Our Kinsman Redeemer
Advent 2014 Devotional
Our Kinsman Redeemer
A publication of the
National Association of Congregational
8473 South Howell Avenue
PO Box 288
Oak Creek, WI 53154-0288
It is a real pleasure to offer these collected thoughts from many of our friends
around the country. We are pleased to include new names and faces in this edition
of Advent Devotions for 2014.
Fellow Congregationalists are deeply appreciative of the authors’ willingness to take
the time to bring this blessing of spiritual thought and prayer to the holy season of
One pastor commented recently that the Advent and Lenten Devotionals are an
important ministry, and a way of maintaining our connections within the
Congregational Way. All entries in this devotional come from both clergy and lay
people in the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches. We
appreciate all of you, writers and readers, copyeditor, and National office staff!
As you enjoy this Advent Devotional, write an entry for next year! The best time to
write an entry is during its season. Please consider writing for Advent 2015 and Lent
2016. The theme for Advent 2015 is “Adventure to Christmas,” and is due August 15,
2015. The theme for Lent 2016 is “Five Lenten Tasks: Pray, Fast, Give Alms, Sacrifice
& Self-denial, and Simplicity,” due by July 15, 2015. Watch the NACCC website,
emails, and other communications, for up-to-date information about the
Devotionals. You are encouraged to send an entry for next year's Advent Devotional
to Rev. Dr. Lori Wiley (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Rev. Terry Bobzien
(email@example.com). May the Holy Spirit inspire your writing for the glory of God.
Many blessings for a truly inspiring Advent and Christmas!
Terry Bobzien and Lori Wiley, co-editors
PS: Watch for the On-Line edition of Lent 2015 at www.naccc.org
First Sunday of Advent
That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of
sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of
the Lord's glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured
them. "Don't be afraid!" he said. "I bring you good news that will bring great joy to
all people...Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of
heaven—praising God… When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds
said to each other, "Let's go to Bethlehem! Let's see this thing that has
happened...". Luke 2:8-20
In the quiet of the midnight, In darkness, fighting sleep,
Rest shepherds charged with watchful care Over flocks of valued sheep.
In an instant they are stricken, With terror in their hearts,
An angel of the Lord appears From celestial, heav'nly parts.
Says the angel to the shepherds, "You must not be afraid,
For the news I have to give you Is that Christ has come to save!"
"Good news," the herald shares with them, "Great joy for all the earth,
For in the town of Bethlehem, The Lord Christ has had his birth."
"And this will be the sign for you, If you will go ahead,
You will find the babe wrapped in cloths, Lying in a manger bed."
"Glory in the highest heaven," Sang the mighty angel host,
"Good will to all, for peace has come, To those who do need it most."
So they hurried off, first to see, If this could be the One
Promised by the prophets of old, God's dearly beloved Son.
Great joy have we, if we, too, go, As shepherds did before,
To meet the Savior, humbly born, And bow, worship, and adore.
Rev. Jack Brown
Olivet Congregational Church
First Monday of Advent
Have You Been There?
“… let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass, which the
Lord hath made known unto us… and the shepherds returned praising and
glorifying God.” Luke 2:15, 20
My journey to Bethlehem began on March 30, 1951, in a brightly lit room in
Norwood Massachusetts, as an extra small newborn with a few problems, who
many worried wouldn’t make it home. It is obvious I made it home, and my
journey continued for years, with many ups and downs -- a father who was out of
the family by the time I was 5 years old, a few trips to the hospital, and many
moves from one place to another.
On one of those moves, my journey to Bethlehem took place. No, we didn’t move
to Bethlehem; we moved to Weymouth, Massachusetts, but a kind older lady led
a five-day Bible Club, and it was there that I really learned what Bethlehem and
Christmas were all about.
Bethlehem is a place where a holy righteous God came into the world, not to
struggle to live, as I do, but to die for us sinners on a cross. I heard how all my
problems were a result of a thing called sin, and how only a perfect, righteous,
holy sacrifice could release us from the hold sin has on us. Christ, the baby in
Bethlehem, would be my Kinsman Redeemer. I looked upon that sight and
wondered Why? How? I still wonder why, but I know now it was the means of
God’s amazing grace. Have you been to Bethlehem? Have you seen beyond the
stable to the Savior who came to this planet for you? I hope you have had the joy
of returning from Bethlehem “praising and glorifying God”.
Dear Lord, May this Advent be a journey to Bethlehem to find our Kinsman
Redeemer, to fill our hearts. Amen
Rev. Bill Rafuse
Rapid River Congregational Church
Rapid River, MI
First Tuesday of Advent
Coming to Bethlehem Bitter and Empty
“So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived in
Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women
exclaimed, ‘Can this be Naomi?’ ‘Don’t call me Naomi,’ she told them. ‘Call me
Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but
the LORD has brought me back empty.’” Ruth 1:19-21a NIV
The book of Ruth is not normally a text we would read during Advent. But
Bethlehem is a location mentioned in that book more than once. Bethlehem
can be translated as the House of Bread. Ironically Naomi and her husband,
with their two sons, had to leave the House of Bread to seek food in a foreign
and despised country, Moab. One misfortune after another took everything
from Naomi: Her home, her husband, and her sons. While still in Moab, she
heard that there was bread back in Bethlehem. And so, in a beautiful story, she
returns to Bethlehem with Ruth, her daughter-in-law, who insists on going with
her, saying: “Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you
go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people, and
your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the
Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you
and me." (Ruth 1:16-18NIV)
While Advent is about the birth of Christ in Bethlehem, it was also in Bethlehem
that Boaz became Kinsman Redeemer for Naomi and Ruth. You and I may also
journey to Bethlehem to meet our Kinsman Redeemer, Christ. We come with
our bitterness. We come with our emptiness. We come with our brokenness.
