Advent Devotions

The Word Became Flesh

by Dave Schweizer

The Word Became Flesh

John 1:1-14

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

For me, the beginning of John’s Gospel is a figurative, conceptual, and powerful description of how we should think about Jesus.  John doesn’t provide a narration for the empirical events surrounding Jesus’ nativity.  Rather, he gives us a succinct story conveying a purpose:   The Word, which was with God at the beginning, and is God, became flesh and made his dwelling among us… to bring us life and light…grace and truth.   As I read John’s opening words, the season of Christmas becomes a time for reflection on the “truth” and “light” aspects of Jesus’ ministry: he came into the world to teach us how to understand God and God’s will, and how to act as people of God.  During other parts of the church year we focus on specifics — the meaning and takeaways regarding individual events.  For this season, John’s words provide inspiration to consider, and celebrate, Jesus’ life in its entirety.

Good News of Great Joy

by William Wood

Good News of Great Joy
The Birth of Jesus – Luke 2:1-20

Luke 2:1-20

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

8In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” 15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

“I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people”

It was a morning of sharp irony.    I was reading After God, by Don Cupitt, and came upon a line of utter despair – “We know, if we know anything that there isn’t literally any supernatural order, and there is not literally any life after death.   This is all there is, and, as everyone knows, when you’re dead you’re dead.”   

Don Cupitt was infamous in the 1980s as an Anglican atheist priest and academic, who eventually abandoned the church.   

At the same time I was listening to the Christmas concert from St. Olaf’s, entitled “All Earth is Hopeful” and I heard the reading from Luke chapter 2 – “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree….”

It would be so easy to join Cupitt in his atheistic despair.   We are separated from our friends and family by a disease that rages through our country.    The normal democratic process is under threat, bringing crushing uncertainty to our future governance.   Hope appears to be in short supply.

Cupitt had succumbed to the spirit of the age – how could you believe in the technological era?   Man had conquered the world and was reaching out beyond – it was only a matter of time before we realized that God was just a construct of our need.   Once we understood that, Christianity and all religion would die.

Yet what Cupitt failed to understand is that belief is a choice, not a logical conclusion.   We choose to believe, and the intellect follows.   We choose to trust, and faith is born.   In that small flickering flame of faith, a nascent hope emerges, and God is there, waiting for us.  The God who created it all, who is beyond our wildest imaginings, greater than we can conceive.   But this is the same God who we can see in the baby born at Christmas and the man Jesus.

So, this Christmas, despite all the fear, uncertainty and anxiety, I will hear the voice of the angels bringing good news to all people.   I will trust that “all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”   I will choose hope.

Mary’s Song

by Jeanette Leisk

Mary's Song

Luke 1:46b-55

46 And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,

47   and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
   Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
   and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
   from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
   he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
   in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
   to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

I don’t know if this will surprise you or not, but pastors can get a bit snarky. About Christmas songs. One song that a lot of colleagues are rolling their eyes at this year is the song, “Mary Did You Know?”

Now before you worry that I’m going to ruin the song for you, rest assured that I happen to like the song. But I also agree that the song lyrics characterize Mary as a young woman who did not recognize the significance of her child. Our Advent reading for today, Mary’s song known as The Magnificat, makes it clear that indeed Mary did know who her child would be.

In that vein, I appreciate a rewording of the lyrics a friend shared with me this morning:

Mary did you know,
that your ancient words
would still leap off our pages?

Mary did you know,
that your spirit song
would echo through the ages?

Did you know that your holy cry would be subversive word,
that the tyrants would be trembling when they know your truth is heard?

Mary did you know,
that your lullaby
would stir your own Child’s passion?

Mary did you know,
that your song inspires
the work of liberation?

Did you know that your Jubilee is hope within the heart of all who dream of justice, who yearn for it to start?

The truth will teach, the drum will sound, healing for the pain
The poor will rise, the rich will fall. Hope will live again.

Mary did you know,
that we hear your voice
for the healing of the nations?

Mary did you know,
your unsettling cry
can help renew creation?

Do you know, that we need your faith,
the confidence of you,
May the God that you believe in,
be so true.

Lyrics by Jennifer Henry (inspired by the popular song of the same name)
Artwork by Anthony VanArsdale for the National Black Catholic Congress

The Angel Appears to Mary

by Mike Clement

The Angel Appears to Mary

Luke 1:26-38 

26 During Elizabeth’s sixth month of pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin. She was engaged to marry a man named Joseph from the family of David. Her name was Mary. 28 The angel came to her and said, “Greetings! The Lord has blessed you and is with you.”

29 But Mary was very startled by what the angel said and wondered what this greeting might mean.

30 The angel said to her, “Don’t be afraid, Mary; God has shown you his grace. 31 Listen! You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of King David, his ancestor. 33 He will rule over the people of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will never end.”

34 Mary said to the angel, “How will this happen since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel said to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will cover you. For this reason the baby will be holy and will be called the Son of God. 36 Now Elizabeth, your relative, is also pregnant with a son though she is very old. Everyone thought she could not have a baby, but she has been pregnant for six months. 37 God can do anything!”

3Mary said, “I am the servant of the Lord. Let this happen to me as you say!” Then the angel went away.

I remember this passage from growing up. This was the reference to the immaculate conception and the spot in the Bible where we learned source of Jesus’s name. Yes I asked my parents where are the angels now.

There are a few other things I have thought about since then. First, God may call upon us to do difficult and challenging things. These days the call may be a lot more subtle and perhaps harder to pick up than a visit from an angel. But we need to listen and to take up the call. 

It could be donating money to a charity, stopping to help someone, thanking someone for something they did, protesting some injustice in the world, listening to someone who needs help.

Second, Mary was doubtful that this could happen. The angel told her about Elizabeth’s pregnancy. We do not quite know why it was impossible for Elizabeth to have a child but Mary was convinced. God can do anything. 

All too often we dismiss doing the right thing because it does not seem possible, convenient or cool. Mary did it. She was probably ostracized and in a later passage, Joseph had doubts about marrying her.

The stories in the Bible remind us of that and inspire us to go forward when we get the call. If Mary did it so can we.

Open Hearts and Open Minds

by Doug Johnson

Open Hearts and Open Minds

John 7:40-52

40 When they heard these words, some in the crowd said, ‘This is really the prophet.’ 41Others said, ‘This is the Messiah.’ But some asked, ‘Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he? 42Has not the scripture said that the Messiah is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?’ 43So there was a division in the crowd because of him. 44Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.

45 Then the temple police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, ‘Why did you not arrest him?’ 46The police answered, ‘Never has anyone spoken like this!’ 47Then the Pharisees replied, ‘Surely you have not been deceived too, have you? 48Has any one of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him? 49But this crowd, which does not know the law—they are accursed.’ 50Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before, and who was one of them, asked, 51‘Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?’ 52They replied, ‘Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee.’

The guards knew they would be in trouble for not arresting Jesus, given that there was hostility in the crowd.  The guards were impressed by Jesus’s teaching and speaking.  The Pharisees implied that no leader believed in Jesus as the Messiah.  Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council did believe in Jesus.  The Pharisees also said that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.  Some believed and others were hostile to Jesus because he was from Nazareth, not Bethlehem.  If they had looked more carefully (that Jesus was born in Bethlehem) they would not have jumped to the wrong conclusions.  When you look for God’s truth in the Bible, look carefully and thoughtfully with an open heart and mind.  Don’t make judgements or hasty conclusions on people and ideas until you do more research on them.  That was true in Jesus’s time and it still holds true today.