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Advent Devotion: December 22

Starlight & Angels
Read Isaiah 9:1-7

Bethlehem was dark that night, filled with tired people seeking shelter. On the hillside shepherds settled their sheep. Suddenly a great star shone forth! An angel appeared, first to the shepherds, proclaiming:

Don't be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.
This will be a sign to you. You will find the baby all wrapped up and lying in a manger.
Then a multitude of angels filled the wide sky singing, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace to men.

Who could ignore it? The shepherds ran down to join the awakened people, everyone amazed by the starlight, by the beauty of angelic voices. And then someone mentioned the pregnant woman in the stable. They knocked timidly on the door.

Mary and Joseph remembered their own angelic experiences and gladly showed their baby to the excited onlookers. Everyone joined in this heavenly celebration for the birth of Jesus, although unlike us, they didn?t know the rest of the marvelous story.

Christmas is upon us. Take time to re-imagine the night when a mysterious star shone brightly and choirs of angels celebrated the birth of God?s son. Don't let the jubilant truth of that night be lost in frantic activity. Remember the birth of our Savior and let your heart be filled with excitement and joy!

Prayer: O Father, clothe us with light and joy as we celebrate the birth of Jesus our Savior. Amen.
-Fran Wheeler

Posted: December 22, 2014 07:59 AM
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Advent Devotion: December 21

The Greatest Gift
Read Romans 6:23

When I was a child, my favorite time of the year was Christmas, for it was then that we received absolutely the best gifts and so many of them at the same time. The anticipation of that day was almost as exciting as the actual event. Sometimes the gifts I received were not things I wanted, but things I needed. It was difficult to get as excited about those, but life without them would have been difficult.

As I grew older, I slowly began to realize that the pleasure those gifts brought was only temporary, sometimes not even lasting through that day. Also, the older I got, the more I found joy in giving gifts to others.

The Advent and Christmas season continues to be my favorite time of the year. I enjoy Christmas Carols and anthems. I listen to them during all times of the year, despite the strange looks from my spouse! But my excitement is sustained for far different reasons than those present as a child. For now I mostly look forward to giving to others, and receiving anew a wonderful gift, something I need most of all, which is the incredible love revealed to us in God's most wonderful and lasting gift - that of His Son who came to be the living promise of His new covenant with us. It is a free gift and totally undeserved! This is truly the one gift that never gets old, the gift that continues to excite, and most importantly, the only gift that will last for eternity. It is the one thing needful!

Prayer: Father, as we look forward once again to celebrating the birth of Jesus, we thank you for the love shown to all of us in the most precious gift we could ever receive - your own Son, our Savior. Help us to never lose the wonder and joy of this, the greatest gift of all. Amen.

-David Lineberger

Posted: December 21, 2014 07:27 AM
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Advent Devotion: December 20

Finding the Christ in Christmas
Read Deuteronomy 4:29

Christmas is one of the busiest times of the year. Between all the festivities, the shopping, and the cooking, it?s hard to remember this holiday?s true meaning when you are thinking about the next thing on your Christmas check list.

Christ can be found in the most trying situation and in the most peaceful if we look for it. That?s the catch. Christ and the peace he brings are everywhere. If we constantly remind ourselves of Christ all throughout this Advent season, our hearts will be cleansed and prepared to celebrate his birth. Christ will reveal himself in bits this season as long as our hearts are ready to receive. This Christmas, don't forget to be sure Christ is first.

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, let us recognize what this holiday is about - You. Help us to be ready to receive your peace and love this Christmas season. Help us live life for the glory of you and treat others the way you would. In the Lord?s name we pray. Amen.
-Hadley O'Hara

Posted: December 21, 2014 07:27 AM
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Advent Devotion: December 19

A Story of the Wise Men
Read Matthew 2:1-12

My name is Gasper and my friends' names are Malchoir and Balthasa.