And we come with our sinfulness. Our Kinsman Redeemer is waiting for us
there. We come to the Bethlehem of Naomi and Ruth, and find their
descendent, Jesus, who said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after
righteousness, for they shall be filled.”
Our praise is directed to you, O Jesus, Redeemer and Sustainer. Thank you for
redeeming the unredeemable. We come to You in need of spiritual bread to fill
us, and you fill us with the Bread of Life. Amen
Rev. Steven DeGangi
First Congregational Church
First Wednesday of Advent
He was poor
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have
learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed
or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through the One
who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:12,13
The Apostle Paul was born into a wealthy family, was highly educated,
well- respected, a leader, a Pharisee among his people. As a young man, there
was no reason that Paul should have expected to have to deal with want or
hunger. There was every reason for him to expect to always have plenty.
But Paul went through many hardships in order to spread the Good News. Here
are some of the difficulties Paul faced, as he describes them: “I have known
hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.
I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have been in
prison frequently, been flogged severely, and been exposed to death again and
again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three
times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I
spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I
have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger in the city, in
danger in the country, in danger at sea. (2 Corinthians 11:23-28 NIV)
It was Paul’s choice to endure these hardships for a greater good. This was
similar to our Savior’s choice to leave the riches of heaven. Jesus chose to face
life on this earth as a poor peasant and homeless preacher. “Who, being in very
nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but
made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human
likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, Jesus humbled himself, [to be
born as a human] and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!
(Philippians 2:6-8 NIV)
We are appreciative that Jesus, Paul, and many others, chose to give up comfort
and prosperity for our sakes. All gave some, some gave all, so that the Gospel of
redemption could reach us.
Dear Jesus, Thank you for giving up so much for our redemption. How you must
love us! Please give us an attitude of gratitude toward You and all who sacrificed
in our best interests. In Jesus name, Amen
First Congregational Church, Newton Campus
First Thursday of Advent
Support Along the Way
“And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea,
unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house
and lineage of David:) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with
child” Luke 2:4-5
Scripture does not tell us how long it took Mary and Joseph to complete their
journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. It also does not mention a mode of travel,
although tradition provides a donkey for Mary. The distance is known to be
about eighty miles over some rough terrain, most certainly not a pleasant
experience for a woman in the last stage of pregnancy and about to give birth.
Perhaps danger lurked, robbers and thieves? It is likely that other relatives
accompanied Mary and Joseph on this trek, although Scripture does not give us
this detail, either. I like to think, though, that there was comfort in the form of
some moral support along the way.
I am reminded of my own faith journey: long, sometimes rocky, sometimes
smooth. The enemy hides out, ready to pounce when I least expect it, to take
advantage of a questioning heart or wandering mind. The smooth road becomes
a mountain. This is a journey filled with peril. But then God speaks, and the way
is clear again -- for a time.
God does not promise an effortless pilgrimage, but just the opposite: “In the
world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer.“ (John 16:33) My comfort,
my support along the way is Jesus, who shares my burdens and shoulders my
fears. The journey of a Christian is never a solo one. Jesus assures us that he is
always with us, and in that affirmation we are confident that our walk is secure,
even in the rough spots.
Heavenly Father, this time of expectation is not merely a period of waiting, but
one of obedient following the road to Bethlehem. My prayer, my trust, is that
You provide constant companionship along the way, through the presence of my
brothers and sisters in Christ. I thank you for those believers You have brought
alongside me to share my joys and sorrows, my travels, and certainly to help me
stay on track through it all. In Jesus’ precious Name. Amen
First Congregational Church of Kingston
First Friday of Advent
“Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for You
I wait all the day long.” Psalm 25:5
“I wait all the day long.” Could a sentence be any more countercultural in our day
and age? If my old computer takes more than a minute to boot up, or if I have to
wait a few seconds to save a document or to bring up a website, I am immediately
impatient. And that’s not anywhere near “all the day long”!
Of course, there is waiting and there is waiting. When we can, we do other things
while waiting. Then it’s not so hard. If I order a book or a CD online and have to
wait for a week or two to receive it, I can be so busy that I forget I’m waiting. And
when the merchandise finally arrives I am almost surprised.
But think of other kinds of waiting. If I’m at the dentist’s, where I probably don’t
want to be in the first place, it’s hard to be patient in that waiting room. (pun
intended!) Maybe, like me, you bring something to read. But what if you forget?
In my case, I don’t build up my patience by reading People magazine or an antique
issue of National Geographic, or by watching the Food Network or Nickelodeon on
the television screen!
Even when we’re not waiting “all the day long,” it feels like it, and it’s difficult. But
David says, in Psalm 25, that he is eager to “wait all the day long.” David values
God’s leading in truth that much, and longs for God to teach him.
