Daily Advent Devotions from Church Street UMC

Friday, December 4

By Laura Still

Carrying the Light in Hard Times

Read Isaiah 2:3b-5

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths. The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.

This year more than any other it has been hard to feel connected as God’s people. We have been kept apart for our own health and safety, but knowing that doesn’t make it less lonely. Our church staff and clergy have done everything possible to reach out to us, and I applaud their dedication to finding new ways to send prayers, teach classes, and find alternate ways to worship and feel we are still a community of faith. But this has gone on much longer than we expected, and there is still no endpoint in sight. In fact, getting back to normal probably isn’t going to happen. We must accept that normal is going be different than it used to be.

So now what?

To answer this, I read back over the book of Isaiah, and reflected on what the prophet had to say. He was giving counsel to the people of Israel in a time not unlike our own. They had been scattered and were having hard times as they tried to come back together and rebuild their identity as God’s people. It would have been easy to be a prophet of doom and gloom in those times, but Isaiah’s job was not to spread despair. Instead, God asked him to be a beacon – a point of light in the darkness. Over and over, God uses Isaiah to reassure his people that, though their circumstances are grim, He is with them and has a plan for their future. It may not be the future they imagined, but God’s imagination would always exceed anything humans could come up with.

So in times of darkness, God wants us to walk in His light, to hold up that light to the world, and trust Him to bring us safely into His kingdom. We can still be God’s people, looking with hope to the future He is creating for us.


Dear Lord, give us patience and help us be kind to each other, even though we are uncertain and afraid. Help us to focus on every small good thing, and use those points of light to strengthen our hope and trust in You. Make us sincerely grateful for your gifts to us, in the name of your greatest gift, Jesus Christ. Amen.

This devotion was written by Laura Still on behalf of the Children’s Ministries. 

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Daily Advent Devotions from Church Street UMC

Thursday, December 3, Morning

By Rev. Monty Walton

What Are You Waiting For?

Read Malachi 4:1-3

“Count on it: The day is coming, raging like a forest fire. All the arrogant people who do evil things will be burned up like stove wood, burned to a crisp, nothing left but scorched earth and ash – a black day. But for you, sunrise! The sun of righteousness will dawn on those who honor my name, healing radiating from its wings. You will be bursting with energy, like colts frisky and frolicking. And you’ll tromp on the wicked.

They’ll be nothing but ashes under your feet on that Day.” God-of-the-Angel-Armies says so. (The Message)

Advent is a time when Christians anticipate our joy at the coming of Jesus in power and light. But the prophets tell us that the day we are anticipating will not be a happy day for everyone. For the “arrogant evil-doers,” Malachi paints a frightening picture.

One of my favorite Christmas movies is The Nightmare Before Christmas (yes, I am weird like that). If you don’t know the storyline, Jack Skellington, who rules over Halloween, decides to take over Christmas. Jack’s goblins deliver tricks rather than treats for Christmas morning. The children who had been eagerly anticipating Christmas got quite the surprise. Christmas came, but not in the way they had expected.

We observe Advent to remember that Christ promised to come again; but have we forgotten how he promised to come? He will come with rescue and healing, but he will also come with authority and justice.

So, who are these arrogant evil-doers? The arrogant are those who are not humble before God, choosing to devote more worship to things that they have created than to the creator of all things. The evil-doers are those who do not pursue social justice, who ignore the needs of orphans, widows, and refugees (the powerless)… awkward silence

This year, as we anticipate the return of Jesus, let us remember all that his returning entails. Let us focus on what we will bring to Christmas instead of focusing on what Christmas will bring to us. When hardships test our patience, it is our all-knowing and powerful God who will, in his timing, lift our burdens and give us the patience to wait for better things ahead. Be still and know…


Lord, we pray daily for an end to violence and injustice, and so we eagerly await the coming of the mighty King who will bring us peace and justice. Be with us in our waiting. Teach us to use this time to examine our hearts and souls and to repent of our blindness to the suffering and needs of your other children. Remind us that you will come in glory and mercy, but also in fiery righteousness. May you find us humble and merciful on that day. Amen.