We have searched the skies and found one great star. One prophet we studied predicted that a new king was to be born in the west. We decided to go and take gifts of gold for royalty, frankincense for worship and myrrh for healing.

During the long journey we paced ourselves to fifteen miles per day. The star inspired us to keep going. Upon entering a new country, we visited King Herod. He had not heard the news about the new king and asked a lot of questions. He seemed disturbed. As we left Jerusalem, we refocused on the unusual star. It was leading us to a little town called Bethlehem.

Many people were in Bethlehem because Caesar decreed that everyone be registered. Some people knew that a baby named Jesus had been born several days ago. Others told of angels proclaiming the good news of Jesus? birth to the shepherds in the countryside.

A shepherd directed us to a stable at the edge of Bethlehem, which seemed especially bright and quiet. There was Mary holding baby Jesus, looking into his eyes with warmth and love. Joseph was in the background watching and caring for Mary and Jesus. The goal of our search and journey had been achieved. We bowed in front of the holy family and presented our gifts to King Jesus. Mary and Joseph thanked us for the gifts and for making the journey.

As we slept in a shelter with our camels, an angel came and told us to avoid Herod and Jerusalem on the way home. Our journey home gave us time to reflect on the meaning of stars, gifts and the new King Jesus.

Prayer: God bless the travels and giving of everyone during the Christmas season. Amen.

-Dave Craig

Posted: December 19, 2014 01:14 PM
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Advent Devotion: December 18

Love Is Something We Do
Read 1 John 3:16-18

In Christ, we know real love. Jesus gave his life for us. Suppose a believer is rich enough to have all that he needs. He sees his brother who is poor and who does not have basic needs. What should we do?

God gave us the Greatest Commandment to love the Lord your God with all your mind, soul, and your strength and your neighbor as yourself.

How simple this message sounds, but how difficult it is for us. There are people who are not easy to love. There are family members who will not listen and do not help us when we are in need. There are people who have hurt us so deeply that we find it difficult to forgive.

Jesus says that you must even love your enemies. For God so loved the world, that he sent his only son Jesus to die for us. He lived among us; he experienced the things we experience as humans.

Life?s most urgent question is: "What are you doing for others?" We cannot live only for ourselves. We are connected to others by many threads. How can we practice love in this world? Show your love by what you do. Walk the Walk and Talk the Talk. Reach out to those who are not easy to love. Go the second mile.

A friend lays down his life for a friend when he offers himself as a hostage in order to have his friend freed. A soldier steps in front of a friend to protect him from the enemy. A daughter gives up her career to help her mother get through rehab. A father gives his 18 year old son a kidney so he can have a full life. Everyday we see people heroically giving of themselves. Everyday each one of us has the opportunity to show God?s love to others. Can we practice doing this during Advent as we journey to the Manger?

St. Francis prayer: Lord, make me a channel of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me bring love. Amen
-Verna McLain

Posted: December 18, 2014 08:51 AM
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Advent Devotion: December 17

Brick By Brick
Read James 4:10

We were a team of 25 men and women. We were welders, brick masons, carpenters, mechanics, contractors, and industrial engineers. We had years of experience in construction, industry, and home repairs. We were going on a mission to Haiti to build a church.

It took a lot longer than we expected to go the 25 miles to the job site from Port au Prince. The roads were terrible and everything along the road was in a state of disrepair. At the job site we were disappointed at the work that the previous missions had done. Without a level you could tell that the walls were not straight and the building was not square. The tool shed had no power tools, no electricity, and a very few rusted hand tools.

But we were can-do Americans. After determining the materials we would need to build the second story and a roof, we set off to find the Haitian version of Lowes or Home Depot. The building supply store was a shack no bigger than a one car garage.