This Advent season, when we reenact our anticipation of the birth of the One who
is the Truth, is about waiting. And what we are really anticipating, while we are
doing all those other things, is the same thing David was waiting for: To know
God’s ways, to know the truth, to be reminded that we are loved by our Kinsman
Father God, You demonstrated Your great love for us by sending Your Son to
redeem us. Bless us as we wait to celebrate that great Gift once again. In the
power of the Holy Spirit and in the Name of Jesus, our Redeemer. Amen
Rev. Dr. Robert Hellam
Church of the Oaks
Del Ray Oaks, CA
First Saturday of Advent
“Be careful not to let yourselves become occupied with feasting and drinking
and with the worries of this life, or that Day may suddenly catch you.”
Luke 21:34 TEV
Speaking of the Day of the coming of the Kingdom of God, Jesus cautions his
disciples to be watchful, to avoid distractions of daily life. This is the same
watchfulness with which we are to wait for the birthday of our Redeemer
during this Advent season.
Feasting and drinking -- ah, the parties of the season! Our socializing involves
festivities with our co-workers, favorites clubs, and neighbors. And the worries
of this life nag at us. Are we going to spend too much? Can we juggle all the
activities, and still have time for the children's holiday concerts, and rehearsals
for the Christmas pageant? And Christmas shopping?
Let's vow to listen to our Savior, our Redeemer, the first-born of our family of
faith. Let's put aside the superficial and focus on watchful waiting. Let's
meditate on the words of this advent hymn:
Clean up your hearts, lay down the way,
For God approaches day by day.
Prepare for such a worthy heir,
For such a Guest your homes prepare.
Gracious God, enter our hearts and guide our thoughts, as we watch and wait
for the birthday of our Redeemer. Help us to cast aside all that is unclean,
impure, or unworthy. Help us to delight in the coming of our Savior. In Jesus'
name we pray. Amen
Janet E. Keyes
Robbins Memorial Congregational Church
Second Sunday of Advent
Wise Ones Seek Him
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod,
Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has
been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to
worship him.’ Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact
time the star had appeared, sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and make a
careful search for the child.’ Then they went on their way, and the star they had
seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the
child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the
house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and
worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented the child with
gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.” Matthew 2:1-12 NIV
(To the tune: "Good King Wenceslas")
Wise ones on a journey far, Travel from the Orient,
Following a bright, new star, On a mission reverent.
Jerusalem is where they rest, From their earnest seeking,
Asking where would be the best Place to find the new - - King.
Herod hears and is appalled, "I am king!" he rages,
While advisors, priests and scribes Counsel with the sages.
"In a village south of here Is the place that's mentioned;
See, our prophet Micah writes: "`Bethlehem is des - - tined!'"
Knowing this, the star they seek, Heav'nly guidance telling;
Till it halts o'er Bethlehem Where the Child is dwelling.
There they meet the Son of God, Prophecy fulfilling;
Bowing down, they worship there, Sharing their rich off - - 'ring.
If we're wise, we'll seek Him, too On our pilgrim journey.
He's our Star, our Guide, our King. For our souls He's yearning.
Gold: our gifts of tithe and time. Incense: prayers and fasting.
Myrrh: our death to sin which brings New life ever - last - ing.
Jack Brown and Kerry Price
Olivet Congregational Church
Second Monday of Advent
“Then they scoffed, ‘Jesus is just a carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of
James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon. And his sisters live right here among us.’ They
were deeply offended and refused to believe in him.” Mark 6:3 NLT
During a recent Bible study on the Gospel of Mark we encountered the first time
Mark references Mary (as in ‘the mother of’) and Jesus’ (named) brothers and
(unnamed) sisters. What was striking in our reading was that there was no
mention about Mary's husband Joseph. Instead, the text refers to Jesus as 'the
carpenter,' not 'the carpenter's son'. What we came to recognize is just how
much our understanding and faith come from a blending of different parts of
Scripture. We felt that when other parts of Scripture are used to fill in gaps, we
might be missing the writer’s original intended point. Blending Scriptures in
order to make our reading more complete, may result in missing the
opportunity to allow the text to stand on its own. Each writer may give a
particular insight, in this case, on Jesus’ life, that is lost when “blended”.
Advent is a time to review, and ponder the historic event of Jesus’ life. It is a
time to reexamine familiar Scriptures for new insights. Paul, in Philippians 2:6
provides a beautiful hymn where the text reads, “Jesus being found in human
form, humbled himself by becoming obedient.” -- A childhood with at least six
siblings; becoming a carpenter, and dealing with father absence – that was his
life on earth, the situation where he was humble and obedient. Christmas is
certainly a season to celebrate and remember the great gift freely given to all so
long ago, but Advent is also about looking at past history as the key to
understanding God’s call to our lives. “Let us do nothing from selfish ambition or
conceit, but in humility count others more significant than ourselves. Let us look
not only to our own interests, but first to the interests of others. Let us have this
mind among ourselves, which is Yours,
Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:3)
Lord Jesus, as we examine Your life on earth, Your family, and Your occupation,
we want to pattern our own lives after Yours in humility and obedience. Amen
Rev. Robert A. Higle
Plymouth Congregational Christian Church
Second Tuesday of Advent
Our Next Of Kin
"But now thus says the Lord, the One who created you, O Jacob, the One who
formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by
name, you are mine." Isaiah 43:1
Whenever there is a situation resulting in a death or disability, one of the
questions that emergency workers have to ask is this: Who is the next of kin?
