What is Advent?

People who specialize in a belief or practice tend to develop “code language.” The specialized vocabulary of medical professionals and the law are two common examples, but the same is true for construction workers, baseball players and those who cook. Likewise, Christianity has developed specialized words which serve as shortcuts for those who understand their meaning- grace, liturgy, eschatology, justification, Trinity, redemption… words which are helpful, but aren’t a normal part of our everyday vocabulary.

Advent is one of those fancy church words. What is it? I am thankful for this faithful and clear definition by Susan Briehl author of Come, Lord Jesus: Devotions for Advent, Christmas, Epiphany. – Lisa <><

Advent means “to come.” During this season we prepare for three advents. The first is the coming of Jesus two thousand years ago. We remember the faithful people who waited and watched for God’s promised Messiah: Abraham and Sarah, moses, Miriam, and Aaron, David the king, Isaiah the prophet, Elizabeth and Zechariah, Simeon, Anna, and many more. They lived by faith, holding fast to God’s promise.

The second advent is the coming of Christ among us now. Every day is an advent because Jesus is Emmanuel, God-always-with-us. Christ comes to us in the waters of baptism, with the bread and wine of his holy meal, through the word of God, and in the community of faith. Christ surprises us by coming at the times, in the places, and through the people we least expect, startling us with grace and bringing us new life.

The third and final advent is yet to come. No one knows the day or the hour. Christ will come at the end of time, gathering God’s beloved people into one embrace and mending with mercy what sin has torn apart. As with the coming of Christmas Day, we cannot make it happen sooner because we are eager, nor can we delay it because we are not ready. However, we can be awake and alert, standing on tiptoe, wide-eyed and watchful, ready to receive him whenever he comes.

The Advent Door Reading Plan: Preparing for Christmas 2011


I’m looking for a different Christmas experience this year- one with Christ at its center and space for reflection. I’ve been worshipping Christ for years; it’s the space for reflection part that eludes me. I knew I would need help pursuing this quest and my friend Jan Richardson stepped right up without even knowing it. She just published a new e-book entitled Through the Advent Door: Entering a Contemplative Christmas [Kindle Edition]. It’s structured in the style of a classic Advent calendar, with twenty five scripture reflections, each with an original piece of art.

My goal is to set aside a few moments to read and reflect every day between now and Christmas. I’ll be reading the entire book this year, but only blogging the first half of the readings. (The pressure of posting can hamper reflection.) Next year, the plan is to read it again and blog the last half. (Yes, you will want to read it again. It’s that good.) This is a book to savor, not just the words but also the art. Consider this your invitation to join me and Jan on this journey. – Lisa <><

PS- You might be asking, where did these readings come from? Mary and company don’t appear until Door 19.

First, it’s important to understand what Advent is. Advent is a deep season of preparation which helps us keep Christmas in the right perspective. (Click here to learn more about Advent. For a Christmas Reading Plan, click here)

For her book, Jan uses the classic Advent readings from the Revised Common Lectionary. The Revised Common Lectionary is a three year cycle of weekly Bible readings. Each weekly reading contains four Scripture readings: one from the Old Testament, one from the Book of Psalms, one from the Gospels (the first four books of the New Testament), and one from the Epistles (basically the rest of the New Testament).

Door 1: Christ Will Come Again
Matthew 24:36-44

Door 2: New Creation
Mark 13:24-37

Door 3: Strength to Stand
Luke 21:25-36

Door 4: Yearning and Resistance
Isaiah 64:1-9

Door 5: Let Your Face Shine
Psalm 80:1-7; 17-19

Door 6: Extending Blessing
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

Door 7: Threshold
Mark 1:1-8

Door 8: Reversal and Repentance
Luke 3:1-6

Door 9: Rubbernecking or Responding
Matthew 3:1-12

Door 10: The One Who Carries Us
Isaiah 40:1-11

Door 11: The Covenant Continues
Luke 1:68-79

Door 12: Two Simple Prayers
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

Door 13
1 Corinthians 1:3-9

Door 14
John 1:6-8, 19-28

Door 15
Luke 3:7-18

Door 16
Matthew 11:2-11

Door 17
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Door 18
Zephaniah 3:14-20; Isaiah 12:2-6; Philippians 4:4-7

Door 19
Luke 1:26-38

Door 20
Luke 1:39-56

Door 21
Isaiah 9:2-7

Door 22
Luke 2:1-20

Door 23
Luke 2:1-20

Door 24
John 1:1-14

Door 25
John 1:1-14

Solitude and the Spiritual Life

Solitude by Serhat Demiroglu

Mark 6:31a (NRSV)
Jesus said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”

