Advent 2016 Devotional
Advent 2016
From Darkness to Light—Isaiah 9:2
From Your Editors:
We are so pleased to offer this expression of the joy of the Advent
season from many perspectives shared by friends of the
Congregational Way. Your editors are thankful for the willing
participation of the writers for this edition of Devotionals. It is always
good when Congregationalists work together to further our collective
and individual spiritual life.
Please receive this little volume as a special demonstration of the
gifts of Faith, Freedom, and Fellowship which we cherish within the
NACCC.
Will you prayerfully consider contributing to future editions of our
Devotionals by writing one or more? Guidelines and deadlines for
Advent 2017 and Lent 2018 can be found at the end of this booklet.
There’s no better time to write than during the season at hand. We
look forward to hearing from you!
Blessings to all of our readers in this holy Advent season, and a
special thanks to our writers.
Your co-editors,
Terry Bobzien Helen Cunningham Carol Taylor
Sunday, November 27 The First Sunday of Advent
Joy Beyond Joy
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. Isaiah 11:1-3a (NRSV)
Joy beyond joy is shared by the prophet in this reading. I can’t imagine what it must have
been like to hear this prophecy when it was first spoken, how filled with unimaginable joy
they must have been.
The people hearing Isaiah’s prophecy have suffered much. Granted, much of it was their
own doing. The rich oppressed the poor in order to get richer. Greed was their god, the
idol they worshiped. Though God had delivered them from exile and slavery, giving them
a land of their own, the people were not faithful. They took God’s goodness for granted
and went their own way. And now God is saying that there will be a Savior, the Messiah,
one from whom peace will come, despite their deeds.
And that is the thing, isn’t it, that peace will come. Not just an ordinary peace, which we
might name as the absence of violence, but a complete peace, one that is unimaginable:
The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the
lion and the failing together…
After suffering terribly as a result of their own choices, God’s word of salvation comes.
And, it is not merely that everything would be OK. It is far more than that. It is a peace
that is beyond human imagining, a coming together of all creation in harmony and
knowledge of the Creator.
We read Isaiah’s words and can we imagine it? Can we feel the deep joy that Isaiah’s
people felt? Can we imagine it now, in our world filled with injustices of all kinds?
This is what Advent is for―to remind us of God’s promises and let them fill us with joy.
We are given time to reflect and remember, to believe with wild abandon and to be filled
with joy because of all that God has done, is doing and will do. Though we fail, God
never will. And, there will be a time of holy peace
Prayer:
God of joy, we thank you for the hope you send our way. At times we can be
discouraged by the state of our world, by inhumanity, inequality and injustice. But you
promise that one day things will be different, that peace and righteousness will reign.
May we see your promise and work for your kingdom accordingly. By the power of your
Holy Spirit, may we build up this world in hope and joy. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Cynthia Bacon Hammer
Heritage Congregational Church
Madison, WI
cabaconhammer@gmail.com
Monday, November 28
New Light Breaking Forth
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. For those who
lived in a land of deep shadows― light! sunbursts of light! Isaiah 9:2 (MSG)
The season of advent is upon us; behind us is what was perhaps the most
interesting vote concerning the election of our next president in a long time. I
find we too often forget we are to be the people of “new light breaking forth
new truths from God’s Holy Word” (John Robinson), all the while we look
elsewhere, hoping our salvation will come in the form of a knight in shining
armor who will rescue us from our depravity. We are not that much unlike
those early people of God Isaiah was speaking to. Nor are we that much
different from those early Pilgrims who received John Robinson’s message
as they embarked to the New World.
Who are we? We are God’s people! Whose are we? We belong to God!
Where does this great light exist? It exists in the simple things we do together
as Congregationalists through our faith, our freedom to belong and serve,
and in our fellowship with one another. We are no different than those
shepherds who heard the proclamation from on high reminding them (sort of):
Prayer: (from “Light of the Word” from Godspell, words by Stephen Schwartz)
You are the light of the world!
But if that light is under a bushel,
It's lost something kind of crucial
You've got to stay bright to be the light of the world
So let your light so shine before men
Let your light so shine
So that they might know some kindness again
Christ’s light helps us feel fine.
Pastor Bob Higle
Plymouth Congregational Church
Lansing, MI
pastor@plymouthlansing.org
Tuesday, November 29
Change
“…to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light” Acts
26:18 (NRSV)
Our minister of thirty-five years performed many tasks around the church
that were not part of his job responsibility. This is probably true in most
churches. We simply took for granted that these tasks would be done,
and they were. When he moved to another city, last year, some things
were not getting done and we continually heard “John did that”. It
reminds me of the phrase “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.”
We had to identify who should do the tasks that “John did”. We learned to
expect and deal with many changes, and our biggest change was of
course searching for a new minister. All of these experiences certainly
opened our eyes and we turned from darkness to light.
What does all of this have to do with Advent?
For me the season of Advent is a time of anticipation, and change.
Certainly there is change in the weather; there is less daylight, but also
our attitudes and behavior change. As we approach the celebration of the
birth of Jesus, the light of the world, we see people showing more care
and love for one another, exactly what Jesus taught and demonstrated.
To go from darkness to light, something must change.
As the light of the world, Jesus taught, promoted, and demonstrated
change to bring us from darkness to light. Once we receive that light, our
life experiences change, and we are no longer in darkness. We reflect
His light by the way we conduct our lives and by loving one another.