Everybody needs somebody who will be responsible for decisions that must be
made on behalf of the victims, whether they are dead or so disabled that they
cannot make their own decisions. Often people prepare advance directives,
giving others the power of attorney to act on their behalf. In many cases,
however, such decisions fall to the nearest relative. People should really plan
ahead for such situations and discuss in advance what their wishes might be in
such an eventuality.
In this passage from the prophet Isaiah, we read that, in a sense, God is our Next
Of Kin, our Kinsman Redeemer so to speak. It is God who, after we die, will be
taking care of us. God will make sure that neither Death nor Hades will take
charge of us. Death may escort us from this life, but it is our Redeemer, Jesus
Christ, who will immediately take charge. We need have no fear about what will
happen to us when we die, because our heavenly Next Of Kin has already made
all the arrangements needed for our eternal health and happiness.
Of course, just as we should with our earthly next of kin, we should discuss our
desires with our eternal Next Of Kin also. The Lord should know what our desires
are concerning the eternal disposition of our souls. We do that by putting our
trust in the Lord while we are here on earth. This season of Advent would be a
good time to get out our eternal "advanced directive" and make sure everything
is in order. Is it well with our souls? Are we in communication with our
Next Of Kin?
Prayer: Thanks to You, O God, our eternal and almighty Next Of Kin, we can face
the end of our earthly life with confidence, no matter when or how it comes.
Help us live this life as people who are prepared for the next one. Through Christ
our Lord, Amen
Pastor Garry Fisher
Community Church of South Bend
South Bend, IN
Second Wednesday of Advent
Manger in the Shadow of the Cross
“Being made in human likeness and being found in appearance as a human,
Jesus humbled himself and became obedient, even to death on a cross! May I
never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Philippians 2:6-8;
The largest attendance came at our Christmas Eve Service at a former church I
pastored. We even had people sitting in the balcony. The decorations were lit
in the church, as well as throughout our town. There was great expectancy and
anticipation. The music was beautiful and many were blessed. It was an
encouraging service, but then it happened -- at a Deacons’ meeting, one of our
deaconesses said to me, "You ruined Christmas for me." I was taken aback.
“Ruined Christmas?” I have been accused of a lot of things but this was the
first time I was accused of ruining Christmas. Did she think I was the Grinch or
Scrooge in some way? “No,” she said, “You ruined Christmas because you
talked about Jesus being born in the shadow of the cross.”
A little baby is precious indeed. Christmas is one of my favorite times of the
year. I don't think I ruined her Christmas when I reminded her of the great cost
for Jesus to come to this earth for the very purpose of dying on the cross to
pay the penalty for our sins.
We couldn't be given a greater gift than this! The Greatest Giver gave us the
Greatest Gift: His life.
Thank you, Jesus, for coming to both manger and cross,. For what is one
without the other? Amen
Rev. Brad Heiple
Horton Congregational Church
Second Thursday of Advent
“This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed his
glory. And Jesus’ disciples believed in him.” John2:11
The episode aired before I was born – however, my earliest encounter with wine
- making was as a child watching television reruns. In the well-watched, classic
episode of I Love Lucy, the scene of Lucy stomping grapes at an Italian vineyard
(and the ensuing wrestling match) still makes me laugh. For your enjoyment,
watch Lucy Stomping Grapes.
As a child I thought that wine- making was a simple process: plant grapes, watch
them grow, pick them, stomp them, and voila! Now you have wine! As an adult I
have enjoyed touring vineyards and have learned that wine-making is much
more complex. Earlier this year I met a woman with a college degree in
Oenology. Who knew one could go to school to learn how to make wine? There
is so much that goes into growing the proper grapes in the correct climate,
combining grapes with other fruits and flavors, aging the wine in the right
barrels, and constantly testing and adapting to new methods. It’s not an easy
The Apostle John records in his gospel the account of Jesus attending a wedding
celebration in the village of Cana where Jesus performs a miracle and about 150
gallons of water is turned into wine. This is not the simple “stomp ‘em and drink
it” wine. It is the best wine! The holy magnificence of Jesus is revealed and his
disciples believe in him.
Often this “Wedding at Cana” event is referred to as the first miracle of Jesus.
But the first miracle was witnessed by a different select few. A humble carpenter
and his faith-filled wife, lowly shepherds, and gift-bearing foreigners all saw the
first miracle – the birth of God’s Son, the Savior of the World. These were the
first to believe in Jesus!
On Christmas Eve may we not simply recall and celebrate the birth of Jesus, but
may we witness and experience anew the miracle of God’s saving grace, and
proclaim our own belief in Jesus!
Holy God, thank you for sending your Son to earth as a baby so many years ago.
Thank you for the faithful witness of so many who have gone before us. Help me
to know and share the miracle of your love. Amen
Faith Community Church
Second Friday of Advent
Point of Access
“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, We have seen his glory, the
glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth…
No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s
heart, who has made God known.” John 1:14, 18
It is hard to go through even a single day in modern life without encountering
an icon for something! On the computer, on the tablet, on the phone, there
they are, and opening these little symbols grants access to all kinds of programs
and possibilities. One of Webster’s definitions of the word “icon” is a sign,
where the form suggests its meaning. The Orthodox churches have long used
icons, specially painted images of people and Biblical stories, as important
points of access into God’s truth and God’s time.