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Daily Advent Devotions from Church Street UMC

Thursday, December 3, Evening

By David Lineberger

Waiting for Jesus

Read Psalm 27:14

“Wait for the Lord; be strong and courageous. Wait for the Lord.”

No one would argue that the times we currently live in are somewhat frustrating! All of us want our lives to return to “normal,” and each of us has a pretty good idea of what we would like normal to be. Living in the 21st century, we are pretty much used to getting what we want quickly: Amazon deliveries the next day, or the same day in some cases, text messages answered in seconds from just about anywhere in the world, fast food whenever we want it, and the list could go on and on.

In the Advent season, we experience something quite the opposite: waiting. There are still many things we sometimes have to wait for; the birth of a child, our birthday celebration, an expected raise, or a reassuring call from a loved one. In Advent, we are waiting for the celebration of the birth of our Savior Jesus. The coming of the Savior was foretold many times in the Old Testament, and God’s people waited patiently for many years for that wonderful event to happen. Many people were still waiting when their lives ended, but God blessed their faith.

Faith involves waiting while trusting in God’s promises. What are you waiting for God to do? Do you trust that God will fulfill His promises in the best way possible for you, and at the best possible time? This season we celebrate the fulfillment of God’s greatest promise to send to all people everywhere, the gift of His Son Jesus, who brings to all believers the gift of eternal life with Him in heaven. That’s something worth waiting for!


Heavenly Father, we confess that sometimes we get impatient waiting for things we want. Help us appreciate all the blessings you continue to give us. Give us joy in waiting to celebrate the coming birth of Jesus, our infant Savior. Amen.

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Daily Advent Devotions from Church Street UMC

Wednesday, December 2

By Dr. Jeffrey H. Johnson

He Will Be With You

Read Isaiah 43:1-3a

“But now, O Jacob, listen to the LORD who created you. O Israel, the one who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (NLT)

I grew up in the church. I have listened to sermons in church and on the radio, and now on the internet for years. I love hearing the exegesis of God’s Word. Despite having listened to so much material, there are still specific messages I have heard that made such an impression on me that they have become part of me. I remember listening to a message about John the Baptist. We remember the great and lofty things he did in preparation for the Son of God and His ministry. However, we forget that he (John the Baptist) was thrown in prison and eventually beheaded. In Luke 7, two of John’s disciples went to Jesus and asked him if he really was the Son of God? They and John were having their doubts, given the events that were happening to John. Notice that Jesus did NOT drop what he was doing, rush to John, and have him rescued from prison and solve all of his problems. Instead, he instructed John’s disciples to tell John that the people were being served and the Gospel was being proclaimed.

In these difficult days of 2020, are we to abandon our faith in the midst of pandemic, racial tension, and strife in our country? I believe that we are called on to remember that when we go through rivers of difficulty (not if, but when), we will not drown. When we walk through the fire of oppression, we will not be burned up; the flames will not consume us. For He is the Lord, “the Holy One of Israel, our Savior.” Verse 5 of Isaiah 43 says, “I am with you.”

He was with John the Baptist, even in prison. And He is with us today …


Father, we understand that your ways are not our ways, and your thoughts are not our thoughts. You are God. You are King. You are the Sovereign One. You bridged the gap between God and Man through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of your Son. Thank you for being with us today. Amen.

This devotion was written in honor of the Parish Health Ministry.

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Daily Advent Devotions from Church Street UMC

Tuesday, December 1, Evening

By Beth Cooper-Libby


Read Matthew 14:13

“When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns.”

Long ago in rural Western Pennsylvania, a little girl was in the car with her mother heading toward ballet class. The little girl was in first grade and new to the area. She did not have any friends yet but that was about to change, because as they were heading down a twisty country road, her mother hit a dog. Both were horrified, and the little girl’s mother approached the closest house and knocked on the door, frantic to find help. When that door opened, out came six children, three boys and three girls. In fact, one of those children, named Stephen, became her very best friend. I don’t mean “best” friends as in someone who will tell if those pants make your bottom look big. I mean best friends; my go-to when life got tough: high school bullies, breakups, financial troubles, school problems, job problems, illnesses, deaths and anything else that came at me. For most of our lives, we were never more than 20 minutes apart. That kind of best friend. That was until he died this year.

