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2020 Advent Devotional – Day 4

Peace

O Come O Come Emmanuel
Latin, c. 12th century; translator: J. M. Neale
Additional verse, translated by Rev. Henry Sloane Coffin, 1916

“Bid envy, strife and quarrels cease;
Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.”

Video: O Come O Come Emmanuel


Reflection

“O Come O Come Emmanuel” has a long-established place in the history of Christian liturgy and worship. The translated hymn that we sing today evolved over many centuries from a series of chants sung in the week preceding Christmas, and there are indications of this practice going back as far as the 8th or possibly even the 6th century.

This connection with chanted liturgy can be heard in the musical setting used in our contemporary worship, with its slow and deliberate pace; almost as though the prayers of Christian worshippers reach out to us across the centuries and invite us to unite with them.

A much-needed invitation, for the people of God are still captive today; held prisoner by the “envy, strife and quarrels” referred to in the second verse of this arrangement. As the lyrics suggest, too often bitterness still sits in our hearts, fostering anger and discord. In our homes, as much as in our communities, friction flares and resentment takes root; scores are kept and bridges burnt. The idea of coming together in “one heart and mind” can seem almost as remote as the 8th century itself.

This is – to quote the title of the poem by Howard Thurman – “the work of Christmas.” Yes, it’s easier to skip straight to angels singing of peace and good will, effortlessly descending on us from on high. This hymn reminds us that it’s not that simple; that while we await the return of Jesus, heaven’s peace must also emerge from our hearts, must be our desire.

And so, we call to Jesus – Emmanuel – to be with us, to sustain us and to strengthen us. And we rejoice in the promise of Christmas that even in the depths of our hurt, God is with us, tending our hearts, soothing our pain, and bringing us closer to know heaven’s peace.

Further reading on the history of this work: https://www.hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com/Hymns_and_Carols/Notes_On_Carols/O_Antiphons/notes_on_veni_veni_emmanuel.htm


Nurturing God,
Be in my heart today that I might know your peace. Whenever I let anger take hold, calm my spirit to recognize your care for all your children. Whenever I give way to rage, remind me that even those I resent are precious in your eyes. Let your love rise up in me and flow into the lives of those around me, that the world may indeed be filled by heaven’s peace. Amen.


Reading

O Come O Come Emmanuel

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.

Refrain:
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife and quarrels cease;
Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.


Thank you for joining us on this prayerful path through Advent.
Blessings and best wishes for 2021.

2020 Advent Devotional – Day 3

Afraid

Genesis 3: 8–12, 17-19

He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid
because I was naked; so I hid.” (Genesis 3:10)

Video: Genesis 3: 8–12, 17-19


Reflection

The first reading in the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols comes from Genesis and describes the fall of humankind – the early biblical explanation for human sinfulness and our estrangement from God.

Notably, it isn’t the event itself – the tempting of the human pair and the eating of the apple – that is included, but rather the aftermath: the guilty, resentful and regretful conversation with God, and the subsequent divine judgment and human need for reconciliation.

What this reading does have in common with the more ‘seasonal’ nativity accounts from Matthew and Luke, however, is the sense of human fear. As Adam acknowledges to God, “I heard you in the garden and I was afraid.” It’s the same reaction that can be found throughout our nativity stories at almost every point when humans encounter the divine. Zechariah, Mary, the shepherds – each need to be comforted and reassured, “Do not be afraid.”

It’s the same reaction that we can find if we look hard at ourselves. “I heard you in my life, God, and I was afraid because I was unwilling, and so I hid.” We like our human lives with our self-interested concerns, with our illusion of control; they may not be perfect, but we’re used to them. The idea of stripping all that away – removing all the labels and trappings that give us identity and purpose – and of standing uncovered before God, is rightly terrifying.

And yet we are challenged to do so. To become as helpless as a babe in a manger and greet God in our lives. To look for God in each day, in our families, in our communities, in the stranger, in the unknown. To ask God how we can glorify his name through our actions and our choices, and to live out God’s answer. Fearful perhaps; wonderful indeed.


All-knowing God,
You see me as I truly am, uncovered with all my flaws and inadequacies, and deeply in need of your healing. You love me as I truly am, despite all my pretention and the barriers I create to following you. Reconcile me to you in this Advent season. Help me recognize my need for you in my life. Guide me to live each day to glorify you in all I say and do. Amen.


Reading

Genesis 3: 8–12, 17-19

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and  I ate it.”

Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”

The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”


Thank you for joining us on this prayerful path through Advent.
Blessings and best wishes for 2021.

2020 Advent Devotional – Day 2

Prepare

African Advent Carol
Words and music by Michael Barrett, 2006

“Kum ba yah” (come by here)

“‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’” (Luke 3:4b)

Video: African Advent Carol


Reflection

It’s almost the first of December and the temptation is to go full-throttle Christmas, playing your favourite carols throughout the house and singing along to “Ding Dong Merrily on High” or “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.” It’s a season of celebration, surely?

