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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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Advent Devotion: December 9
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Don't Be A Stranger
Read Romans 12:10, John 15:12-15

After moving to Knoxville three years ago, I began to consider which church I would attend. I had visited Church Street while a student at UT, so it seemed a logical place to begin my search for a church home.

Painful family issues had brought me back to East Tennessee, and it was a tough time in my life. I knew not a single person in Knoxville. I entered the Nave that first Sunday with a heart heavy with sadness and anxiety. I was a stranger, in both the city and the church.

As I sat alone in a pew, a lovely woman approached and asked if she could join me. We chatted a little before the service, and she welcomed me warmly. Suddenly, the beautiful but somewhat intimidating building seemed more intimate. I began to relax and enjoy my new friend - and my new church.

Each week, I searched the Nave for that welcoming smile and wave. My new friend was always there with a kind word and sound advice on helping me acclimate to the city.

We?ve been "pew buddies" ever since, and our friendship has grown. We?ve shared good news and bad, and she?s never failed to brighten my Sunday. Without her comforting presence, my Church Street experience would have been very different.

My friend taught me a valuable lesson about taking the time to notice new faces and extend a hand of friendship at every opportunity. We may never know the burdens the "strangers" in our congregation carry, and we must never underestimate the power of a welcoming smile to brighten a cloudy spirit. Just as Jesus reached out to all those he encountered, we can offer His love to those who enter our church each week. Our outstretched hand can become a lifeline to someone in need of a friend.

Prayer: Lord, help us to be an example of Your love to those we meet each day. Open our hearts that we may welcome strangers into our circle of love and friendship. Amen.
-Dona McConnell

Posted: December 09, 2014 08:26 AM
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Advent Devotion: December 8
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Do Not Fear
Read Luke 1:30, Matthew 1:20, Luke 2:8-14

I don't know about you, but the Advent Season often times becomes a season of stress for me. Rushing around to find the perfect tree, the perfect gift, the perfect decorations. Making sure the mantle is just so. Arranging the ornaments multiple times before deciding they will just "have to do." Picking the most glorious gift wrap and planning the most exquisite of dinner parties. A season of preparation, certainly. But preparing for the King? Well, that seems to be pushed to the back burner for me.

And with all of the hustle and bustle, the stress and expectations, the busy-ness and lack of sleep, there is an underlying sense of fear. Fear that things might not go the way I have them planned. Fear that the most sought after gift would be on backorder. Fear that the thematic choice of my wrapping style might cause problems if I run out of a certain wrapping paper. And as this fear begins to seep into my spirit, I?m reminded of something from the Gospels: the conversations that the angel Gabriel has with those he encounters in the Christmas story.

You see, in the conversations with Mary and Joseph and the shepherds alike, Gabriel says "Do not fear." The messenger angel, bringing news of the Messiah, has to remind the humans that they should not be afraid, that in their preparation of the Christ-child, they should not fear. And each time I am reminded of those words, I stop in my tracks. Because this season is not a season of fear, but one of rejoicing. And while there are still to-do lists that need checking off during this time, being afraid should not be included. As the angel said, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy that will be for all people." Let this season be one of joy rather than fear, for the King is coming!

Prayer: Holy God, during the stress and busy times of the Christmas season, reveal yourself to us. Remind us to be still, to rest in you - remind us not to fear. Allow our preparations to be a celebration of Jesus, and let them be used to glorify you in all that we do. Amen.
-Jenny Darden

Posted: December 08, 2014 06:19 AM
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Advent Devotion: December 7
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The Birth of Christ Reconciles Through God's Love
Read Matthew 1:18-25

What is so important about Christmas? Christmas celebrates the birth of an extraordinary child. The child is the human one, God in human form. During Community Christmas at Church Street UMC in Knoxville, a narrator recounts the story of Jesus' birth as found in the Holy Bible. Children and adults posing as shepherds and angels gather around the steps to the high altar awaiting the entry of a couple that has just been blessed with a new baby. Wise persons bearing symbolic gifts follow a handmade star down the center aisle to where the new baby lies in a manger near the high altar.

A few years ago a non-member couple, Calvin, an African American, and Terri, a Caucasian, shared their baby, Isaiah with us. Calvin as Joseph and Terri as Mary came to the stable scene with Isaiah as the baby Jesus. Announced by the angels, greeted by the shepherds and honored by the gifts of the wise persons, this recently married director of the Montgomery Village Ministry and his wife brought special meaning to a mission program of Church Street as they shared in our celebration of the very moment that God chose to take human form.

Most people at the event did not know Calvin or Terri. Isaiah was not baptized at Church Street. For others this re-enactment held special meaning by emphasizing the reconciling power of Christianity - healing our divisions, honoring our diversity. It is the only time a mixed race couple portrayed Mary and Joseph at Community Christmas.