Prayer:
Almighty God, guide me each day and continue to change my life to
better reflect your love that has brought me from darkness to light.
Amen.
Rev. Jerry Turner
Arbor Grove Congregational Church
Jackson, MI
jerryturner4705@gmail.com
Wednesday, November 30
and there was light!
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth
was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a
wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let
there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good;
and God separated the light from the darkness. Genesis 1:1-4 (NRSV)
The season of Advent is filled with light and light images. Candles on the
Advent wreath. Scriptures proclaiming that the light is coming and that it
shines in the darkness. But it’s not just Advent that starts with light: at the
very beginning of Genesis, God’s first act of creation is the command: “Let
there be light!” and light appears.
What does it mean for us in times of darkness, to remember that God’s
creation begins with this command? Light is not an accident. It is not a
byproduct. It is the starting point of all creation, and the starting point of
God’s loving purpose for all of us. God creates the light, sees that it is
good, and separates it from the darkness. Even when all seems like
darkness; even when the light exposes things we’d rather keep in the
dark, this story remind us that it is goodness itself that is shining upon us,
a goodness we can trust because it comes from God.
As we turn on our lights earlier and earlier on these Advent evenings; as
we light the candles marking the time until the miracle of the Incarnation;
as we decorate with festive lights of celebration, let’s remember the
loving, creative, redeeming purposes of God and seek to shine the light of
love and grace into our world.
Prayer:
Creating God, when we take light for granted, remind us again that it is
your light in which we live. When darkness seems too deep for us to bear,
proclaim again, “Let there be light.” When we fear we are too lost in the
darkness for you to find us, shine the Light of the World into our lonely
hearts, and come to us again and again, this
Advent and always. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Mary E. Biedron, Senior Minister
North Congregational Church
Farmington Hills, MI
mary.biedron@gmail.com
Thursday, December 1
What is your legacy?
So the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be
born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their
trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his
commands. Psalms 78: 6-7
This past summer while our pastor was away on vacation, a number of
church members organized a Sunday service completely without the
pastor’s help. This is in the spirit of Congregationalism and I love it when
this happens! Legacy was the theme for the service. They included the
Skit Guys “Legacy” video and Nichole Nordeman’s “Legacy” song; both of
these are powerful and I would recommend them for your viewing
pleasure and enrichment.
I left that service with the question: What is my legacy? I am already in
the fullness of mid-life and this is a question that I should answer before it
is too late; I do not know the number of days I have left on this earth. So,
I pondered, what do I leave for those who come after me? What do I
leave to my community? My family and friends?
What do I do for Jesus? These are questions worth asking and answers
worth seeking. Indeed, in this busy, fast-paced world we live in, it is
important to really THINK about what we do in our lives and plan a legacy
for those who come after, and I do not mean strictly financial.
As we walk this path from Darkness to Light in this time of Advent, I
encourage you to think about YOUR legacy to those who come after you.
Prayer:
Dear Lord, calm my heart and my thoughts to consider my legacy from
this life. Help me to find what I do well and what I will leave to the next
generation. Allow me to live my life for Jesus and to stand as a
representation for other Christians. Amen.
Dr. Lisa Bircher
Grace Church
Columbiana, OH
Lisa.Bircher@epschools.k12.oh.us
Friday, December 2
Chasing Away the Shadows
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the
Father of the heavenly lights, Who does not change like shifting
shadows.”
James 1: 17
One could not drive through Northampton, Massachusetts without
noticing the large building up on the hill, which had every light fully
illuminated, twenty four hours a day.
It was a curiosity until one discovered that the building was the State
Mental Hospital. Back in the day, hospitals that were more like
institutions provided housing and care for those with mental illnesses.
For many if not all of the patients, night time and darkness increased
the terror that their illness visited upon them. The night brought
decreased lighting and an increase in shadows caused by the natural
night lights of moon and stars. The shadows became frightening
images.
We all face such fears, not necessarily caused by shifting shadows on
the wall but by economic, health, relational, criminal and worldly threats
and realities.
At the time of Jesus, the world was caught in a system of deprivation
and domination. Jesus brought a new light of hope, a good gift from the
Father of the heavenly lights. That same good gift is brought to us as
we face similar circumstances with separation, economic want,
criminality, war, political unrest… We have but to reach out and believe,
and in believing, live the new life.
Prayer:
O Lord, I come this Advent to fully embrace Your
good gift in Jesus and to live without fear. Amen.
Rev. Bobbie Chapman
Founders Congregational Church
Harwinton, CT
revbac@aol.com
Saturday, December 3
Our Light and Salvation
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the
stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:1 (NRSV)
When my sons were toddlers, Vicki and I would use a “night light” in or
near their bedroom as they prepared to go to bed and to sleep. The light
provided a sense of safety and security for our children. It guarded them
against the “things that go bump in the night.” It served as a reminder that
they were loved and that Mom and Dad would watch over them and not
allow harm to come to them while they slept. I suspect we were not alone
in doing this for our children.
Somehow, it seems, human beings find comfort in light. It could be as a
physical light giving illumination to a physical space; think of the long
hours of sunlight of the mid-summer days, the breaking of dawn as the
horizon begins to show the glimmer of a new day, or the brightness of a
full moon during mid-winter. Each can give us a sense of comfort and
peace.
Yet, the light that comforts us could also be understood as a metaphorical
light giving illumination to the dark places of life. The Israelites used this
image frequently in referring to their God. This Psalm, in particular, shows
the power and the comfort that the light of God’s presence had for the
people.
