 9:23-24
- Jeremiah 33:1-26
- Ezekiel 35:11-16, 25-31
- Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi
Between the Old and New Testaments over 400 years pass without a spoken word from the Lord. We read at the time of the writing of the New Testament that God’s chosen people are under Roman occupation, no longer divided into northern or southern kingdoms, but a people scattered in all parts of the known world. Sin has continued to divide and conquer. But, God, keeping his everlasting covenant breaks again into the broken creation story, and an Angel of the Lord appears to and speaks to:
- Zechariah – “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah. God has heard your prayer.” (Luke 1:8-17)
- Mary – “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you. . . Don’t be afraid…” (Luke 1:26-33)
- Joseph – “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife….” (Matthew 1:18-21)
- Shepherds –“don’t be afraid. I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. . . “ (Luke 2:8 – 20)
Resurrected Jesus’ spoken words to:
- Women at the tomb – “don’t be afraid. . . “
- Disciples – “peace be with you.”
Identified by name, regardless of social status, education, time in history, God the eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, speaks into the specifics of each situation and moment and says, “Do not be afraid,” and/or “Peace be with you.” Though humankind has sought to be their own authority, God has not abandoned his creation and continues to speak into all of time. So how do we speak? What do we speak into? What do we speak? Why do we speak? Does our speech model God’s creative Spirit that gives light, purpose, meaningful relationships? Or do we keep silent? Do we speak at all? If not, why not? How do we hear God speak? Do we hear God speak? What hinders us from hearing God speak life-giving words? In a world traumatized by hatred, violence, fear, confusion, unable to discern truth and what to believe, can we and do we speak Jesus’ words, “Don’t be afraid?” When we speak, we are given the power to create or to destroy, to bless or to curse, to build up or to tear down. God’s Word gives us hundreds of examples where people have chosen to speak into the Light or into the Darkness. During this Advent season, may we be fully aware of how and what we speak. May our speech bring Light, hope and peace knowing that our ability to speak comes from the very breath of God, the loving, eternal, merciful, revealing God who spoke into all of time and eternity.
Debbie Fath Referenced New Living Translation
Day Seven Glory
The heavens and the earth declare the GLORY of their Creator! Even we humans when we see the exquisite beauty in the design and color of a tulip flower, and as we gaze inside its opened petals, our being bursts in glorious adoration of our Creator! Our Creator God said, “I will create a human being in my image with whom I can experience intimate oneness and love with all my being.” (A glorious existence!) So, God created man and woman and said, “This is the highest achievement yet!” Gloria in excelsis deo! Man and woman experience intimate oneness and in their moment of highest glory a new life came into being – wow!! The parents saw that this child was made in their own image, and oh how they loved this child! They too wanted to share life with this child and bring it glory. The mother held this newborn to her bosom as this child suckled her breast for nourishment. The child felt safe, satisfied, and immersed in love – what a glorious state of being! Eventually this child looked up and noticed her face and smiled! It is as if this child saw God; and they both experienced love, joy, and adoration – what an intimate and glorious experience! Then God said, “I will come to earth to dwell with the humans.” He came as a baby . . . the angels declared “glory to God in the highest”; and people waiting for God’s salvation sing, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!” . . . gloria in excelsis deo! When mankind rejected and even killed Jesus, God countered with a glorious resurrection! He then has come back to each of us as a SPIRIT that is HOLY . . . and what glorious things we experience when God abides with us intimately! Each day God comes to us as with a flower; if we take time to look and gaze upon its beauty . . . its glory! . . . our souls will burst forth with joy and gratitude! . . . and the best is yet to come . . . “GLORIA IN EXCELSIS DEO!!”
Day Six Fellowship Within one-fourth mile of the farm where I grew up in Oklahoma lived my grandparents, an uncle and aunt, and my grandpa’s first cousin and her husband. A vital part of farm life in the wide-open prairies was a cellar, not only for food storage, but also for protection from the violent storms that develop in that area. My grandparents were the only household that had a cellar, a hole dug in the ground separate from the house, lined with concrete, with an air-hole in the middle of the ceiling. The access door lay at a slant against the opening with steps going into the cellar. Grandma had fixed it up so that all fourteen of us had a place to sit in an oval against the walls of shelves that stored all the fruits and vegetables that had been canned during the growing season. Often the storms came at night, and my family would be rushing to Grandma and Grandpa’s house to get there before they hit. Once we were all there, we settled in to wait out the storm. Occasionally there would be a loud rap on the door, and whoever it was would be hurriedly invited in. I remember these times as rare moments of fellowship. Gathered together as friends and relatives in a small space under the ground, we paused in a way that we never did otherwise. True we saw each other often and worked together as neighbors, but we never just sat in each other’s company. Conversation was usually light and centered around what was happening in our lives and what news we had about other family and friends. My uncle often teased the kids about how scared we were when the thunder roared. As a child I felt safe with eight loving adults surrounding me and knowing that no matter what happened outside, we had one another and life would move on. In these unusual moments of fellowship; love, faith, trust, caring for each other, and living as a community did not need to be directly taught; we children were living into these deeply held beliefs.