Prayer: Dear God, help us to overcome the divisions among us of wealth, color, and cultural traditions. Create in us the spirit of love, which we celebrate in the gift of your Son to us to be born, and to live and die as a human being. Let us love one another without restraint. Amen.
-Tom Hood

Posted: December 07, 2014 07:11 AM
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Advent Devotion: December 6
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Waiting for Jesus
Read Isaiah 40:31

One click and it was done. The antique, carved nativity set was purchased (at a steal) and would soon be on its way to my doorstep. As promised, my package arrived in short order. Once opened, I dove into the sea of packing peanuts retrieving the wooden figures. One-by-one I unwrapped the cast of characters: Mary, Joseph, an angel with a strange floral-wire-type halo, a couple of shepherds, two small animal-like figures probably sheep (though to me they looked like cats,) and the wise men (or wise persons for us good Methodists) along with their trusty camel. Another look and I knew something was wrong. Where was the manger? Most importantly. . . where was Jesus?

In a fit of utter worry, I dumped the remaining contents on the floor, threw the empty box across the kitchen, and sifted through the foam peanuts once again. This time I was relieved to find the manger. Sadly, however, the baby Jesus was nowhere to be seen. Another look through the box's contents confirmed my fear - Jesus was missing. Later, upon closer examination of the item, I saw the words I had missed in my purchasing haste: "baby Jesus not included." So much for the great price, I thought.

Ten years later, even without the Christ child, I continue to display my nativity. The empty manger serves as a vivid reminder of Advent's importance to my faith. Each day during Advent in the shadows of the empty manger bed, I am reminded that patient waiting and hopeful anticipation are the hallmarks of this Christian season. And only by living out (no matter how painful and inconvenient they may be) Advent's waiting and anticipation can we truly appreciate the joy of Christmas and the eventual arrival of the Christ child.

Prayer: Holy God, help us to wait. Sit with us in this time of Advent reminding us of Christmas - joy and celebration to come. Amen.
-Chris Sneed

Posted: December 06, 2014 10:38 AM
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Advent Devotion: December 5
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Christmas is Coming
Read John 13:34

The dilemma happens each year...do we get ourselves in a bind with what to do and how much? There are many choices for how we spend our time. The must-dos seem endless, but do we make a priority of the meaning of the season? The small efforts we make to help one another may mean the most. Instead of trimming our own tree, perhaps taking a trimmed tree to someone who wouldn?t have one would be a better choice. Deeds like this can be a miracle to someone.

Perhaps we find time for someone who needs our time more than the time we spend on decorating, cooking or shopping. Miracles do happen through simple ways. The bar of soap from the Sharing Shop can mean much to the one who has none. It would be gratifying to help pay for someone?s groceries for a week. Anytime of the year, not just at Christmas, we have opportunities to spend time helping others.

Whatever our means, there are many ways we can share Christmas and it might be a miracle in their life.

Prayer: God of goodness, help us to see the needs of others all around us. Help us to be witnesses and doers of your miracles, large and small. Amen. -Martha Pierce

Posted: December 05, 2014 06:34 AM
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Advent Devotion: December 4
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Advent - A Celebration of Peace
Read Isaiah 40:1-14

We live surrounded by fear and tribulation of every kind. The media, the culture, even the government constantly speaks messages of fear. Closer yet, illness and trouble of many kinds often touch our own lives.

The world is not a place of peace. War and political unrest fills the news. Volcanoes and earthquakes, drought and floods occur with regularity. Ebola delivers death. Crime and murder and terrorists are continuing nightmares.

But in the midst of all this darkness - the unhappiness, the pain, the worry - Advent comes again, reminding us that Christ came to the world, and His power remains in us.

The risen Jesus stands as a beacon of peace - peace that the world cannot understand. We are given hope that all will be well because He came - because He is with us always - because He will come again. So in our tribulation and worry and fear, we have the image of Christ carrying us in His arms, close to His heart. This is a great blessing indeed.

Prayer: O Prince of Peace, inspire us with hope. Give peace to this broken world and to the broken hearts all around us. Amen.
-Fran Wheeler

Posted: December 04, 2014 06:30 AM
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Advent Devotion: December 3
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The Strength of Unity
Read Ephesians 4:1-7

Lakeshore Park, full of walkers, kids' soccer and baseball, is also home to one of
my favorites in God?s creation: giant oak trees. Lakeshore boasts lots of big, beautiful and old oak trees, whose branches signify strength, stability and the wisdom of the
ages.

A recent storm brought a new lesson for me about these mighty oaks. The
savage winds had blown through and some trees were down. Seeing the trees down brought me down; I adore their majesty and was sad to see even one no longer adorning the hillside.

What I noticed in the fallen trees, however, is the lesson: we are taught the
strength of unity and how in times of adversity we need to stick together and support one another, because when we stick together, we can weather the storm. The mighty oaks that fell to the ground or were split apart were the ones that were by themselves. The mighty oaks which grew in each other's shadows remained. Together, the trees that were close together sheltered the winds of the storm for each other and enabled each to triumph and remain standing when the calm returned. Advent is a time to come into community, a community of grace at Church Street to provide shelter for the storms of life.

Prayer: Dear Lord, knit us together with your strength, stability and wisdom. Help us to bless and love one another through the storms of this life. Amen.

-John Eldridge

Posted: December 03, 2014 08:21 AM
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