In Advent, we look to the coming of Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us. He is our
icon, our point of access into the reality of God. When we choose Jesus, we
discover all kinds of possibilities: God’s grace and truth, a redeeming love that
shows us a whole new way to live in the world and relate to one another. That
icon can sit idle on the “screen” of your life, or you can open it up, and open
yourself to the fullness of new life in Christ.
“O Little Town of Bethlehem” verse 4
O holy Child of Bethlehem! Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in; Be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel! Amen
Rev. Mary E. Biedron
North Congregational Church
Farmington Hills, MI
Second Saturday of Advent
Are you blessed too?
“Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless God’s holy
name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all God’s benefits,” Psalm
I am not a wealthy person by this world’s standards; I do have a home to live in,
a car to drive, a computer with a word processing program on which to write
these thoughts. I am most grateful for my church family. They have provided
me with support spiritually and emotionally, and have provided for some of my
physical needs as well. All of these things and many more are provided to me by
my Lord. I am so blessed. God provides my every need here and made a way
available for me to spend eternity with God. Are you blessed, too?
While we are constantly surrounded by benefits God has given us, this Scripture
is about our blessing God, and blessing God’s holy name. How can we possibly
bless God, who has it all? It’s like trying to find a present for someone who has
everything. If we asked God what he wants from us for Christmas this year,
what would it be? Do we even have God on our Christmas list? During this
season of preparation for Christmas, let us think of ways to bless God, our
Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer, and Friend.
Dear Heavenly Father, Blessed is the Lord who is King over all the
universe. Thank you for every benefit You provide to each of us. We seek to
never forget Your many benefits to us, and we want to bless you every day of
this Advent season. In Jesus’ loving name, Amen
First Congregational Church , Newton campus
Third Sunday of Advent
The Savior Unknown and Unwelcomed
“He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world
did not recognize him. He came to those who were his own, but his own did not
receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he
gave the right to become children of God. ” John 1:10-12
The birth story of Jesus gets read from the Gospel of Luke on Christmas Eve or
Christmas morning. Saint Luke tells us there was no room for Joseph and Mary in
the inn, so Mary laid the baby in a swaddling cloth and placed him in a manger.
Saint Luke reveals the irony that the inn had no room for the Savior of the world.
And we may even muse that we would not allow such a thing to happen if we
were the innkeeper.
Saint John expands on the account by Saint Luke by describing in greater detail
the reality of Jesus’ reception: The Creator of the world, was unknown and
unwelcomed by his own family, the Jews, and by the whole world. This is our
indictment as well. It wasn’t just the innkeeper, or the Jews in Jesus’ day, but the
whole world that did not recognize or receive him.
While we celebrate Christmas, we, too, may harbor attitudes that keep Christ
from really being welcomed in our hearts and lives. A sobering thought. Let us
recognize and welcome Christ throughout this Advent season, because the
reward is our being recognized and welcomed as God’s children. The promise to
those who receive and believe is greater than any other gift we might receive: A
place at the table, a right to belong, a child of God. The One who was not
accepted accepts us.
O Lord Jesus, You are welcome into my heart and home, my life and world. I
want to give you more room this Advent season. Amen
Reverend Steven DeGangi
First Congregational Church
Third Monday of Advent
Trust in God
“Truly, O God of Israel, our Savior, You work in mysterious ways.” Isaiah 45:15,
Sometimes God works in mysterious ways. Like Mary, the young woman spoken
to by an angel, we wonder what’s happening in our lives. Only when we look
back on the circumstances can we realize how that experience helped us be
ready for our future.
Case in point: A friend heard that I was going to Richmond, VA. She wrote and
said that she would love to join me and travel around the area. I didn’t want to
refuse her, but there were others that I usually traveled with after our reunion,
and I didn’t want to let them down. I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. What
To make a long story short, my usual group was able to find someone to take my
place, and consequently, I could honor the request of the friend who asked to
travel with me around Richmond. As a result I was able to see places that I
wanted to see which my usual group had decided not to include. So it all turned
out well for everyone.
If we just trust God when making our decisions, being careful not to hurt
anyone’s feelings, we will be surprised at the outcome. It’s amazing that many
times it works out for our benefit too.
It doesn’t always happen in the short term as it did in this story. Sometimes we
have to wait years for the happy ending. Sometimes there are things that we
must experience that are not at all pleasant when we are going through them.
But they make us better people We must have trust.
Trust the Process. We can’t see the outcome from our vantage point, but God
can. God knows what is best for us.
Lord, help me to trust that You have a plan for my life in both the big things and
the little things. Let me remember to turn to You when making decisions and to
ask for Your guidance, trusting that in the end, all will be well. Amen
First Congregational Church
Third Tuesday of Advent
A Little Dab….
“Do not despise the day of small things, for the Lord rejoices to see the work
begin …unto us, a Child is born, unto us a Son is given….” Zechariah 4:10; Isaiah
Back in the day it was the custom for boys to use various forms of “grease” to
slick back their hair. One of the more popular hair treatments was Brylcream
with its slogan, “A little dab’ll do ya.”