Day Five REBUILD
My first experiences with “rebuild” and “rebuilt” came in my father’s garage where I worked while growing up. During World War II, new parts were not available, so we often had to use things that were “rebuilt.” One rebuilt generator we purchased for a customer didn’t work when we installed it. Dad took it back to the parts house and reported the problem. The parts man said, “Do you want another or your money back?” Dad said, “Aren’t they supposed to work?” The parts man answered, “Oh, yes! And some of them do!” In 1945 Dad let me rebuild a motor for our 1936 Dodge wrecker. I rebuilt the whole motor myself. When it ran well upon completion, I was the proudest 13-year-old humble Mennonite boy! I didn’t continue as a mechanic, but I carried those skills into a hobby restoring, rebuilding classic cars. I have the pictures of them hanging around the perimeter of my garage. All human beings are made in the image of God. Sin and bad decisions deface that image. Only God can rebuild the image with God’s love, mercy, grace and forgiveness. Sometimes the Holy Spirit walks alongside and rebuilds the image in ways that seem miraculous. More often the Holy Spirit brings a believer alongside to walk with the person as the image is rebuilt. Sometimes it takes a whole group of believers to walk with a person for the image to be rebuilt. And, as with the generator during World War II, sometimes the rebuilding process is not successful. In this Advent Season, may we thank God for the rebuilding mission God set in motion with the coming of Jesus. May we thank God for the rebuilding God has accomplished in our lives. May we thank God when we can be co-rebuilders with Jesus and the Holy Spirit. May we commit ourselves to be available for the rebuilding projects God may have for us.
Day Four: Earth
Day Three Strength
The word “strength” can be looked at multiple ways: physical, mental, and emotional strength are all needed to get through each day. The year 2020 has taxed some of these strengths in different ways. Some have needed more physical strength to fight off Covid or take on more responsibilities during a loved one’s illness. Planning for “normal” activities now takes considerably more forethought and anticipation of incidental occurrences than in previous years. Others have struggled to reorient our thinking to consider the least of these in our decisions about what is safe or not safe during this time. Still others had their emotional strength tested as they face long days separated from loved ones or without in-person close contact. And, for many, these taxes on our strengths have come at us all at once! Our strength, whether physical, mental, or emotional, is waning. We are tired from the months of fear, worry, and trying to clutch to some semblance of “normalcy.” We want to control what we can because so much is beyond our control. Psalm 27:1 reminds us that the Lord is the strength of our lives. Because of that, we do not have to fear. We do not have to be strong on our own. Mary and Joseph’s experiences were also unprecedented. Joseph was called on to marry his intended, despite her pregnancy. This would have taken a tremendous amount of mental and emotional strength to put aside doubts and trust in God’s plan. Mary had to carry and deliver this child, drawing on her physical strength in ways she had never before experienced. I imagine the couple also had to have some mental and emotional strength to withstand skepticism or disbelief from their community as they anticipated the birth of God’s son. But God was with them. The Lord was their strength in this time just as the Lord is our strength today and every day. Perhaps this year we can find the strength to let go of our worries and turn them over to God.
To think about: In what ways does God give you mental, physical, emotional strength? In what ways do you need God to replenish your store of strength? In what areas can you show strength by letting go of a burden you are carrying?
Christa Graber Kauffman
Day Two Deliver
The word “deliver” is packed with meaning. Every morning when I get up, I am faced with the expectation that I need to deliver. If I don’t meet the obligations of the day, I will fail to meet the needs and expectations of others. Whenever I make an online purchase, I know that my Amazon Prime account entitles me to delivery of my order in no more than two days. When we were anticipating the arrival of our children, Connie had to experience many painful hours of labor and delivery before we could experience the joy of being a family. And all too often I find myself in messes from which I need to be delivered. If you pay close attention to the story of Jesus’ coming, you can find all of these meanings for “deliver” in the story, but today I invite you to focus on two in particular. First, the sending of Jesus the Messiah was an act of God delivering on his promise. From Genesis to Revelation we read over and over about God’s promises, and time and again God delivered on those promises. Second, Jesus came as our deliverer, to “proclaim freedom for the prisoners, the recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). The song, “My Deliverer”, reminds us to trust in God’s promises, which will never be broken, and to remember that our deliverer, Jesus, is standing by. Take a few minutes to listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K8-NxI_IWd0
To think about: What promises has God made on which you trust he will deliver? Where is your trust in those promises waning? What are the things that blind you, enslave you, and hold you captive from which you need to be delivered?
Day One Tender
Revelations 21:3-5 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ”See the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes; death will be no more, mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away….See I am making all things new.” November 29th, the day this Advent word will be sent out, would have been my 40th Wedding Anniversary. Instead, I received the blessing of just 18 years with my beloved husband, Keith, together with the shared gift of our 4 children, before his death from cancer in November 1998. Facing his diagnosis, and then the disorientation and deep ache of loss and grief, brought us into a time of darkness with many questions and tears, yet comforted by the grace of tender moments that strengthened our bonds as a family and with those who surrounded us with support. As human beings we cannot escape suffering and loss, and we recognize that this has been part of the experience of sisters and brothers at Waterford this year and grieve with you. On a wider scale we are also witnessing thousands of deaths from Covid, human violence, and other tragedies which cause us to weep and lament in our feelings of helplessness and isolation. We feel a need for our pain to be wrapped in the tenderness of love and understanding that enables us to hope. Our hearts are filled with deep longing as, alone and together, we begin our Advent journey. Where will it lead us this year? What “new thing” will come into view for us? John’s vision of the final fulfillment of God’s relationship with the mortals created in God’s image describes the mutuality of the tender relationship between parent and child. God has longed for us, just as we long for God. As a parent gathers up and holds a lost, confused or suffering child and gently wipes away their tears, we can trust that God, who loves us tenderly, is leading us to a place of restoration where mourning and crying and pain will be no more, and all things will be made new.