Psalm 27 is a prayer for help from the people in the midst of times of
trouble. The opening assertion shows the trust in the Lord that sustains
them. So it is with us.
Prayer:
God of all comfort, all mercy, and all peace, give us the trust in the light of
your presence to help us go day by day in the power of your presence.
We pray this as your children. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Michael Chittum
Executive Director
NACCC and Congregational Foundation
mchittum@naccc.org
Sunday, December 4 The Second Sunday of Advent
Expectations
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power
of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be
called the Son of God.” Luke 1:35 (NIV)
Jesus came into the world in a very unexpected way. He came humbly,
born to a virtual nobody, in a stable in a tiny town on the outskirts of the
great city of Jerusalem. This is not what those awaiting the Messiah were
expecting. They were expecting a Messiah who would free them from
their oppressors, not one who would free them from their sins, from
death.
When expectations are placed on others, when they don’t respond the
way we expect them to, then we can miss what is really going on. When
we are too hung up in our own expectations to recognize what is real,
what is right in front of us, we are often left empty. And so it was with
many in that time. How could this carpenter’s son be the long awaited
Messiah?
What about us? What are our expectations surrounding this holy season?
Are we so intent on having this season happen to and for us in a certain
way that we miss what is right in front of us? Will Jesus come to us this
Advent in ways we least expect? Will we recognize Him in the
unexpected interruption to our plans?
Prayer:
Lord of all, open our eyes to see You however You make Yourself known
to us this Advent. Release us from expectations and let us focus only on
You. Amen.
Rev. Rae H. Munsell, Pastor
Mohegan Congregational Church
Uncasville, CT
revraemunsell@gmail.com
Monday, December 5
Joy Out of Darkness
"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the
land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” Isaiah 9:2
According to Luke’s gospel, the glory of the Lord shone around the shepherds on
the night of Jesus’ birth. Matthew writes that the Wise men saw a bright star at its
rising, which led them to Bethlehem after the birth of baby Jesus. The Wise Men
were Magi from the East, who studied the stars.
May the Light of his Love shine in our hearts this Advent season and throughout
the year by making us sensitive to those who are less fortunate than we are.
There are many who are lonely and feel forgotten this time of year. There are
those who are fighting serious illnesses and others who have sad memories of
past Christmases. They may not feel the love and beauty of this Advent season.
We may show our love and compassion to those who only are experiencing
darkness in today's world. Some friends and members of our church go caroling to
rest homes and private homes during the month of December with the hope that
the carols bring some light to those "shut in" folks.
A couple in our church lost their son years ago in a car accident on Christmas
Eve. Of course, it was a very dark time for their family, as well as for all of us who
knew the young man who grew up in our church and community. At Christmas
time for years after, the parents always did their best to make Christmas a joyous
time for their other two children. The Mother stayed active in the church and
community. I always admired the parents for not becoming bitter after their tragic
loss on Christmas Eve.
The Christmas message brings a glorious light to those in the darkest places.
Christ was born for the benefit of all of us. He is called Wonderful, for he is both
God and Man.
Prayer:
Dear Heavenly Father,
May the light of the star which shone so brightly at the time of Jesus’ birth bring
light and love during this wonderful season to those who live in darkness. May
their Christmas be brighter with the Light of your Love. We ask in Jesus’ name,
Amen.
Marian Gier
First Congregational Church
Pittsford, MI
corine01@frontier.com
Tuesday, December 6
A Sliver of Light, An Abundance of Hope
And the Light shines in the darkness, for the darkness has never
overpowered it.” John 1:5 (Amplified Bible)
“Now what?” thought my friend, a former “tunnel rat” in his military service in
Vietnam, as the tunnel collapsed upon him. Surrounded by nothing but
darkness after hearing an explosion above him as he crawled thru the latest
tunnel discovered by his unit, he began to move the earth surrounding him.
Praying, “Lord, remember my friends and family. I know this tunnel is long
and I don’t have the strength to dig all the way out or the air to last long.”
Wait! A sliver of light meant air could get in! Inspired by the light, he dug
harder. Finally, breaking thru the surrounding dirt, he saw that the whole
tunnel hadn’t collapsed, just a small area right around him.
Sometimes our small problems and struggles can block out the light of hope
we have in Christ, and the situation can make us feel, “God’s grace can’t
reach me here” or “I really messed up this time”. Times like these require us
to seek a sliver of “light” and remember the words of God, “Where ever you
go I am with you”, or Paul’s promise to us that “Nothing can separate us from
the love of God”. God’s final victory cannot and will not be stopped. The light
that was shared with us for a while as Christ lived among us will shine
brighter and for eternity, just as God promised. Don’t let your temporary
problems convince you that God's light is out of reach.
Dear Lord;
Please help us all to see your light even in the midst of our struggles. Thank
you for your grace so undeserved, yet so freely given. May this Advent
season be filled with light, not only for the eyes to see, but for our hearts to
feel. Amen.
Rev. Bill Rafuse
Rapid River Congregational Church
Rapid River, MI
wrafuse@charter.net
Wednesday, December 7
Look for the Distant Light
I used to be a volunteer firefighter. There were many times I would find
myself in a burning building trying to extinguish the blaze. There were a
few times when I found myself in the pitch black of darkness trying to find
my way out of a building. The fire might have been extinguished but
smoke had filled the entire house. A flashlight did no good at all because it
only reflected off of the smoke and made things look worse.