And yet, not so fast. It’s (also) a season of anticipation and of preparation. The children, impatient for gifts and Santa Claus, aren’t the only ones who need to be slowed down and told to wait at this time of year, for there is much to be gained along the way.

Like this catchy, and possibly unfamiliar carol, complete with African drums. The lyrics of the carol are reminiscent of the teaching of John the Baptist in the wilderness, calling the people to prepare themselves for the coming of Jesus. John the Baptist was forceful and direct about what needed to be done to prepare: the people needed to change their ways and straighten up the direction of their lives.

It’s a confronting question for us too today, albeit gentler when set to music! But like John, the carol encourages us to think about what it might mean to prepare ourselves for God. What sort of welcome is your heart ready to give Jesus?

Our homes might have fewer guests this Christmas but, as the carol encourages, we must prepare ourselves to be ready for Jesus to “come by here.”

Part invitation, part motivation (for we “do not know the day or the hour” – Matthew 25:13), let “Kum Ba Yah” affirm your welcome to Jesus to come into your heart this Advent, opening yourself up to the transforming love of God. And let us celebrate that we can do so, secure in God’s promise that however messy the situation in our life, Jesus can find his way in.


Patient God,
Slow me in my rush for the festivities; still me in my hectic urge to hurry. Help me examine my heart and my life, and renew me to welcome you more fully. Help me clear away the demands and the pressures that get in the way of your transforming love. Help me move past the worry and the scarcity that prevent me from sharing your love with the world. Amen.

Thank you for joining us on this prayerful path through Advent.
Blessings and best wishes for 2021.

2020 Advent Devotional – Day 1

Presence

Once in Royal David’s City
Words by Cecil Frances Alexander, 1848

“With the poor, and mean, and lowly,
Lived on earth our Savior holy.”

Video: Once in David’s Royal City


Reflection

“Once in Royal David’s City” provides one of the most iconic moments in the Kings’ College service of Nine Lessons and Carols. The congregation sits in candlelit silence. The choir wait at the entrance of the chapel. And then, in the still shadows, one voice rings out. The service begins and through the purity of the soprano solo, we are invited to welcome the peace and presence of God.

The lyrics emphasize the essential humanity of Jesus, born into humble surroundings, dependent on the nurture and care of his mother. While the city of Bethlehem may have a royal history, home of King David, Jesus comes into the world in ordinary and plain surroundings. The carol affirms that this is not just ‘God with us’, present on earth, but ‘God as one of us’, embracing the struggles and pitfalls of human life.

The presence of God then that the carol evokes is that of a God who understands us, who knows the difficulties we face and the problems we encounter and meets us where we are. We do not have to have it all together to encounter Jesus in our lives; rather we are invited to embrace the love of God precisely because we do not have it all together.

Like the child in the manger dependent on his mother, we recognize our utter dependence on the love of God and give thanks that through the life of Jesus our humanity can be a bridge to God and not a barrier.


Understanding God,
You meet me in my life, however abject or dark my circumstances are. You love me through my pain and seek me out when I am lost. You comfort me in my despair, slow down my impatience and reassure my anxiety and fears. Embrace me in my daily life and help me seek your peace in this season of preparation. Prepare my heart to respond to your love for me and for this your world. Amen.

Reading

Once in royal David’s city
Stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her Baby
In a manger for His bed:
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ her little Child.

He came down to earth from heaven,
Who is God and Lord of all,
And His shelter was a stable,
And His cradle was a stall;
With the poor, and mean, and lowly,
Lived on earth our Savior holy.

And our eyes at last shall see Him,
Through His own redeeming love;
For that Child so dear and gentle
Is our Lord in heaven above,
And He leads His children on
To the place where He is gone.

Not in that poor lowly stable,
With the oxen standing by,
We shall see Him; but in heaven,
Set at God’s right hand on high;
Where like stars His children crowned
All in white shall wait around.


Thank you for joining us on this prayerful path through Advent.
Blessings and best wishes for 2021.

Presence

Luke 1:18-20 – Zechariah doubts Gabriel

Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”


Silhouette of a man praying @ Walton United Church, Oakville, Ontario

Any time we find ourselves wishing that God would be a bit clearer in our lives, we might pause and remember Zechariah and his meeting with Gabriel. Gabriel’s authoritative rebuke to Zechariah – “I stand in the presence of God” – is powerful, majestic and unequivocally daunting, and the consequences for Zechariah are nine months of silence. But Zechariah’s experience also points the way to bring us closer to God. We can attune ourselves to God’s presence in our lives through worship and prayer, with plenty of silence for us to listen to God, rather than speak. And we can open ourselves to the possibility of God appearing to us in surprising and unexpected ways.