From the very beginning, God tried to get the attention of God’s people with the
“big production.” Adam and Eve were disobedient, and rather than give them a
time out followed by a second chance, God threw them out of the Garden of
Eden, and required that they earn their way in more ways than one. Despite
warnings and disapproval, humans continued their disobedient ways and there
was the flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the plagues on
Egypt. To prove who was God, there was Elijah’s water-soaked bonfire. Prophets
were sent to preach gloom and doom with little or nothing to show for it. There
were many big productions.
Then there was a baby, born of a peasant girl, in a non-descript stable, in less
than ideal political circumstances, with a production witnessed by a few
shepherds and magi. This simple event, which could have easily escaped the
notice of many, was to change the world. More than two thousand years later,
the birth of our Savior reminds us that the meaning of life is not in the grandiose
but in the simple expression of love, God’s love to a lost world.
O Lord, let me remember always to express my love for You and others, even in
small ways. “A little dab’ll do.” Amen
Rev. Bobbie Chapman
Founders Congregational Church
Third Wednesday of Advent
"Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain
the traditions even as I delivered them to you." 1 Corinthians 11:2
He wakes up and puts on dark dress pants and his nicest button down shirt. He
pulls on his sport coat, something he doesn't seem to wear much anymore. He
shuffles down the hall to breakfast. The nice lady is there, the one who always
helps. "What'cha got there?" she asks about the wrinkled news clipping in his
hand. He replies, "She died. I'm going to the funeral today." He found the
obituary in the paper and when he saw her picture the waves of memory
crashed through the walls of his dementia. His beloved had died. And since
then he has woken up and gotten dressed for her funeral, every day.
As has become the way of many of these things, the memorial isn't for weeks,
so there are many schedules to coordinate. But we can't make him wait weeks
to say good-bye. There is still a part of him which needs this ancient ritual of
grieving. And so he and his kids are coming to the church on Sunday afternoon.
I will read about the mansions in heaven and give thanks that, for his beloved,
all sickness and sorrow are ended, and death itself is past -- she has been
welcomed into God's eternal embrace. I trust that he will meet his KinsmanRedeemer there, the one in whom he has a friend, the one through whom we
all have new life and the life everlasting.
And hopefully, the next morning, he will put on his khaki pants and a polo shirt,
leave the suit coat on its hanger and the obituary by his bedside, and shuffle
down to breakfast with the peace that passes understanding in his heart.
Dear God, Thank you for sending your Son, our Kinsman Redeemer, to meet us
in our times of waiting, grief, and sadness. We are grateful that Jesus is with us
always, even to the end of the age. Amen
Rev. Robin Long
Sutton’s Bay Congregational Church
Sutton’s Bay, MI
Third Thursday of Advent
Potter and Clay
“Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom the Lord has redeemed from the
hand of the enemy… ‘Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?’
declares the LORD. ‘Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my
hand.’” Psalm 107:2; Jeremiah 16:8
Each year on the short-term service trips to Mission Mazahua, Mexico, I
acquire a new, ceramic mug beautifully crafted and decorated. Sometimes I
know the potter personally.
I quote the following to my congregation at least once each year. It speaks to
me of what redemption looks like as God redemptively transforms us from
mud into a beautiful ceramic cup to be filled and poured out in God’s name.
I will do more than belong--I will participate.
I will do more than care--I will help.
I will do more than believe--I will practice.
I will do more than be fair—I will be kind.
I will do more than forgive—I will be gracious.
I will do more than earn--I will enrich.
I will do more than teach--I will inspire.
I will do more than give--I will serve.
I will do more than live--I will grow.
I will do more than be friendly--I will be a friend.
I will do more than belong--I will participate.
I will do more than care--I will help.
[William Arthur Ward, American editor, scholar, author, pastor and teacher]
We can “speak” of our redemption by the way we live, living as the redeemed
men and women of God.
Author of abundant living, bless us to be helpful, hopeful, useful, careful,
faithful, thoughtful, graceful, merciful, peaceful, and prayerful, so that our
lives will be meaningful, plentiful, beautiful, and manifesting a fuller
Rev. Jack Brown
Olivet Congregational Church
Third Friday of Advent
"Who are you?" Boaz asked. ‘I am your servant Ruth,’ she said. ‘Spread the
corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer.’ Ruth 3:9
A kinsman-redeemer is a close relative who would buy the dead man's
property and take his widow into his home to care for her. How interesting,
that as Boaz accepted the kinsman-redeemer responsibility, he eagerly did
so, because he loved Ruth. No one had to force him or guilt him into it. He
was already smitten with her. When the original kinsman-redeemer opted
out, Boaz was only too happy to step in.
Jesus is our Kinsman-Redeemer. He all too willingly gave his life, because he
was smitten with love for all of us. He became our protector, and with
witnesses, instead of offering his sandal as promise of sealing the deal, Jesus
laid down his life and covered us with the corner of his garment. Do you
suppose that is why the sky was overcast as he hung on the cross? Was that
Jesus' way of covering us with the corner of his garment? The swaddling cloth
for the newborn in the manger would become the covering for each of us.