What I learned to look for was a distant light in the midst of the darkness. I
would make my way to that small light and find my way out of the building.
That small light turned out to be sunlight. While in the midst of the dark
building, the great light of the sun had been covered by smoke.
Satan wants to tell us we are not worthy, we are not good enough, we are
not different. He is just blowing smoke. Isaiah 9:2 says “The people
walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of
deep darkness a light has dawned.”
No matter how dark things may be, we must keep walking towards that
great light because it will lead us safely home.
Prayer:
Heavenly Father, we are reminded that Satan wants to cover your light.
We are convinced that we must keep walking in the Light. Guide our every
step so that we are aimed towards the Light at all times. Help us to walk
out of the darkness of life and into the glorious Light of your Word.
Rev. Eric Hickman
Tipton Community Church
Tipton, MI
ehickman@yahoo.com
Thursday, December 8
Journey to New Light
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. For those who
lived in a land of deep shadows― light! sunbursts of light! Isaiah 9:2 (The
Message)
Just what was it they were looking for? Why were they looking? Why couldn’t
they see that God was with them and why did they need the constant
assurance of that truth?
Do you ever find yourself wondering “where is God” or “why is there such great
darkness all around me?” The answer is easy, but the journey to a new light
and new awareness may not be so easy. Unless that is, you are willing to turn
and seek a new direction with God at the wheel, guiding your footsteps, and
holding your hand.
You say can’t feel God’s presence? Close your eyes. Hold up your hands and
say “Here I am Lord. Take me as I am. Mold me and shape me. Help me to feel
your presence, for I am lost and alone in darkness. Be with me this day.
On a hill far away, a little boy child was born to Mary and Joseph. He grew up
and became great, not because of the things he did, but because of what he
helped others to become. Faith is one of the greatest gifts Jesus gave all of us.
Prayer (from the Hymn “I the Lord of Sea and Sky” by Dan Schutte)
I, the Lord of sea and sky,
I have heard My people cry.
All who dwell in dark and sin,
My hand will save.
I who made the stars of night,
I will make their darkness bright.
Who will bear My light to them?
Whom shall I send?
Here I am Lord, Is it I Lord?
I have heard You calling in the night.
I will go Lord, if You lead me.
I will hold Your people in my heart.
Pastor Bob Higle
Plymouth Congregational Church
Lansing, MI
pastor@plymouthlansing.org
Friday, December 9
A Great Light
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; Isaiah 9:2a
(NRSV)
In my youth, I feared the under-the-bed-monsters. In my child’s
imagination, those monsters were always nocturnal, and only became a
threat in the dark. It is a good thing to have outgrown that silly fear.
Darkness has a way of adding to the landscape of our fears. Unlike flowers
that thrive in sunlight, our fears flourish best in darkness.
In Isaiah’s words, it was a great light. It was no ordinary light that pierced
the darkness. It was a light of such magnitude that stumbling through
darkness was no longer a concern. This great light’s central focus was on
the very lives of those who were obliged to endure the harshest darkness.
Such a great light does not come along every day. It is a one-time event,
never to be repeated.
As a child, my bedside nightlight kept the monsters safely at bay. As an
adult, it is the warm glow of a nightlight when I go fumbling around in the
dark. As a follower of Jesus Christ, it is the promise of light and truth that
nurtures my faith and banishes my fears. The great light of Christ shines on
the darkness of my fears. God knew no ordinary light would do. Christ
illuminates our darkest places with love, hope, and joy. In Christ, the
under-the-bed monsters of fear, hatred, and hopelessness are banished
forever.
Prayer:
Loving God, in this season of a great light entering our world, help us to
bask in its fullness. May the great light of Christ bring us peace, joy, hope,
and growth. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Jerrold Jones, Retired
First Congregational Church of Greenville
Greenville, MI
daclamrev1@gmail.com
Saturday, December 10
You are the Light of the World
"You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No
one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the
lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let
your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works
and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16 (NRSV)
During Advent, we often read the story of creation from the Gospel of
John: “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not
overcome it.” And at Christmas, we are reminded of this light by the
star that shone over the manger where Jesus was born.
So what happened to that light once it came into the world? If Jesus
was the light, what did he do with it? Jesus answers these questions in
his Sermon on the Mount. When Jesus tells the gathered people, “You
are the light of the world,” he tells us where the light has gone. It has
leapt from the creation of the world to the manger and now lives within
each believer.
I am reminded of a time when, as a youth, I really wondered if I had a
purpose in life. I did not see my own light, and when I was
complimented, I turned away. Seeing the light God had put inside me
was not really possible at that time in my life. However, when I found
faith, my eyes were opened. I began to see the truth of my own
existence, which is that I was put on this earth to be a beacon--for God
and for others--just as all believers are. We are not meant to hide that
which God has given us. “Let your light shine before others!” Jesus
tells us--just like He did at Christmas.
Prayer:
God, help me to see the light you put inside me.
Help me to show it for the glory of the Father in
heaven. Amen.
Rev. Daniel Kidder-McQuown
Arbor Grove Congregational Church
Jackson, MI
Mcq188@gmail.com
Sunday, December 11 The Third Sunday of Advent
The Prophet Foretold
[tune: Pilgrim, Lyons (O Worship the King), Hanover 10.10.11.11]
The prophet foretold that Light would soon come
To dawn in the gloom as bright as the sun;
And we who are living in darkness like night
Have God’s Son to give us new hope by His Light.
