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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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Advent Devotion: December 2
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The Gift of Christmas
Read Hebrews 4:16

A few months ago I was blessed to serve communion on a Sunday morning at Church Street. Rick Isbell and I were serving in the Chapel that day when a young girl came bounding down the aisle ahead of her family. Her ringlet curls bounced as she skipped across the floor. She came easily up to the altar rail and plopped down on the cushion. She turned her face upwards to look at me expectantly. Rick gave her bread and I handed her a cup of juice. She ate the bread in one bite and drank the juice quickly, careful not to spill a single drop. In fact, when it was empty she loudly slurped and used her tongue to gather every last drop of juice out of the cup.

Her boldness intrigued me. So many of us approach the communion rail slowly. We come reverently, but also burdened. We are worn down by all that life has thrown in our path since the last time we knelt at the Lord's Table. We are guilty. We are ashamed. We are not worthy. But because of a tiny baby born in a manger we are worthy. Because of that baby we can all skip up to the communion rail, our hearts light and our faces upturned to receive the grace so freely given to us by Jesus Christ. What a Christmas gift!

Prayer: Almighty God, help us to receive you and your redeeming grace with open hearts. Amen.
-Caroline Lamar

Posted: December 02, 2014 08:25 AM
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Advent Devotion: December 1
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My Mom and Advent
Read Isaiah 49:15-16a

My mom has many good days and a few that are not so good. She can clearly remember details of events that took place many years ago. But she cannot remember what happened five minutes earlier in her day.

When I visit with my mom, she often wants to talk about my childhood, and some of her clearest memories are the times our family sat around our homemade Advent wreath each Sunday on so many Decembers. We would arrive home from church, gather in our living room and have our special Advent time. My sister and I would take turns reading the devotion and lighting the candles. For my mother, these memories evoke a time when our family was together and we were able to pause long enough in our busy days to remember what the season of Advent truly meant. She can remember the dresses my sister and I were wearing, the things my father said, the way the candles melted onto the wreath, and our favorite hymns.

My mother often talks about losing her memory and how frustrating it is. But she also says that she has lived a wonderful life and she knows that God has been beside her with each step that she has taken. Her strong, never-wavering faith and her belief that God will take care of her through the good times and the not-so-good times give her a profound peace...even in the midst of this terrible disease. These memories of long ago Advent devotions are crystal clear to my mother and remind me during this season of memories and new beginnings, that the birth of Jesus gives us hope in every single situation that arises in our lives.. My mother says that even as she becomes more and more forgetful, she knows that God will never forget her.

This Advent season is a little bittersweet for me as I see my mom becoming more frail and more forgetful. Life goes by so quickly and I know how much I will miss my mom when she is gone. But these wonderful memories of long-ago Advent celebrations will stay with me and will always remind me of my mother who never forgot the meaning of this season.

Prayer: God, in this wonderful and holy season, we remember those who struggle and who live with disease and heartbreak. Help us to be mindful of these special people and may they be blessed with powerful and beautiful memories of lives blessed by knowing you. Amen.
-Pat Bellingrath

Posted: December 01, 2014 09:30 AM
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Advent Devotion: November 30
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Can You Wait?
Read Luke 2:1-14

We are preparing for a story that we have all heard multiple times. We know where the story takes us despite our best attempts to anticipate the coming Christ. We try to walk slowly with Mary and Joseph from conception to manger, but the baby Jesus and Wise Men are already in the nativity scene on the mantle and Christmas songs are already in our heads. We know about the Shepherds watching their flocks and about the visit of the angel of the Lord. We are, yet again, waiting for the birth of our Savior.

Advent begs us to wait. This season wants us to not rush to what we already know, but to settle into each scene of the story as it unfolds. Perhaps you are better at waiting than I am, but I find it incredibly difficult to not view the Christmas story in its entirety. I cannot un-know the birth of Christ, the manger, or the life that awaits the Christ child.

This conundrum has lead me to think about new ways to prepare for The Christmas story. Read Luke 2:1-14 if you have not done so yet. Take note of the Angel who appears and shakes us up through a message. I believe that the Angel of the Lord most certainly passes through our towns this time of year and is longing for someone to hear the news that he has to announce: a Savior has been born to you.

Indeed, a savior has been born to us. The Christmas story has happened and it is for our benefit. Therefore, I believe our anticipating Christmas during this season begs us to seek out new ways to hear the Angel of The Lord speaking to us as we wait. Where do you see God at work in your life this season? Are there ways in which you should prepare the manger for the Savior that you haven?t done in years past? What does it mean that the Angel speaks to you every year? Use this Advent season as a time to think through new ways to prepare for the Savior and to rediscover for yourself the discipline of waiting.

Prayer: Dear Lord, teach us to wait on you, help us to prepare for you in our hearts, and always make us to see and hear where you are among us. Amen.
-Ashley Helton

Posted: November 30, 2014 07:14 AM
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