We ordered 600 concrete blocks. The man called for three boys. One he sent with a wheelbarrow to the hills to get gravel. The second he sent with a wheelbarrow to the beach to get sand. The third he sent with a wheelbarrow to his house down the road to get cement. The man pulled out a board, a number of wooden boxes, and a handle with a board on the end from behind the shed. When the boys returned, they started making bricks. They mixed the gravel, sand, cement and water in unmeasured portions on the board. They placed the mixture in a box, pressed it down with the handle, and turned the brick out on the ground. Some bricks leaned left, some leaned right, some were 8 inches high, some were 5 inches high, and some just fell apart on the ground. The man told us to come back in two days. They would be ready.

So we gave him a three page list of the lumber we needed. The man called two more boys. One got in a pit under a big log and the other got on top. With a bucksaw they started splitting the log. The man said come back in four days. They would be ready.

In frustration we went to the bishop and poured out our many complaints.

The bishop said, "You have come to Haiti to build a church. Now you understand the difficulties that Christ has in building His Church. Some people who were building the Church before you did not understand the plan fully so things are not straight and not square. Christ made compensation for that. Some builders did not have the power they needed so built little. Christ made compensation for that. Some of the bricks that Christ used to build the Church lean left, some lean right, some stand up tall, some do not, and some just crumpled. Christ made compensation for that. Some of the boards He has to use are uneven, full of knots, and are warped. Christ made compensation for that."

So we went and did likewise.

Prayer: Lord, help us to remember our limitations. Help us to your compensation, and find the blessing in all things. Help us to be more like you. Amen.

-Dan Kelley

Posted: December 17, 2014 09:46 AM
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Advent Devotion: December 16

The Power of Giving
Read Matthew 6:2-4, Hebrews 13:16

Many years ago, shortly after my Mother passed away, my Dad and I traveled to Pennsylvania to attend the wedding of a dear family friend. We needed a healthy distraction and some fine company, and this provided a perfect opportunity. We drove through the mountains much of the way. It was October, and every tree seemed to be wearing its very best. We listened to and sang Johnny Cash songs most of the way. The trip was good medicine for us both.

The hotel where we were staying was small, and a little gift shop was attached to the restaurant there. Waiting for friends to walk through the city, we meandered through the shop. I noticed a lovely vase and touched it long enough to notice it was simple, heavy, and smooth, though I did not utter a word.

After driving the beautiful way back with more singing, we unloaded all our gear. When the trunk seemed to be empty, my Dad reached in and pulled out a brown paper bag twisted up at the top. Inside, of course, was the smooth, heavy, and simple vase from the gift shop. I had not even noticed before that moment what he had done. My Dad was a giver, and he put his whole heart into everything. I can?t say this kind of story was rare, thankfully.

I tell you this story not so much for what it is, but for what it represents - love and kindness, a giving heart, and the ability to think of someone else through your own pain. The story of Jesus' birth represents those same things in this season. May we see Jesus' story for all it represents to us and the world. May we not only hold it in our hearts, but share it and show it to others.

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, let us not forget all the gift of you represents. Help us to be kind and loving. Help us to be givers of all we can when we can with our whole hearts in this season and always. Amen.

-Terri McCluskey

Posted: December 16, 2014 10:09 AM
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Advent Devotion: December 15

Jacob Wrestled With the Angel
Read Genesis 32:22-30

Recently a rabbi put a new meaning on an old story: the story of how Jacob wrestled with an angel all night, and as the morning broke, Jacob said, "I am not going to let you go until you give me a blessing." And the angel did give a blessing, and the rest is history.

Jacob had a problem that came to him in the night. Like Jacob, the night is when I wrestle with my problems. It is in the night that I cannot escape and I must wrestle with the pressing problems that haunt me and keep me awake. The night is normally a wonderful time of slumber unless there is a problem that takes hold of me, then it is a night of struggle.

Remember what Jacob said after he had wrestled with the angel all night: "I will not
let you go until you give me a blessing." The rabbi's sage advice is simply this: do not let go of the problem that interrupts your sleep until you have worked through the problem and received a blessing.