The Advent of Christ our hope has affirmed,
This promise was kept - the rest were confirmed;
The coming of Jesus was God’s way to say
His “Yes!” to His promise to bless us each day.
By hope we prevail, in hope we will thrive;
For hope is what keeps our spirits alive;
Our confidence brightens as we trust our Lord;
God’s promise is faithful; we rest on His Word.
When faith starts to fade, affecting our mood,
By trusting in God our hope is renewed;
We patiently hope and with God we press on,
Like eagles ascending we soar up again.
Praise God for the hope He gives us today;
Call this to your mind: “God’s with us” always.
As shepherds once heard from the angels above:
“There’s Good News of great joy!”; there’s hope through God’s love.
Rev. Jack Brown, Retired
Olivet Congregational Church
Olivet, MI
pilgrim_pastor@hotmail.com
Monday, December 12
The Fir Tree
Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants
and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their
various kinds.” And it was so. –Genesis 1:11
For many years I wrote a short devotional piece once a week for the local
newspaper. One year during Advent I told the story of how Martin Luther
went out into the forest, looked up, and saw the stars shining through the
branches of the fir trees. It so impressed him that he brought a fir tree into
the house as a symbol of the coming of Christ into the world.
I received a letter from a woman who objected to the story. She said that
the pagans in Germany had used the fir tree as one of their symbols and
thus a Christian should not have a tree at Christmas. In the response to
her letter I pointed out that Christ came into the world to redeem the
world.
Every tree, even fir trees, are created by God. If people of a different faith
have used the tree as a symbol for their faith, certainly Martin Luther
redeemed the fir tree. He returned it to its rightful place as a symbol of life
made anew with the birth of the Savior. “The people who have walked in
darkness will see a great light.” We have the choice. We can remain in
the darkness or we can walk in the light of new life and redemption of a
world that has been redeemed through Christ the Lord.
Dr. Lowell L. Linden
First Congregational Church
Redlands, CA
lowellllinden@icloud.com
Tuesday, December 13
The True Light
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness,
but will have the light of life.” John 8:12b
Rembrandt’s painting, The Nativity, is a stunning work of art. At the same
time, it is a deep and wonderful theological statement. The painting
consists of Jesus in the manger, Mary and Joseph looking on, and a
number of shepherds looking at the baby whom angels had just
announced. The unusual element of this painting is the source of light – all
the faces are lit by the light shining forth from the Christ Child. No lantern
light, no outside source of light – just the Light of the World in the manger,
lighting up the faces of those around Him.
Advent becomes a time when we can center ourselves once again around
that Light. So often we find ourselves seeking the light of our lives outside
of Christ, outside of our faith. We get wrapped up in busy-ness, in false
needs and fruitless quests, assuming our importance lies in the light of
doing and having. And we find, just like those shepherd’s lanterns, that kind
of light eventually grows dim and dies out. But when seek to light our way
with the Light of the World, with Jesus as our source, we find that this is a
light that never dims, that it always shines out bright and true and clear.
The weeks of Advent can become for us the time to gather once again
around the manger that holds the Light of Life, the Light of Love, the Light
of Eternity.
Prayer:
Gracious Lord, lead us once again to the manger. Let us bask in the Light
of Your beloved Son and claim for ourselves the true Light of all. Amen.
Rev. Rae H. Munsell
Mohegan Congregational Church
Uncasville, CT
revraemunsell@gmail.com
Wednesday, December 14
Out of Darkness
For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in
our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of
Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 4:6
It is never my favorite thing when the sun starts going down earlier and earlier
each evening and conversely does not rise until later and later each morning.
The days become shorter and, growing up in Iowa without as many city lights as
other places, the darkness could be overwhelming.
When I was in junior high and high school, there was no choice but to spend
much time traveling in the dark. Church, school, Scouting, and other activities
demanded it. One had to get accustomed to the lack of light.
That being said, there was just something so comforting, so encouraging, about
finally getting home and walking into the light―artificial though it was―and
sharing the family meal together, enjoying the gift of illumination even when the
world around was lacking it. I think I appreciated the blessing of light so much
more when it was not abundant outside.
So, I suppose I am thankful for the darkness, because it prepared and
conditioned me to receive the light. The darkness forces me to slow down and
to ponder my circumstances and surroundings differently, more painstakingly,
than when I can see everything around me so easily.
As Paul has recalled with regard to the glory of Christ who came into the world,
“Let light shine out of darkness.” The darkness is the space out of which the
light shines. Perhaps we need to value the time of preparation in the darkness
so that we can recognize even more profoundly the presence of the light.
Prayer:
O Lord, thank you for bringing me through the darkness to see the light of Christ
more vividly. May I use the times of stillness in the dark to prepare to receive
the light with more gratitude. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Charles A. Packer, Chaplain-Director
Congregational Society of Classical Retreat Guides
Senior Minister, Pine Hill Congregational Church
West Bloomfield, MI
drcapacker@gmail.com
Thursday, December 15
Your Light Is Never Too Small
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” Isaiah 9:2 (KJV)
“…for we have seen His star in the East, and we have come to worship Him.”
Matthew 2:2 (KJV)
You are the light of the world” Matthew 5:14
One night my dark hotel room was filled with a bright, blinking, blue light. I
couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. In the morning I realized it was
the small light on my Bluetooth headphones telling me they were fully
charged. It reminded me that a small light in a real dark world can attract a lot
of attention.
