Born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I’ve called Chicago home for the past decade. I did my undergraduate work at North Park University and just completed a Masters in Theology through the seminary. I work in the Brandel Library and am most happy when surrounded by good books and good coffee. Writing these devotions was a difficult but also wonderful experience because it forced me to look at the Advent season through fresh eyes.
Sunday, December 8 – Isaiah 11:1-5
Waiting and Listening
I have a confession: waiting is hard for me. In the grocery store, I survey each checkout lane and consider everything – How long is the line? Does the cashier look experienced? Do my fellow shoppers look determined? – before making my decision. I can stand back, assess the situation, and proceed with efficiency because I’ve done this all before.
My real confession, however, isn’t about grocery shopping. It’s that I’m in the same rush during Advent. I rush through this wonderful text from Isaiah because as soon as I hear the opening line, “a shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse,” my brain flicks immediately to Jesus, to Christmas, and then to a smug sense that I’ve got the message. But, really, I’ve missed the point because I’ve missed Isaiah’s beautiful description of a king who will judge with righteousness and will act with justice on behalf of the poor.
God, help us to wait and enter this season of Advent with open hearts.
Monday, December 9 – Isaiah 11:6-10
Peace and Wholeness
“The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat.” Isaiah’s poetic language speaks to the heart of God’s ultimate plan for peace in the world. Yet I can hardly imagine a world that isn’t divided in violence. Divided by religion. Divided by politics. Divided by race, by power, by economic status, and by countless other things. This seems like a plain fact of existence. More than mere external realities, it seems many of us feel the same internal divisions within ourselves. At least I do.
And what does God promise? God promises a complete transformation of the established order. Where there was division and violence, God promises peace and wholeness. This peace that passes understanding is made possible through God’s righteous and just reign and in the power of Christ, who’s coming we await.
God, increase my capacity to imagine peace and wholeness and to work with you toward those ends.
Tuesday, December 10 – Romans 14:13-23
Peace and Edification
“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean” As usual, Paul’s logic is unexpected. He claims that “all food is clean” to a people who had a long list of foods that God had deemed unclean. Might it be accurate to paraphrase Paul as saying “Do not destroy the work of God because of your religious beliefs or because of your ethnic identity”?
How can Paul claim this radical truth? Because he has been persuaded in the Lord Jesus (v.14). Our context is different, but Paul’s words still deserve thought. In fact, I wonder how Paul would end this statement “Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of ____” if he were writing today? Where have we allowed something else to define our actions and relationships other than the radical lordship of Christ?
God, let us never destroy your work by our small mindedness and instead work for peace and mutual edification.
Wednesday, December 11 – Romans 15:1-6
Choice and Gift
More than a decade ago, I watched a video about fishmongers working in Pike Place Market in Seattle. It was a video about creating a positive work environment and, miraculously, I still remember all of the concepts presented in the video. The last one was the simple reminder that you should “choose your attitude” every day.
I’m not an expert on corporate psychology or efficiency, but this seems like an appropriate practice for the workplace. However, I think it falls short as a Christian practice. Hear again the words from the Apostle Paul: “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had.” God gives a Christ-like attitude for the good of the people. We both choose to have a Christ-like attitude and we must receive it as a gift; there is no other way.
God, help us to understand that living in this world as you want us to is both a gift and a task.
Thursday, December 12 – Romans 15:7-13
Accepted and Loved
“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you.” Paul’s claim here begs the simple question “how has Christ accepted you?” and that seems like a terribly powerful question. I cannot claim to answer that question for you but I simply want to offer an image to guide our reflections.
At the church I attend, when infants are baptized the service ends with this tremendous moment when the pastor raises the newly baptized child and proclaims: “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” I must confess that I often need the emphatic “And that is what we are!” because the truth in this claim – that Christ has accepted me like this tiny and fragile child – is nearly too much to bear.
God, through Christ you have accepted as and made us your children; help us to honor our baptism by accepting one another.
Friday, December 13 – Matthew 3:1-12
Here and Now
“In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea.” Matthew, like any good story teller, sets the scene. At a particular time and in a particular place, a man named John did something. John, a man who looked and sounded a lot like other Old Testament prophets does something new because he wasn’t just describing the reign of God. He was announcing it.
John is part of the Gospel story that is inherently and irreducible historical. The Christian faith boldly claims that at a particular time and in a particular place, God became human. The justice and mercy and truth and righteousness that generations of prophets and believers had hoped for took human form and came to dwell among us humans as a helpless baby.
God, you came to live among us at a particular time and place; help us to love and serve you in our particular time and place.
Saturday, December 14 – Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Hope and Expectation
This Psalm asks God for a king endowed with justice, who judges with righteousness, who defends the afflicted, who saves the children of the needy, who crushes the oppressor, and who will endure forever. It ends with the exaltation “May the whole earth be filled with his glory!”
Is Jesus this hoped for king? Is Jesus the king they expected? I imagine the disciples asked themselves these questions at least once and John the Baptist asked it using different words “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else? (Luke 7:20). They expected someone who would crush the oppressor; yet Jesus was crushed for our sake. They expected someone who would fill the earth with the glory of God; yet Jesus came as a tiny infant.
We claim that Jesus is this hoped for king but perhaps not the king we expected.
God, let the wild unexpectedness of Christmas and the Incarnation renew our hope.