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2019 Advent Devotional – Day 25


Matthew 2:22-23 – Joseph, Mary and Jesus went to Nazareth

But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

Promise - Walton United Church, Oakville, Ontario

“So that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled.” This is the fifth and final reference Matthew made in his Nativity account of Jesus fulfilling prophecies from the Old Testament, and it is apt that Matthew finishes his narrative in this way, emphasizing the fulfilment of these prophecies and the way in which God has kept his promises to the people of Israel. 

The message running through Matthew’s Nativity is unambiguous: God has spoken to his people throughout history, promising to guide and watch over them, and God has kept these promises through the birth, life and ministry of Jesus.

This is a message for us also. God also speaks to us, and promises to guide and watch over us. As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, our Saviour and Messiah, we affirm that God has kept and is keeping these promises today. God cares for us and nurtures us and supports and sustains us. 

God is with us—Emmanuel. Hallelujah!

Almighty God,
All praise and glory be to you! On this day of celebration, thank you for your presence in my life. Thank you for keeping your promise to watch over me and to be with me. Your comfort and compassion console me, your guidance and spirit sustain me, your blessings and kindness delight in me. Above all, your love and mercy embrace me, holding me close and promising me your eternal grace. Amen.

Thank you for joining us on this prayerful path through Advent.
Blessings and best wishes for 2020.

2019 Advent Devotional – Day 24


Matthew 2:19-21 – Joseph, Mary and Jesus returned from Egypt

When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel.

Lament - Walton United Church, Oakville, Ontario

Surprisingly perhaps, but the culmination of Matthew’s Nativity is not the birth of Jesus itself, significant as that may be. In Matthew’s account, we learn instead more of the details of God watching over Jesus and guiding him and his family from his earliest days. 

Today we read that, though the Holy Family escaped to Egypt to survive, God’s plan was not for Jesus to live in Egypt. As the Saviour for the people of Israel, Jesus was to live in the land of Israel, and so when the danger posed by Herod had passed, the Holy Family were led to return. 

Angels take different forms in our lives today—they’re more likely to appear in an email than a dream—but they are still as present now as they were for Joseph. Perhaps we’ve lost the habit of looking for them, or worry that it’s delusional or self-centred to believe that God would be speaking to us. 

Except this is part of God’s promise to us: that God is with us now and is here for us today; and that God will guide us in our journey through life. It is a wondrous gift indeed.

Caring God,
Thank you for being present in the world and guiding me through life. Help me to recognize your direction for me, and to become more aware of the ways you speak to me today. Keep my mind and heart open to you. Help me listen to you more closely and follow you more nearly. Amen.

Thank you for joining us on this prayerful path through Advent.
Blessings and best wishes for 2020.

2019 Advent Devotional – Day 23


Matthew 2:16-18Herod ordered the young children in Bethlehem to be killed

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

Lament - Walton United Church, Oakville, Ontario

Emmanuel—God with us—is a promise that God is with us in all our days, and this particularly encompasses our times of pain and sorrow. Matthew’s gospel reminds us of this, including Herod’s brutality following the birth of Jesus and the grief that created. His narrative depicts a world in all its facets and acknowledges that a life of faith is not without trouble or grief.

Christmas can be a complicated time emotionally—so much emphasis is put on joy and happiness that it can seem at times as though we are not allowed to feel anything else. But at the same time, this season can surface and reinforce feelings of loss and lacking. This, in turn, can be made worse by expectations that we shouldn’t be feeling this way and misapprehensions that we are the only one feeling this way.

The reading today is a reminder that God understands grief, and that sadness and sorrow were part of Jesus’ story too. These events reinforce that there is no aspect of our emotional world that God does not accept. Most importantly they affirm that God is with us in our grief, comforting and consoling us and giving us strength. 

Open yourself today to God’s presence, accepting and understanding all the feelings that this season may evoke for you. And give thanks for our God who will be with us in our pain.

Consoling God,
Hold me close to you today and bring me comfort. Reassure me that you are by my side, supporting me in times of sorrow. As the excitement around me escalates, remind me that you are with me wherever I am; be that in my sadness or my loneliness, my tiredness or my fear. Stay by my side and embrace me in your all-encompassing love. Amen.

Thank you for joining us on this prayerful path through Advent.
Blessings and best wishes for 2020.

2019 Advent Devotional – Day 22


Matthew 2:13-15Joseph, Mary and Jesus escaped to Egypt

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

Shine - Walton United Church, Oakville, Ontario

It seems that in Matthew’s Nativity malevolent forces are never far away. The joy of the wise men was offset by the fear and hostility of Herod, and now no sooner had Jesus received the gifts and adoration of the wise men, than the Holy Family were compelled to flee in fear of their lives. The events convey a dark and unsettling feeling. Matthew is clear: Jesus was not born into a world of peace and goodwill, but one of darkness and danger. 