Advent's lesson in the coming of the Christ child is that blessing. God's grace manifested itself in Jesus, who brings blessings to our problems. God sees us through to the other side if we but let God enable us to find the blessing on the other side of the problem.

Prayer: Dear God, you know our hearts and our struggles. Give us strength and help us to find the blessing in all things. Amen.
-John Eldridge

Posted: December 15, 2014 09:58 AM
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Advent Devotion: December 14

From Darkness to Light
Read Isaiah 9:2-7

"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light." I remember hearing Isaiah's words read by J. Neal Ensminger to open the Christmas Eve Service at my second appointment. Neal's voice was strong and sure. I felt like the prophet himself was reassuring us of God's light overcoming darkness. I felt a lump emerge in my throat because Neal was dead. Yet, his voice proclaiming the power of God's light was strong and full of life. Modern technology allowed this miracle to happen. Neal was recorded reading, and it became the church's tradition to open the service with his reading of Isaiah.

In Neal's voice there was strength and there was no doubt that light overcomes darkness. His faith flowed through the reading of the Word. Neal's voice, his faith and proclamation live on. God?s Word and promises to us are always alive. Light overcomes darkness. Darkness, oppression, and burdens will all be lifted and lightened. These are all the promises of Advent.

In this season, warmth gives way to chill. The days grow darker. During this season the bad news can take its toll. We deal with the constant barrage of news of terrorism, disease, poverty, natural disaster, and economic disaster. We all deal with personal darkness, all those things that try to crowd out the light in our lives. In the midst of this dark time, in the midst of winter, the prophet Isaiah proclaims Good News: "those who lived in a land of deep darkness - on them light has shined."

Into a dark night, a child was born to us. His light shines in the darkness, and as John the Gospel writer proclaims, the darkness did not overcome it. May we find comfort in Isaiah's words. May the living words of ure be our light when the news around us is dark. May we celebrate the light that shines into the dark places. May we always remember that the light of our Savior breaks in to even the darkest of places.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for the gift of light in the midst of darkness. Thank you for your Son Jesus who is our light and our life. Help us share his light and love with others. Amen.
-Nicole Krewson

Posted: December 14, 2014 07:24 AM
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Advent Devotion: December 13

What?s In Your Bowl?
Read Ezekiel 1:28

As a little girl I loved to visit my mother's parents. Their house had rooms added on as the family grew and had all sorts of wonderful treasures inside. My favorite place to play was the formal dining room, by then only used for holiday dinners. This room held many interesting things including a striking bowl filled with plastic fruit on a small wooden end table. The bowl was huge, made of cut glass so it reflected the light in rainbows on the wall. Not only did my grandmother keep the beautiful bowl filled with plastic fruit, she changed it occasionally and had glittery artificial fruit during Christmas. I didn't understand - the bowl was so pretty why did she fill it with plastic fruit? Naturally much to Grandma?s frustration, I was drawn to play with this plastic fruit. I would take it to all corners of the house where my grandmother would discover it, fuss and return it to the bowl. Once as she was replacing the plastic grapes on their stems, I asked why she kept a bowl of fake fruit in her dining room. She explained that it was ?just for display? and she liked the glittery fruit out at Christmas because it made "a fine decoration." On the long car ride home I thought about the bowl and the fruit. The bowl was extremely pretty so why did it need the ?display? of the plastic fruit and why did it need the extra "decoration" at Christmas?

As we try to keep up with our activities all year it seems like Christmas puts our already busy schedule into full drive. It's almost like we think that the more we do, the more we are celebrating the season. This Advent examine "your bowl." What, if anything, do you need to put in your bowl? Fake fruit? Glittery fruit? It?s easy to get caught up in the "display" and miss your bowl already casting rainbows on the wall.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, shine through me so that everyone I come in contact with may feel Your Presence this Advent season. Let them look and no longer see me, but only Jesus. Amen.
-Beth Cooper-Libby

Posted: December 13, 2014 07:22 AM
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