How amazing it is that we have a Kinsman-Redeemer who will never leave or
forsake us, and is more in love with us than Boaz ever could be with Ruth.
Gracious God, thank You for our Kinsman-Redeemer Jesus who is willing to
share the harvest, cover us with his protection, and love us before we even
love him. May we fall in love with the One who loves us, so that all that we
are and all that we have belongs to him, even as he belongs to us. We are no
longer just workers in the field, but united as one. Amen
Rev. Marilyn Danielson
First Congregational Church of Portland
Third Saturday of Advent
Perfect? Who Me?
“Be ye perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect…Both the one who makes
people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not
ashamed to call them brother and sister.” Matthew 5:48; Hebrews 2:11 NIV
Jesus said for us to be perfect. This has been a stumbling block for many,
including me. I’ve had it explained to me in many ways such as, ‘Maybe we are
perfectly human.’ But this is not an ideal world. We humans know we are not
perfect. Like the apple on the tree that goes through a process of bud to
blossom to tiny apple to ripe fruit, perfection is a process. We seem to be here
to learn. Even Jesus learned (“Although Jesus was a Son, he learned obedience
from what he suffered, and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal
salvation for all who obey him.” Hebrews 5:8-10 NIV) Eventually we get it right.
I was complaining about and criticizing some acquaintances. I finally realized
that they were good people; I was the one lacking. So what’s new? I’m not
perfect, yet. Part of my problem is that I am a perfectionist. I want everything to
be perfect and I want all others to be perfect too. It causes all kinds of friction. I
can tell what should be done, how it should be done, and give the reasons why,
but sometimes I myself do not follow through on my own expectations. If
nothing else, it teaches me humility. I’m not perfect yet. It gives me something
to strive for.
Sometimes it’s more important to love ourselves and others as we are. We are
all children of God, created in God’s image, but thankfully, each unique. Jesus
came to show us the way. Jesus came, not to condemn, but to rescue. (John
3:17) He went about his own business sharing the Good News with those who
wanted to hear, healing those who wanted to be healed. We need to follow his
example, concentrating on the loving, not the judging. Look for the good in
others. Look for the Christ in others. Then we see the perfection. And it’s in us,
too. God doesn’t make junk. We must bring out the best in ourselves and each
Dear Lord, help me to love myself and others just as we are. Let me look on this
life and its challenges as opportunities to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Amen
First Congregational Church
Fourth Sunday of Advent
“In the fullness of time God sent his Son to redeem us.” Galatians 4:4-5
I don’t know the source of the following but it speaks to me about redemption
(and our role in it) and I hope and pray it will to you, too, as you read it and
reflect on it.
Humpty Dumpty, sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty, indeed had a fall.
When all the king’s horses and all the king’s men
came to put Humpty together again,
they realized their limits and called in the king
whose love and grace changed everything.
Maybe not all at once or in a way they could see
but they knew first hand grace’s mystery.
They remembered their fall, and the king’s intervention.
So thankful they were of his gracious intention.
He saved them for sure, forgave their sins too
and accepted each one just as they were.
They stayed there with Humpty and helped with his needs,
tended his cracks with love and good deeds.
They spoke such kind words and encouraged his heart,
extending God’s grace from the very start.
Because they too had fallen and needed the king,
they now had extra love to bring.
They saw past the pieces strewn about where he lay,
and loved him and held him while the king worked his way.
Sharing the hope and good news they’d been given,
they encouraged each other in a new way of living.
So the next time that Humpty should sit on a wall,
if the wind blows just right and threatens a fall,
then all the king’s horses and all the king’s men
will all stand together protecting their friend.
Dear Lord, thank you so much for the gift of redeeming grace. It’s hard to
comprehend all that such grace does. Help us to be agents of redeeming
grace, looking for ways to extend help and mercy to others. Amen
Rev. Jack Brown
Olivet Congregational Church
Fourth Monday of Advent
Storms of Life
“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.’"
I have always been amazed by and attracted to lighthouses. I enjoy reading
stories of ships and people who were saved because of the light on a
lighthouse. I have a mental picture of a ship being tossed back and forth by
giant waves in a cold black sea. They are helplessly and hopelessly turned
around in the stormy sea. Then, someone spots a glimmer of light in the
distance. That glimmer of light turns into a glimmer of hope as the battered
ship limps toward the light. Sometimes the waves get so high the ship loses
sight of the light. However, they know the light is still there, so they keep
looking until they spot it once again.
In our modern day we face many storms: There are financial problems,
relationship problems, unemployment, and health concerns. Sometimes it
seems that we are going to drown in a cold, dark, stormy sea of problems. We
can be overcome with fear, and have no hope. However, Jesus our Redeemer
came as a Light to a dark world. If we look toward the Light we will eventually
find that glimmer of hope. Even if we lose sight of it for a while, we must keep
looking, because the Light does not go out, it is always shining so we can find
our way safely home.
I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore.
Very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more.
But the Master of the sea heard my despairing cry,
From the waters lifted me, now safe am I.
Souls in danger, look above, Jesus completely saves.
He will lift you by his love out of the angry waves.
He’s the Master of the sea, billows his will obey.
He your Savior wants to be, be saved today.
Love lifted me. When nothing else could help, Love lifted me.