Solitude is the place of purification. -Martin Buber

There is a physical desert, inhabited by a few exceptional men and women who are called to live there; but more importantly, there is an inner desert, into which each one of us must one day venture. It is a voice; an empty space for solitude and testing.
Frere Ivan

The “prayer of quiet” is a most simple and universal path. Of all the religious rituals and practices I know of, nothing will lead us to that place of nakedness and vulnerability more than regular experiences of solitude and silence, where our ego identity falls away, where our explanations don’t mean anything, where our superiority doesn’t matter and we have to sit there in our naked “who-ness.” If God wants to get through to us, and the Trinitarian Flow wants to come alive in us, that’s when God has the best chance. – Richard Rohr

Without solitude it is virtually impossible to live a spiritual life. Solitude begins with a time and place for God, and Him alone. If we really believe not only that God exists but also that He is actively present in our lives—healing, teaching, and guiding—we need to set aside a time and space to give Him our undivided attention. Jesus says, “Go to your private room and, when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in that secret place.” (Matthew 6:6) – Henri Nouwen, Making All Things New

He [John the Baptist] is in the wilderness. Obviously because he finds these surroundings appropriate to his life- the parched solitude, the endless spaces, where no one can feel at home. Inevitably we keep discovering that we too are in the wilderness, the wilderness of a great city, the wilderness of isolation, a wilderness that seems to have no center, a wilderness we cannot feel at home in. -Karl Rahner

Deprivation is neither the focus nor the final word of the wilderness. As the honey-eating John knew, the desert offers its own delights. What the wilderness gives us is a path that helps us perceive where our true treasure lies. And does not merely give us a path: empties us enough so that a path is made within us. Through us. Of us. A road for the holy to enter the world. A way for the Christ who comes.
Jan L. Richardson, Through the Advent Door: Entering a Contemplative Christmas

A solitude is the audience-chamber of God. –Walter Savage Landor

Master of the Universe
Grant me the ability to be alone.
May it be my custom to go outdoors each day
among the trees and grasses,
among all growing things
and there may I be alone,
and enter into prayer
to talk with the one
that I belong to.
-Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav

Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life. – John Muir

Loneliness is not something from which we must flee
but the place from where we can cry out to God,
where God will find us and we can find God.
-Jean Vanier, The Broken Body

Quotes from The Way of the Heart, by Henri Nouwen

  • Solitude is the furnace of transformation. Without solitude we remain victims of our society and continue to be entangled in the illusions of the false self.
  • We have, indeed, to fashion our own desert where we can withdraw every day, shake off our compulsions, and dwell in the gentle healing presence of our Lord.

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For more information on the scripture translation, art and the use of this devotional in other settings, please refer to the copyright information page.

Thanksgiving Reflection

2011 Thanksgiving altar table display by Kim Evans for Community United Methodist Church in Debary, FL.

For centuries, Christians have been reading scripture, followed by a time of reflection and prayer. This year, I found the following scripture especially poignant for Thanksgiving Day. I pray it will draw you into a deep time with our Lord, the One who so faithful provides. Happy Thanksgiving!
– Lisa <><

Deuteronomy 8:7-10 (NRSV)
For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper. You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God for the good land that he has given you.

Take a moment to name God’s blessing and provision in your life.

Deuteronomy 8:11-14, 17-18a (NRSV)
Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today. When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery… Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” But remember the Lord your God…

When have you neglected to thank God or give God credit?
What steps will you take to correct this?

Close with a prayer of confession and thanksgiving.

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For more thoughts on gratitude, click here

For more information on the scripture translation, art and the use of this devotional in other settings, please refer to the copyright information page.

Prayer Vigil: Preparing for Visioning

Before his ascension, Jesus instructs the disciples to go back to Jerusalem and pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1) The disciples prayed for nine days and on the tenth day received the Spirit’s empowerment, boldness and wisdom for the next chapter in God’s mighty acts of salvation. (Acts 2) Down through the ages, Christians have followed this same pattern of intense prayer and preparation before entering their next chapter with God.

Below you will find a prayer and scripture schedule for the nine days leading up to a decision making meeting or retreat. This prayer vigil was originally designed for congregations entering into a time of visioning, but can be used at other times as well.  Whatever your need, I pray it is useful to you as you seek God with the others in your congregation.

May the Kingdom come in us and through us, as it is in heaven! – Lisa <><

Day 1
Scripture: Matthew 5:6
Include in your prayers:
• Revival of God’s people hungering and thirsting for God
• Those who are hungering for God but have not found a church home
• That all will be filled with the Holy Spirit

Day 2
Scripture: Matthew 16:13-19
Include in your prayers:
• That we would trust Christ to build the church and not try to do it in our own strength

Day 3
Scripture: Acts 2:36-47
Include in your prayers:
• That thousands would follow Jesus in life transforming ways
• That God’s church would be effective and faithful

Day 4
Scripture: Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
Include in your prayers:
• What is God calling us to do and what is God calling us to stop doing?