Aristotle described deep friendship saying, “What is a friend? A single soul in two bodies.” I am glad he did describe it, because when a friend dies often those around you do not give you the same support and validation that they would have had it been a family member. I found that most people, while well-meaning, are uncomfortable with your grief. They do not know what to say or how to say it. I heard it all, “do not avoid the pain, remember you aren’t alone, remember all your great memories. There is a reason for everything” … blah, blah, blah. This feels like you’re trying to grab on to something so you don’t fall. However, everything you grab is either broken or slippery. The grief is painful and nobody understands.

Jesus lost his best friend too. When Jesus’ friend Lazarus died, he wept. Even though he knew Lazarus was dying and he would raise Lazarus back to life, he was so overcome with emotion that he began to cry. Jesus not only lost his good friend Lazarus to death, he also lost his dear friend and cousin, John the Baptist. When Jesus heard the news about John, he got on a boat and headed to a desolate place. I know why he did that. Jesus was grieving. Jesus understands.


God, you will never abandon us during our times of grief; you will always provide us understanding and hope. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Amen.

This devotion was written in loving memory of Stephen Martinak. 

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Daily Advent Devotions from Church Street UMC

Tuesday, December 1, Morning

By Dr. Dwight Wade

Dealing with the Unexpected

Read Luke 1:5-35

 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly.  But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.

Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God.  And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” 

Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.  And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”

Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.

 When his time of service was completed, he returned home. After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion.The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”

 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[a] the Son of God.

One of Dr. Jim Fleming’s books described Elizabeth and Mary, cousins who faced momentous challenges. In a section called “Turning Points for Mary and Joseph,” he shared many little-known details about Mary and her cousin, Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist.

The aged Elizabeth was unhappily childless. Her elderly husband, Zacharias, was serving in the Jerusalem temple. While in the Holy of Holies, the most sacred space, the old man received an angelic visit promising the birth of a son, whom we remember was to become John. Upon hearing the news, the priest was flabbergasted!“I don’t see how this could be, since we are so old!” he retorted. For this moment of doubt, we’re told Zacharias was struck dumb until his son was born.

Mary, then in Nazareth, was a thoughtful devout youth, engaged to the older Joseph. Also receiving an unexpected visit from the angel, she learned she would also bear a child in a mysterious manner. The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, the power of the Most High will overshadow you; the baby born to you will be the Son of God. And the obedient Mary said: “I am the Lord’s servant … May everything you said come true.”

The birthday of our blessed Savior approaches. Today, we also wait expectantly. We wonder just when the unwelcome pandemic will end and when we might once again worship in our sacred space. It seems to me that Advent is all about waiting with patience and hope. And we take our cue from two great women of faith who lived in a very dangerous era, when death from childbirth was the norm. Still, they endured their trials, believing their strength came from the Lord. God’s gift of the Christ Child is worth the wait.


Loving God, no matter what trials we may yet face in this present age, remind us that you are always with us. Give us that same assurance and courage exhibited by Mary and Elizabeth, that we might remain a blessing to others this season. Amen.

Dr. Dwight Wade is the Church Street historian and author of Unfinished Journey.

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Daily Advent Devotions from Church Street UMC

Monday, November 30

By Thomas Stubbs

We Begin in Darkness

Read Isaiah 9:2

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who lived in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shined.” (ESV)

This Word, spoken by the prophet Isaiah twenty-seven hundred years ago and long read in the Christian tradition as a foretelling of Christ’s coming, keeps me mindful of two things. First, that the season of Advent begins in darkness, and second, that it doesn’t end there. It can’t, because the people of God are on the move, walking in darkness, journeying through it, following a light that interrupts the darkness and refuses to let it have the last word. Though the path is not always clear, by the grace of God we find our stumbling way to the manger, guided by the Christmas star as it shines from its perch in the inky black sky.

To whom was that star leading those who followed it then, and where is it leading those who follow it still? It leads to a child, born to us (Isaiah 9:7). To all of us, for in him is life itself, life which is the light of all people, a light that shines so brightly that the darkness did not, cannot, will not overcome it (John 1:5). This child, this Jesus, invites us to journey with him this Advent season. It’s a challenging invitation because it means we must turn to face the reality of darkness. But it is also a gracious invitation because it means we no longer have to face that reality alone. We have a companion, a light source, whom the darkness cannot overcome. Thanks be to God for that.