The “Star” was a bright light that attracted people to the “Light of the World”
and did it ever shine bright while He was here among us! Now we who He left
to be His lights, as small as they may be, should not “hide them under a
bushel” but let them shine. As my Bluetooth headphones showed, in this dark
world, your small light can attract others to the Light of the World.
Prayer:
Dear Lord, Thank you for coming into this dark world and providing us light.
Help us to truly shine for you this Advent Season and show others that the
Star announcing the Light of the World was come, so we could see our way to
You and know of Your great love for us. Amen
Rev. Bill Rafuse
Rapid River Congregational Church
Rapid River, MI
wrafuse@charter.net
Friday, December 16
Spot Light
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on
his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6
Children like night lights in their rooms while adults like spot lights in parking
areas, but both provide the same level of comfort and reassurance. We can
see what is out there, what might be in our way or pose a danger. But when
it comes to our faith do we not like to think about our Jesus as meek and
mild, not bold and brash; as protective and not the change agent?
Jesus came not to shine a light on a dark world but rather to shine a light
upon us; to invite us into a relationship of light and hope, love and joy that
was not predicated on what others did to us, but what we did as children of
the living God, in response to and in spite of our surroundings. Jesus came
to illuminate our spirits so that we would not only be a receptor of light but a
reflector and beacon of light. God had come as flesh; what could possibly
be our excuse to lose hope and our way?
Prayer:
O Lord, illumine my spirit, light my way and use me as fully as You choose
in Your Kingdom. Lord, I am Yours, body, mind and spirit. I love You. Amen.
Rev. Bobbie Chapman
Founders Congregational Church
Harwinton, CT
revbac@aol.com
Saturday, December 17
Free Fruit Friday
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill
country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And
Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry,
“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Luke
1:39-42 (NRSV)
At one of the hospitals where I am a chaplain, the last Friday for the month in
the cafeteria is “Free Fruit Friday.” Anyone can select a piece of fresh fruit at
no cost. I always select a banana. It “ap-peals” to me. [Groan.]
I often forget about it, though, when I get my morning coffee. When so, the
cashier always reminds me, “Chaplain Larry, it’s Free Fruit Friday! You need
to get your piece of fruit!” I then go back to get my potassium-rich banana.
During this time of Advent, God, like this hospital cashier, reminds us to claim
and to celebrate the precious gift, the precious fruit, of Christ: who already is
here, but needs to be reclaimed and received once again. It’s available for the
picking and the choosing!
We need once again to open eyes and hearts and souls to recognize and
ingest the wonder and the blessings of God-in-flesh-appearing who brings
grace, redemption, blessings, and love. In other words, good fruit!―as Mary’s
relative Elizabeth exclaims, “Blessed is the fruit of your womb!
May we remind one another with words, with ritual, and with works of love and
grace about this “blessed fruit” for us and for all.
Prayer:
O Lord, may we, along with Mary and Elizabeth, welcome anew the blessed
fruit of your love, grace, and redemption in the reality of Jesus Christ, born
again among us and in us―to welcome with wonder, awe, and thanks. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Larry Allen Sansoucie
Hospital Chaplain, Mercy Health, Cincinnati OH
Pastoral Associate, North Church, Cincinnati OH
LASansoucie@aol.com
Monday, December 19
No Contest
... in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in
the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it . John 1:4-5 (NRSV)
Don’t you just love a sure thing? Your sure thing might be a foolproof recipe
that never yields a lopsided cake. It could be a favorite fishing lure that a five
pound bass cannot resist. A sure thing might be the gut feeling that your
favorite team will win the championship.
We tend to appreciate life’s sure things. We cling to absolutes. We long for
certainties that are fail-proof. As we mature, we begin to recognize that our
world offers few sure things. Sometimes the cake is lopsided. There are days
when the bass refuse to bite. Tragically, in the big game, our favorite team
falls short.
So, what sure thing can we always depend upon and place our absolute
trust?
The Gospel writer, John, tells us that the darkness is no match for the light of
Christ. The Good News of this season of hope is that no matter how long the
odds might be, Christ will always emerge victorious. There is but one sure
thing in life and that is that no depth of darkness will blot out God’s love made
known to us in Jesus Christ.
Don’t you just love a sure thing?
Prayer:
We give thanks for certainty in an uncertain world, for the light that will never
fade, and for the wonder of God’s love even when we are unlovable. May the
light of Christ shine into the darkest corners of our lives and bring forth a
renewed spirit of caring. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Jerrold Jones, retired.
First Congregational Church of Greenville
Greenville, MI
daclamrev1@gmail.com
Sunday, December 18 The Fourth Sunday of Advent
Christ-Light
Isaiah 9:2-9
Tune: Hanover (“O Worship the King”)
God sent us His Son, Who came as a youth
To guide and redeem us, to teach us God’s truth.
Christ’s kingdom of justice, of mercy and peace,
May it now grow greater and never decrease.
Our God shines a Light, in darkness new dawn,
And to this great Light, God’s people are drawn;
This brightness appearing, great joy it does bring,
In Christ we’re awakened, of Christ we now sing.
Our gloom is abated, our burdens decreased,
From bars on our shoulders, we find we’re released;
No longer defeated, though once quite dismayed,
Our new day is breaking, fresh grace is displayed.
In weakness or doubt, in stress or in fear,
If we will look up, we find this Light near;
In God’s re-creating our hope, faith, our minds,
Our energy burgeons, renewed for these times.
