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Advent Devotion: December 19
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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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Advent Devotion: December 12
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Too Busy for Christmas?
Read Psalm 46:10

Are you busy? There's a lot to do during the Christmas season, isn't there! The perfect present to buy for each and every person on your list, holiday cards to address and mail, decorations to get out and place in just the right spot, not to mention the tree (even if you have a prelit-one you still have to decorate it), cookies to bake, school classroom Christmas parties to plan, yard decorations to bring down from the attic and erect on a December Saturday, events at church to attend - Advent Craft Festival, choir performances, Sunday School parties, Walk Through Bethlehem - so much "busyness." Whew! So much to celebrate, so much to do, and the clock and calendar are counting down the days and hours until the jolly man in the red suit arrives.

But wait - over two thousand years ago a mother was planning for the birth of her first child. It was embarrassing, but a heavenly visitor had told her it was to be. He was to be named Jesus. He was to be a special child. Mary had to journey with her new husband, Joseph, to Bethlehem, the City of David. She trusted him to find them a place, and it was a cattle stall, for the birth of this baby. A little "busyness" ensued - visitors came from the fields, shepherds who had seen a glorious sight and come to find this child. But in the midst of this busyness, Mary found quiet and peace after the excitement of the birth.

Prayer: Holy God, help us to find moments of quiet and peace during all the "busyness" of this season that we may celebrate and welcome this special child into our troubled world. Amen.?
-Nancy Carmon

Posted: December 13, 2014 07:21 AM
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Advent Devotion: December 11
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God With Us
Read Matthew 1:23

As I arrived at her house one early October day, my granddaughter, Hallie, could not wait to show me the fall decorations she had helped unpack the day before. With overpowering exuberance, she led me to the living room mantle and proudly revealed her display of pumpkins, leaves, candles, and a jack-o-lantern garland.

As I came closer I noticed that among the leaves were countless small, plastic figurines. I recognized them as many of the things important in Hallie's life: the Disney princesses, a few movie characters, and an array of colorful, glittery plastic ponies.

"Welcome to my world," her mother said with a giggle.

Imagining what Hallie might do for Christmas décor by mixing her life with the December decorations made me realize her decorating style may not be so off-base after all.

Jesus came into the world as Emmanuel, "God is with us." Too often during the holidays we forget that Jesus came to be among us, among the sparkly decorations, amid the frantic hustle and bustle, in the middle of the feasts and fanfare. Jesus is not the "other" part of Christmas; Jesus is Christmas and he meets us where we are, both in everyday life and during the holidays.

I think I might borrow a few princesses for the garland on my mantle, just as a reminder.

Prayer: God of Heaven and Earth, help us to remember that you sent your Son into the world to be among us. Make us mindful of his presence in our lives during Advent and throughout the rest of the year ahead. Amen.
-Sue Isbell

Posted: December 11, 2014 07:33 AM
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Advent Devotion: December 10
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A Light In the Darkness
Read Matthew 2:11

The event was a spiritual weekend in a wooded, rural setting. Different backgrounds, but like-minded as we explored Christian heritages.

As we gathered one evening, the power went out. We milled about with candles and flashlights, but still no electricity. Eventually, a companion suggested the two of us attempt a walk, insisting we could manage a dark path.

As we picked our way, my companion shared his family?s middle-east ancestry. He said some thought family origins began in an ancient desert community renowned for educated priests practicing Zoroastrianism. A key element of Zoroastrianism was a devout study of daytime skies and nighttime stars. He added that it was possible the biblical Wisemen had been Zoroastrian priests.

I wondered aloud, "What do you suppose they saw?"

"Maybe two planets in conjunction."

"Conjunction?"

He explained that "from earth, conjoined planets look united, despite being vast distances apart. Perhaps one of the planets was Jupiter, the planet of kings; the other could have been Saturn, the planet of Jews. Together, they would have made a light not to be ignored."

Then in our no-light path, I caught my toe, but he caught my arm. Quietly, he asked, "Where are you looking?" I had cautiously looked down the whole way. He tilted my chin until I was looking almost straight up. The night sky was full of brilliant stars. With such a dark night, I beheld more stars than I had ever seen before. It was surely the most beautiful night sky I had ever seen.

Prayer: Dear God, in our darkest of nights, turn our vision upward. Remind us again that Christmas was announced with angels and a brilliant star. Remind us that Christmas brought so much love You wanted all of Heaven and all of Earth to rejoice with You. Amen.
-Anonymous

Posted: December 10, 2014 06:24 PM
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