Heavenly Father, help us to keep our eyes fixed on the Light of your Son Jesus
Christ. When storms hit in our lives, help us to focus on the Light that will
guide us safely home. Amen
Rev. Eric Hickman
Tipton Community Church
Fourth Tuesday of Advent
“...Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of
the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brother and sister....”
Hebrews 2:11 NIV
I watch the Food Network program Chopped regularly. For those not familiar
with the program, there are four chefs competing against one another as they
prepare a three course meal from mystery ingredients given them for each
course. At the end of each course the dishes are presented to a panel of
judges and one chef is chopped from the competition. The winner receives the
title of Chopped Champion and a prize of $10,000.
On one particular show the four chefs that had been chopped from previous
shows were given another chance to redeem themselves in the Chopped
kitchen and win the title as well as the $10,000 prize. The two finalists in this
show were a young man, that on the previous show was rather arrogant and
obnoxious, and the other contestant was a woman who was trying to win the
money so she could travel to see her elderly mother in her home country in
Europe. The young man won and as the woman was leaving, he told her to
wait. He indicated he never expected to win, and was not expecting the
money. He gave the money to the other chef so she could visit her mother.
As this young chef redeemed himself by winning the cooking competition, he
also was the kinsman redeemer for his competitor. The redemption was more
than just proving he could win the title of Chopped Champion; he won much
more on that day. He demonstrated what Jesus taught and demonstrated:
Love one another as yourself.
Gracious Lord, enable me to have the vision to see where I may be a kinsmanredeemer for my brothers and sisters. Allow that vision to be present not only
during this Advent season, but always. Amen
Arbor Grove Congregational Church
Easter thoughts at Christmastime?
"A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but
when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child
is born into the world… In a little while you will see me no more; you will weep
and mourn, and then, after a little while you will see me, and your grief will
turn to joy… and no one will take away your joy.” John 16:16-23
Last Christmas when I was making preparations for celebrations with family
and friends, I felt very overwhelmed. I did not even have that large a shopping
list, but still, it was a lot to do in a short time frame, and by Christmas Eve I
was exhausted. Most people find Christmas a joyous time as we prepare to
celebrate the birth of the baby in the manger, and many of us enjoy the bows,
wrappings, decorations, and the entire mood of the Christmas season. I enjoy
these things too, but sometimes it is just too much. There is so much
commercialism, beginning as early as September, we almost want Christmas
to be over before it begins tonight.
I find it ironic that so many of us get sidetracked by the numerous things we
feel we are supposed to do during the Christmas season, when all we should
be doing is thinking of the beautiful baby sent from God. It is time to actually
think about Jesus, and let go of the things we didn’t get done, like all kinds of
last minute shopping, decorating, wrapping, cooking, and so on. As our
Kinsman-Redeemer, Christ offers us personal salvation from this world of
“doing” the many things not even related to the real reason for the Christmas
Last year I found myself wishing I was preparing for an Easter celebration
instead of Christmas, because Easter celebrations are so much simpler, and
the focus is more on Christ, his death, burial and resurrection. It was not
simple for Jesus, but is easy for us to accept that Great Gift of New Life.
Let us take some time today to think about not only the baby Jesus in the
manger but also Jesus’ rising from the grave, alive forevermore!
Dear Lord, help me put aside the rushing and busy-ness, and spend the next
twelve days of Christmas worshipping our Kinsman-Redeemer who brought a
simple message and sweeping solution for our world. I want to tie Christmas
and Easter together. Amen
Dr. Lisa Bircher
I am God’s Favorite!
“Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel,
praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men
on whom his favor rests.’” Luke 2:13-14
One February afternoon in 2002, my five brothers, two sisters, and I had come
together at the house we grew up to discuss what we should do about Mom. She
lived alone and had fallen badly enough to send her to the hospital. All of us
wanted the best for her, but what was the best? In the midst of all this discussion
about taking care of Mom, of hospitals, rest homes, of somebody moving in with
her, a discussion that was, in effect, about taking over her life, the conversation
turned somehow to how she had taken care of us when we were children. We
remembered all the many accidents we had, the broken bones, the nights that
she stayed up with us. We remembered how she stayed up waiting for us when
we were older, and how she ran interference with Dad for us.
Naturally, our talk turned into kidding. I don’t know who started it, but someone
said, “I know I was Mom’s favorite.” Joe thought he was the favorite because he
was sickly as a child. Bob knew he was the favorite because he was the oldest;
then Viv countered that she was the favorite because she was the youngest. And
so it went on until each of us had come up with a reason to prove that we were
special to Mom above all others.
I was struck with the realization that while most parents try not to show
favoritism, Mom had made all her children believe that each one of us was her
In the family of God, it is undeniably true that we are all God’s favorite. If God
knows the number of hairs we have on our heads, we are special in God’s sight. If
God sent his only begotten Son as a gift to us, to be born for us at Christmas and
to die for us at Easter, we are loved in a mighty way. That is why I know that I am
Heavenly Father, on this blessed Christmas Day, we remember Your gracious gift
to us that came in the form of a baby. We remember Mary, the one you
handpicked to give birth to him and watch over him as our mothers did in the
past. We ask Your special blessings of strength and discernment to all women in
the special role of mother as we celebrate the first day of Christmas today. Amen
Church of the Oaks
Del Ray Oaks, CA
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