Our wonderful Helper, our mighty, great Lord,
Of fatherly presence and peace-speaking Word,
Now reigns at the heart of our purpose and plans;
Christ’s justice and righteousness ever expands.
Let Christ-Light now shine in all that you do,
Express the strong hope Christ’s light means to you;
Though shadows distressing may threaten to blind,
New hope is ignited, for Christ-Light will shine.
Rev. Jack Brown, Retired
Olivet Congregational Church
Olivet, MI
pilgrim_pastor@hotmail.com
Thursday, December 22
Light in a Smile
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the
kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14
In the 90's I was a "professional clown". One of my learning opportunities was an
excursion to clown college in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. We were scheduled to get into
full clown regalia, board a bus and head to a summer camp for special needs
children.
We could hear the delightful squeals of children as they spied the colorful cadre of
clowns tumbling off the bus.
The children had been gathered in the mess hall and circled the outer section of
the room. We were instructed to do our "meet and greet" with the children. These
children were at all levels of special need. Some were verbal and could chat with
us. Some would hold our hands or give us hugs so tightly it would take our breath
away. One child was partially blind but she "met" me by touching my big red nose,
my long black eyelashes and my big blue shoes.
As I approached "Michael" he watched me closely. Michael was non-verbal and
not physically able to shake my hand. So I reached down to his with my gloved
hand. I said, "Hello Michael! I'm Keeper." A smile came across Michael's face. I
spoke to him for a few seconds more, gave his hand a squeeze and headed to the
next child.
A few minutes later I was summoned back to where Michael was waiting. "Is he
okay?" I asked. "He smiled at me a few minutes ago." I said. "Yes," I was told, "but
Michael never smiles."
Remembering the wisdom, “A smile is the light in the window of your soul,” I felt as
if I had been given a rare glimpse into Michael’s heart, mind, and soul.
My experience with Michael touched me, and I felt so honored to be part of this gift
from God. He truly touched my heart. I ask God to use me as He sees fit.
Prayer:
Loving God, help each of us to be ready and aware of the ways you can use us to
bring light and hope to our needy world. In Jesus’ name.
Amen.
Rebecca Turner
Arbor Grove Congregational Church
Jackson, MI
raturner5959@gmail.com
Tuesday, December 20
After Delivery
While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she
gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him
in a manger… Luke 2:6-7a
A woman in our congregation recently gave birth to her third child. As I visited
with her in the hospital she shared how much the delivery process has
changed in the few short years since her last delivery four years ago. Normal
delivery protocol in our local hospital allows for a healthy full-term newborn
baby to be placed IMMEDIATELY upon the bare chest of its mother, the
moment it is out of the mother’s womb. No more whisking the baby away from
the mom to clean it off and evaluate it. The most important thing that can
happen, research has revealed, is for the baby to experience the physical
intimacy of its mother, skin to skin contact.
After approximately 266 days in the womb a newborn needs warmth,
protection, nutrition and oxygen as well as the close and continual proximity to
the mother’s heart and voice.
We have varied experiences of darkness in this world. God never stops caring
for us or nurturing us, even through what seems like the most desperate of
times. You and I need the closest proximity possible to the heart of God as we
are thrust into the light of this world. Our health is best when we draw near to
God where we find nurture, safety, nourishment and peace.
Prayer:
God of life, we praise you for daring to come in skin to skin contact with
humanity, in order that we might be delivered from darkness into light. Help us
to dwell, resting upon the bosom of your love and grace. In the Savior’s name.
Amen
Rev. Wendy G. Van Tassel
First Congregational Church
Spencer, IA
wjgvt@hotmail.com
Wednesday, December 21
The Light of Life
I am the light of the world, the one who follows Me shall not walk in
darkness but shall have the light of life. John 8:12
Throughout the Old Testament, what was it exactly that the Law and the
Prophets encouraged God’s people to wait for; better stated, “Who” were
they expecting and why? God gave His holy Law via the man, Moses. This
Law showed the holiness of God and the perfection it demanded upon the
heart of mankind, but nowhere in all of the Law and the Prophets did God
declare that humanity can satisfy the Law’s demands; rather, if you break
this Law, eternal death is the consequence. What can be done to avert the
coming doom? Religious activity is insufficient, it is always and only
external, so what release is there for the inner human heart locked in
darkness and guilt because of sin? Since there is nothing upon earth found
worthy for such a task, then the remedy must lie outside the limitation of
mankind. Indeed, the remedy must come from the same Heart Who
graciously gave His righteous demands in the first place.
So unexpected, so small, so fragile, only a Baby but with Light that shines
from this tiny being on earth to the outermost galaxy! Only Jesus can shine
bright enough to plumb the depths of the human heart, reveal the deadly
malady, and not just reform the heart but exchange it completely with a
heart willing to believe Him for complete and eternal redemption from the
death sentence of sin. The angels appearing to shepherds had a Hallelujah
to sing, but only the redeemed can sing redemption’s song.
Prayer:
The Savior has come; thank You, Father. You have set me free, indeed!
Helen Cunningham
First Congregational Church
Kingston, NH
hc6645@gmail.com
Friday, December 23
Light
You are like light for the whole world... your light must shine before
people...” Matthew 5:14-16 (GNB)
In the midst of winter with the days getting shorter, the sun hiding more, we
crave the light. And thus it will come in the presence of a baby, the light of
hope and promise. With a newborn we don't know what the future holds, but
we hope for the best, the promise of good things to come.