Yet throughout it all, God spoke into the world and protected Jesus and his family. Just as an angel reassured Joseph at the outset of Mary’s pregnancy and guided the wise men on their journey, here an angel again warned Joseph of looming danger. Obedient to the angel’s words, the family escaped to Egypt and were protected from the violence of Herod.

The world Matthew depicted is reminiscent of the troubles we face today. We too live in times of darkness and danger, surrounded by foreboding and hostility. This makes it all the more important to remember and affirm that God’s love protects us also. 

God is by our side whenever we encounter difficulties and while we may not be delivered entirely from pain or sorrow, we are always saved from facing these times alone. God promises to be with us and never to leave us. It is a promise he kept with the Holy Family and a promise he keeps for us today.

Safe-guarding God,
Your promise to be with me is an incomparable gift. Through your grace, I am protected from fear and despair. Through faith, you give me hope, you grant me peace, and bring me reassurance. Thank you for comforting and sustaining me whenever I face periods of darkness in my life. Guide me safely onwards, protected by your love. Amen.

Thank you for joining us on this prayerful path through Advent.
Blessings and best wishes for 2020.

2019 Advent Devotional – Day 21


Matthew 2:11-12The wise men presented Jesus with gifts

On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Shine - Walton United Church, Oakville, Ontario

It is perhaps the most iconic moment of Matthew’s Nativity: the wise men kneeling in front of Jesus and offering him gifts. The gifts themselves were of immense value; their extravagance meant they were only used in the most lavish of circumstances, most typically by royalty. But more than the physical gifts, the homage offered was a gift of adoration and reverence. And through their worship, the wise men bestow on Jesus the acknowledgement of and witness to his divine status.

The wise men, however, received a gift themselves: God warned them in a dream to avoid Herod and Jerusalem on their journey home. They are saved from any association with Herod’s plot against Jesus, and from any punishment he may have inflicted.
Like the wise men, we are called to share our gifts in praise and honour of God. And equally, we have also been blessed with gifts from God. Indeed, we can only share our blessings because we have first been blessed ourselves.

In this season of tangible and commercial gifts, let us remember and reflect the reverence of the wise men in our worship of God. And may we equally imitate the abundance of their giving, as we give of ourselves and serve God.

Generous God,
Your gifts to me are boundless. I praise the gift of your creation; wondrous as much in the immensity of mountains and oceans, as in the delicacy of a butterfly’s wings. I give you thanks for the unique talents you have bestowed upon me, and ask that you sustain and encourage me to offer these gifts to you in service. May I humbly worship the gift of your grace, shared with me in your limitless act of love. Amen.

Thank you for joining us on this prayerful path through Advent.
Blessings and best wishes for 2020.

2019 Advent Devotional – Day 20


Matthew 2:9b-10 – The wise men find Jesus

[Ahead of them went the star] until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.

Shine - Walton United Church, Oakville, Ontario

To have followed the star for so far and so long, there must have been a moment of confusion and disbelief when it stopped. Were their eyes playing tricks on them? Was the star now so distant that its movement was imperceptible? And then the realization, flowing through them as a wave of relief and delight. They had arrived. 

Contentment, exhilaration, delight, gratitude. The breathtaking sense that this moment was bigger and more remarkable than the moment just before. Overwhelming joy

This is the joy made possible by the love of God and the life and ministry of Jesus. The contentment of being loved and accepted as we are; the exhilaration of living with ongoing hope; the gratitude evoked by God’s everlasting mercy. But most of all the unshakeable reassurance of knowing this love is promised to us for eternity and will never let us go.

Awe-inspiring God,
I cannot fully comprehend the immensity of your love for me, and even to glimpse it overpowers logic and defies reason. It is a love I cannot match, but only weakly imitate; a grace I do not possess, but can only receive and reflect into the world. But even as I’m overwhelmed by the generosity of your enduring love, so I am also enriched with the joy of knowing that I am embraced by your love forever. Amen.

Thank you for joining us on this prayerful path through Advent.
Blessings and best wishes for 2020.

2019 Advent Devotional – Day 19


Matthew 2:9aThe wise men followed the star

When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising.

Shine - Walton United Church, Oakville, Ontario

Herod instructed the wise men to search and strive to find the baby Jesus; however, God’s way required considerably less exertion. When they left Herod’s palace, the star was waiting for them to lead them to their destination. And as they travelled from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, the impetus and inspiration for their journey sustained them through the final stages. The direction was clear, shining into the night ahead of them.

Perhaps it is understandable to be somewhat jealous of the clarity and simplicity of the wise men’s mission, as we perhaps question our lives and where we are headed. But their singular purpose did not mean their journey was without danger or risk; only that they let themselves be led by a clear and true ‘north star.’ 

We are misleading ourselves if we try to pretend that this ‘north star’ does not shine for us also. God’s word is the beacon for our lives, guiding us and showing us how to live; strengthening and encouraging us when we journey through dark places; bringing us safely to salvation.