Illuminating God, whose light breaks through the darkness in which we so often find ourselves, encouraging us to continue feeling our way through a darkened world: we pray for the courage to keep moving, secure in the knowledge that through your Son Jesus Christ you have promised to be our constant companion, our advocate and guide, our stronghold and our sure defense. And having beheld the light of your mercy, we pray that, like John, we would be moved to testify to your light, so that all might feel the warmth of your redeeming love, for the honor of your holy name. Amen.

Thomas Stubbs is a ministerial student at Duke Divinity School.

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Daily Advent Devotions from Church Street UMC

Sunday, November 29, Evening

By Rev. Chris Brown

A Time of Hopeful Waiting

Read 2 Peter 3:8-15

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.

Near the end of our New Testament is the second letter attributed to Simon Peter directed at an unknown audience. In it, Peter speaks of Christ’s promised Second Coming. And we are reminded once again, as Jesus instructed the disciples in the Gospels and Paul reiterated to the churches in his letters, that God’s timing is not in accord with human expectations. He writes, “… with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.”

Do you ever wonder why some days seem to go by slowly while others feel as if they appear and disappear at breakneck speed? The ancient Greeks had two main words for understanding time: Chronos and Kairos. The first term, Chronos, is the kind of time that moves in a linear direction. Kairos refers to a moment or an event or “a period of time.” It is like when someone says to you, “Hey, do you remember that time…?” The New Testament speaks of Kairos time (84 times) more than it speaks of Chronos time (54 times). Kairos means “the appointed time in the purpose of God,” the time when God acts, or the time when we see God move in extraordinary ways.

This Advent Season, as we participate in holy waiting, we wait in hope and in anticipation for Christ’s promised Chronos return. Furthermore, we celebrate and give thanks for a God that is working in extraordinary Kairos ways and that it is on a “timeline” that goes well beyond our earthly understanding.


Lord, grant us patience and understanding in this time of hopeful waiting. Help us to recognize the times in which you have worked and are continuing to work in this world. Amen.

Rev. Chris Brown is a Pastor at Colonial Heights UMC, Kingsport, TN, was raised at Church Street, is a former college ministry coordinator, and Duke Divinity intern.

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Daily Advent Devotions from Church Street UMC

Sunday, November 29, Morning

By Bishop Kenneth L. Carder

Hope Amid Exile

Read Isaiah 40:3-5

A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
 Every valley shall be lifted up,
    and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
    and the rough places a plain.
 Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
    and all people shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Exile is a fitting metaphor for our time. Historically, the Babylonian exile threatened the destruction of the Hebrew people. Carried off into a foreign land, the leaders of Judah were separated from their families, their homeland and culture.

Perhaps most tragically, they were away from the Temple, where they met Yahweh, the God who had delivered their ancestors from bondage and established them as a covenant people.

The Covid-19 pandemic has cut us off from routines, separated families, and forced thousands to suffer and die in isolation. A quarter million fellow citizens have died, thrusting countless family members and friends into grief and loneliness.

Political dysfunction and polarization threaten to rip asunder the fabric of our cherished democratic institutions. Racial injustice and strife, economic instability and inequities, and social unrest leave us insecure and afraid.

While in exile, the Hebrew people learned that Yahweh was not confined to the temple at Jerusalem. Rather, God was present in their exile, bearing their pain, redeeming their suffering, forgiving their iniquities, and forging a new future.

Through God’s presence and their care for each other, a passageway would open to a new future. They would be lifted out of their valleys of loneliness and despair. They could reach toward tomorrow with hope and assurance that they were not alone. God would redeem their suffering and weave the exile into the fabric of a new community, a new future. The same God is our hope amid our exile.


O God, grant us an assurance of your presence amid our time of exile; mend our brokenness; forgive our inequities; restore our hope; and empower us as instruments of your peace. In the name of your Son, Emmanuel, God with us. Amen.

Bishop Kenneth L. Carder formerly served as senior pastor at Church Street. 

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