Majestic God, draw us closer to You in this Advent season, and help us behold Your presence in our lives and Your purpose for us right now. Slow our steps and give us pause to recognize You in surprising and unexpected places. Kindle in us recognition of Your eternal love. Amen.

Thank you for joining us on this prayerful path through Advent.
Blessings and best wishes for 2018.

Emmanuel

Emmanuel - Advent Devotional @ Walton United Church, Oakville, Ontario

A baby born in humility, given the name Jesus, but carrying also so many other titles: Christ, Messiah, Son of the Most High, Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace. And perhaps most importantly: Emmanuel – God is with us. As John expressively put it: the Word became flesh and lived among us. The grace and forgiveness and love of God manifest in a man who would go on to die for us. On this day of great joy, let us give thanks for the eternal love of God in our lives.


Loving God, I thank You for the greatest gift of all – Your unending love and grace – manifest in the life of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Thank You for loving me and being with me through the passage of my life. Keep me close to You to know and share Your love with those around me, today and always. Amen.

John 1: 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.


Thank you for joining us on this prayerful path through Advent.
Blessings and best wishes for 2018.

Hallelujah

Hallelujah - Advent Devotional @ Walton United Church, Oakville, Ontario

One of the most dramatic images of the nativity story is that of a heavenly host of angels – and not a few but a multitude – praising God in the night sky above the shepherds. The importance and magnitude of what is happening bursts forth and for a brief moment the glory of the birth of Jesus is reflected in the spectacle of this heavenly crowd. Everything stops to revel in the praise and worship of God who has given His son to the world, and for a little while there is only dazzling joy.


Loving God, as we prepare for the excitement and celebration that tomorrow brings, lift up my heart in praise and thanksgiving to worship Your gift to each one of us, the gift of Your Son Jesus Christ. Let my soul sing out and rejoice in Your glory. Amen.

Luke 2: 13-14

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”


Thank you for joining us on this prayerful path through Advent.
Blessings and best wishes for 2018.

Treasure

Treasure - Advent Devotional @ Walton United Church, Oakville, Ontario

Mary copes admirably with the purpose God has for her life, and she seems to be taking it all in her stride, praising God and letting nothing faze her. For a young, first-time mother so much of what took place must have been daunting and frightening and there are hints in the details of her story that it wasn’t all smooth sailing. But Mary held fast to the reassurance given by the angel and stored away for herself memories of comfort and encouragement. The simplicity of Luke’s comment in verse 19 (below) hints at a woman building reserves of gratitude and appreciation.


Loving God, awaken me to the wonders and blessings You share with me each day. Strengthen me to build my reserve of gratitude and praise for all that You have done for me, to treasure the gifts You have given me and to use them to reflect Your love. Amen.

Luke 2: 19

But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.


Thank you for joining us on this prayerful path through Advent.
Blessings and best wishes for 2018.

Faith

Faith - Advent Devotional @ Walton United Church, Oakville, Ontario

The appearance of the angel (see below) probably reassured Joseph a great deal, but there’s no mistaking that accepting Mary’s pregnancy is a mighty leap of faith being asked of him. We can’t know how strong an impression the angel created, how certain Joseph was able to be in the months that followed, or if he had moments of doubt and anxiety when he had to remind himself of his dream and the power of what he had been told. God called Joseph to believe, just as he calls us to believe and our challenge is just as hard. It’s also however the essence of faith – the belief in something we can’t know for sure but might just have glimpsed.


Loving God, You call me to have faith in Your teaching and Your purpose for my life, and yet I can find this so hard. The world would distract and dissuade me, piling on pressure and diversions. Bring me back to Your teaching and fill me with confidence in Your unending love. Amen.

Matthew 1:19-21

Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”


Thank you for joining us on this prayerful path through Advent.
Blessings and best wishes for 2018.

Journey

Journey - Advent Devotional @ Walton United Church, Oakville, Ontario

For the wise men, paying homage to the baby Jesus was the conclusion of a lengthy journey, following a sign, on a path mapped out by faith. The obstacles they faced must have been taxing, and there must have been many moments when they considered giving up the idea and returning home, perhaps most of all when the baby wasn’t to be found at the palace. But they continued and the reward at their journey’s end was overwhelming joy. There’s much comfort and encouragement in their journey – for we too face obstacles and uncertainty on our path mapped out by faith; and following Jesus’ teaching does not lead us to the obvious places or to those that the world necessarily values. But when we continue, be assured we are journeying to overwhelming joy.


Loving God, my path through life takes me to metaphorical deserts and mountains and the going can be hard. Guide me to follow the route mapped out by faith, and bring me to the place of overwhelming joy, in this world and the next. Amen.

Matt 2: 9-10

They set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.


Thank you for joining us on this prayerful path through Advent.
Blessings and best wishes for 2018.