Radiant God,
Your love shines for me, bringing comfort and courage to my darkest days, and dazzling with glory in times of joy and delight. Whenever I am lost, your light shines out to lead me back to you. Whenever I would hide in shame, your light shines into the corners of my heart, reassuring me with your mercy and blessing me with your grace. Your love is the light that will not go out. Hallelujah! Amen.

Thank you for joining us on this prayerful path through Advent.
Blessings and best wishes for 2020.

2019 Advent Devotional – Day 18


Matthew 2:7-8 – Herod told the wise men to find Jesus

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”

Salvation - Walton United Church, Oakville, Ontario

The paradoxes continue in Matthew’s narrative: not only is the least made most, now the outsiders are given centre stage while the insiders fade from view. The chief priests and teachers—the biblical scholars who formed Herod’s inner circle—had the knowledge of Jesus’ birthplace but did nothing with this information. 

It was left to the foreigners, the wise men from the east, to discover God’s promised Saviour. Thus the outsiders undertook the search while those most familiar with the Hebrew scriptures and prophecies did not follow. 

Knowledge, then, is not enough. Like the scribes, we are not judged on what we know or profess, but on how we act. Merely knowing the story of the birth and life of Jesus is academic, if it does not also transmit to our hearts and change the way we live. 

The immensity of God’s love is such, though, that once you truly know this, you cannot help but be touched and changed by God’s gift. For the scribes, no doubt palace life went on as normal; for the wise men, nothing would ever be the same again.

Compelling God,
May the depth of your love engulf and inspire me, pulling me closer to you. The breadth of your love encompasses all my shortcomings and failings, rescuing me when I go astray. Your ceaseless love seeks me out and you will not rest until I am embraced by your care. Guide me, God, to search always for your truth, in the unexpected places and surprising people where you can be found. Amen.

Thank you for joining us on this prayerful path through Advent.
Blessings and best wishes for 2020.

2019 Advent Devotional – Day 17


Matthew 2:5-6 – The chief priests told Herod where Jesus was to be born

They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

Salvation - Walton United Church, Oakville, Ontario

The simplicity of the location of Jesus’ birth (as foretold in Micah 5:2) contrasted starkly with the opulence of the palace where Herod resided: an agricultural village compared to a grand city; an insignificant rural community in contrast to the centre of power. The comparison can be extended to the two rulers also. Herod, brutal, scheming and manipulative, focused on power at all costs; and Jesus, depicted as a lowly shepherd, sacrificing everything to tend and look after God’s people. 

From the outset, then, God’s love is going to turn our human world and expectations upside down. God’s promised “ruler” will not govern through force and fear, bending his people to his will. 

Rather this ruler will watch over God’s people, to care for them and shelter them from harm. It will not be the most privileged, or the most highly regarded who will lead God’s people but, outwardly, the least. 

We are called therefore to watch out for God’s unexpected presence in our world. Where are we ignoring ‘the least’ because society values only ‘the most’? How can we realign our assumptions with God’s surprising love?

Surprising God,
Remind me today that your way is not the world’s way and your values are not those the world holds dear. Inspire me instead with the promise that you hold me dear. When others brag about the biggest and best, reassure me that you also cherish the smallest and least. Help me notice those in the world who are overlooked and neglected, and encourage me to share your love with them and all your children. Amen.

Thank you for joining us on this prayerful path through Advent.
Blessings and best wishes for 2020.

2019 Advent Devotional – Day 16


Matthew 2:3-4 – King Herod feared the Wise Men’s news

When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.

Salvation - Walton United Church, Oakville, Ontario

Herod’s wider reputation as a jealous and insecure ruler is reinforced by his response to the arrival of the wise men—he is immediately afraid. Herod’s identity was based entirely on his power and reputation and he permitted nothing that might diminish his status or authority. So the arrival of foreign dignitaries, with their news of a new king, shook him to his core. A rival could not be tolerated, even if it was only a child. 

Herod’s reaction makes it clear what he valued most and what he was most afraid of losing. God does not feature in this calculation; Herod thinks only of himself. But do our actions show us to be any different? Is our behaviour motivated by fear or love? 

Fear sees the world as finite and operates from a belief in the scarcity of means. Love, on the other hand, sees the world as abundant. By putting God first in our lives, we are assured of ongoing hope, enduring love and eternal grace.

Plentiful God,
In this season of accumulation and ‘more,’ remind me that only your love and mercy is truly abundant. Thank you for always reaching out in love, no matter how many times I turn my back on you. Thank you for always forgiving me, no matter how many times I fall short of your way. Help me welcome you into my heart that I might reflect your love into the world, magnifying your grace and glory. Amen.

Thank you for joining us on this prayerful path through Advent.
Blessings and best wishes for 2020.