And now with modern printing, and many translations, we have the Light of
God's Word. We can get so much inspiration from the words of Jesus. We
are so fortunate to be able to open the Bible and see just what our message
might be for today. And fortunate too, for so many good books written to
shed more light on this Book.
Jesus said we are the light of the world, not to be hid under a bushel
basket, but to be shared with the world. Sometimes we share our ideas with
words, sometimes with good deeds or kind thoughts. Many times we just
share with those we meet as we go about our day. It may be nothing
spectacular, sometimes just a smile at the right moment.
And always remember if you face the Light, the shadows will fall behind
you. All of our concerns, our worries, become minor when we pray. If it's not
worth a prayer, it's not worth the worry.
Prayer:
Thank you, Lord for your Light come into the world. Thank you that worries
can be exchanged for prayers! In Jesus' Name. Amen.
Phyllis Agers
First Congregational Church
Salida, CA
p.agers@juno.com
Saturday, December 24 Christmas Eve
In Thy Dark Streets Shineth the Everlasting Light
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world.
Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
John 8:12
I just love the hymn “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” It so wonderfully and
peacefully tells the story of the Nativity. I can just picture the entire scene
whenever I sing that beautiful carol. As I was thinking about it, I wanted to
know more about the song and the inspiration behind the writing.
In 1867 Phillips Brooks wrote the words to the carol for his church’s annual
Christmas program. At the time, Brooks was the pastor at Philadelphia’s
Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) and the director of music was Lewis H.
Redner. Brooks wished to have an original hymn for the church children to
sing and he charged Redner with writing the tune to go with his words.
Redner found much difficulty in the assignment but finally was able to write
the tune the night before the Christmas program!
In the text Then Sings My Soul: 150 of the World’s Greatest Hymn Stories
(Morgan, 2003) a fifth stanza is included that rarely is found in church
hymnals. As I read this verse, I found it to be inspirational and I believe it will
also bless your Christmastime as you sing along to it:
Where children pure and happy pray to the blessed Child,
Where misery cries out to Thee, Son of the mother mild;
Where charity stands watching and faith holds wide the door;
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks, and Christmas comes once more.
Prayer:
Dear Lord, thank you for the lyricists who have written the beautiful carols that
make our Christmas so blessed. Thank you for the songs in their hearts that
speak to us centuries later. Guide us this Christmas season to be blessed in
the hearing and singing of these hymns.
Dr. Lisa Bircher
Grace Church
Columbiana, OH
Lisa.Bircher@epschools.k12.oh.us
Sunday, December 25 Christmas Day
Shalom
The angel said to the shepherds, “Unto you is born this day in the city of
David a savior who is Christ the Lord.” Then a host of angels sang, “Glory
to God in the highest and on earth peace among men with whom he is
pleased.” Luke 2:10-14 (paraphrased)
Have you ever thought what language the angels spoke when they made
that declaration to the shepherds? It certainly was not English. It was most
likely not Latin nor was it Greek. It was most likely Aramaic. Aramaic
comes from the Hebrew and the Hebrew word for “peace” is “shalom.” We
have heard “shalom” used as a greeting but it is more than “hello” or
“good-bye.” It means more than the absence of conflict. It is almost like a
blessing. It is the desire for God to grant joy and completeness.
It is the idea of completeness which the angels declared to the shepherds.
They had already heard the good news that a savior who is Christ our Lord
has been born. It is the presence of Christ in our lives that gives us
“shalom.” In the first verse of Romans 5, Paul writes: “Therefore, having
been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus
Christ.” This is the good news of the gospel and it was first declared to the
shepherds.
Prayer:
Thank you, Lord for the gift of Shalom through Jesus. May we live in
peace, joy and completeness, through Christmas and the New Year.
Amen.
Dr. Lowell L. Linden
First Congregational Church
Redlands, CA
lowellllinden@icloud.com
Devotional Entry Format
TITLE:
SCRIPTURE REFERENCE: Book, chapter, verse(s), translation
TOPIC SENTENCE: What is the essence of your entry? What is the Big
Idea? What words should the reader carry in mind and heart throughout
the day? Does your Big Idea relate to the theme of the season for which it
is being written (Lent or Advent)? Does your Big Idea relate to the chosen
title for that year?
MESSAGE: Story or illustration followed by an original idea relating to the
Scripture chosen.
PRAYER: Write a short prayer related to the Topic sentence.
Name and title of writer:
Church name, city and state
Telephone number (will not be published—for editors’ communication only)
Email address:
—————
Advent 2017: Deadline August 15, 2017. THEME: He will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Is.
9:6b) We encourage exploration on the theme of the names and titles of
Jesus the Christ, and please use your choice of whichever scripture
reference speaks to you. Email your Advent 2017 entry to
nacccadvent17devo@gmail.com. You will receive an acknowledgement via
email.
Lent 2018: Deadline October 15, 2017. THEME: Yet to be determined.
Title will be announced in the Lent 2017 booklet. The Lent email address is
naccclent18devo@gmail.com.
Each devotional entry is read and edited by a team. Please keep these in
mind:
1) Each entry needs one “big idea,” or topic, and the entry should focus on
that topic.
2) If your entry is too long, it will be cut. Please stay between 300 and 400
words.
3) The facilitating team will make every effort to allow your writing style and
voice to remain intact through the editing process.
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included, please include a statement to that effect.
5) Pictures of authors (optional) are an extra blessing.
Once again—we are very thankful for the inspirational writings of our
contributors!
National Association of
Congregational Christian Churches
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