Day 5
Scripture: Colossians 1:9-12
Include in your prayers:
• That we would lead lives worthy of the Lord and pleasing to the Lord
• That we would be made strong in the Lord so we might persevere in faith and good works
• That we would be a thankful people

Day 6
Scripture: Psalm 92:12-15
Include in your prayers:
• That God’s people of every age would flourish and be fruitful

Day 7
Scripture: Acts 1:8; Matthew 28:19-20
Include in your prayers:
• Where is God calling us to go?
• Who is God calling us to serve?

Day 8
Scripture: Ephesians 4:1-16
Include in your prayers:
• The unity and maturity of God’s people
• That people would know and serve out of their spiritual gifts

Day 9
Scripture: Proverbs 3:1-8
Include in your prayers:
• That we would hear and follow God’s leading
• Those who will be leading the meeting

Day 10
Day of the Meeting or Retreat

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© 2011 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in your setting with proper attribution. Please contact Lisa for information and permission to publish this compilation in any form. For more information on the art used in this work, please refer to the copyright information page.

Mark Day 14: Worship Fully

Freedom by Froyle Neideck

Gospel of Mark Reading Plan
Day 14 Reading:
Mark 14

Pastor Lisa’s Journal
Scripture
“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.”
– Mark 14:6 (NIV)

Observation
Mark 14:1-9 The unnamed woman who blesses and anoints Jesus a few days before his death, teaches us three important things about worshipping fully.

1. Intimate Reverence
Worship is a response to who Jesus is and what he has done for us. They know each other but we don’t know how. Had Jesus healed her? Did she hear his teaching a decide to follow? What we do know is that she dares to touch him. She comes close. She is totally focused on Jesus. Her goal is to bless him. She is looking for nothing in return. She is intimate, yet her actions are reverent, full of respect. She models the right balance. Intimacy needs reverence or its just gushy emotion. Reverence needs intimacy or worship becomes cold, mechanical and detached.

2. Unashamed Abandon
Worship is about outpouring, overflow. It’s Miriam and the women celebrating the liberation of the slaves with tambourines and singing. It’s David dancing in the street with abandon as the Ark of the Covenant is finally safe and in the midst of the city so all may come and worship. It’s the woman breaking into the party and breaking into the circle where Jesus was seated. Crack. Shatter. She boldly breaks open the alabaster jar, pouring out the perfume, her heart, her adoration, her passion, her gratitude. Those gathered are going to see it, hear it, and smell it. She holds nothing back. She makes no excuses. She is focused on blessing Jesus, not what others might say.

3. Extravagant Sacrifice
Worship is more than just what we can get from God. Yes we received when we worship, but to worship fully we must focus on giving to God, blessing God, adoring God. In the ancient world you didn’t show up to worship without a sacrifice- an animal, a drink offering, or a grain offering. Your motivation for the offering was also critical to acceptable worship. Worship isn’t consumer driven. From a consumer perspective, true worship is an impractical, extravagant “waste” of time, energy and resources. The alabaster jar was full of very expensive, rare perfume. The woman does all that she can. She gives her best; her most prized possession. The onlookers say it’s a waste- throwing away her time and money. Jesus says no- it is a beautiful thing and it will be remembered.

Application
What am I bringing to worship as an offering and blessing to Christ?

Our love for God is tested by the question of whether we seek Him or His gifts.
-Ralph W. Sockman

Some people want to see God with their eyes as they see a cow, and to love Him as they love their cow- for the milk and cheese and profit it brings them. This is how it is with people who love God for the sake of outward wealth or inward comfort. They do not rightly love God when they love Him for their own advantage. – Meister Eckhart

Imagine how awful it would feel to have your child say to you, ‘I don’t really love you or want your love, but I would like m allowance, please.’ Do you love this God who is everything, or do you just love everything He gives you? Do you see and know God as Abba, Father?”- Francis Chan, Crazy Love

Prayer
Glorious One, heal our stingy, greedy ways.
Teach us to worship you with abandon.
Draw us into intimacy and extravagance,
Unashamed and alive with praise.
Free us for joyful obedience,
through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

For an original poem based on this text, click here

For Froyle Neideck’s description of his powerful worship painting Freedom, click here

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For more information on the Gospel of Mark Reading Plan, click here

For more information on the scripture translation, art and the use of this devotional in other settings, please refer to the copyright information page.

Serving the Least of These

Matthew 25:40 by Cameron John Robbins

Matthew 25:31-40 (NRSV)
Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

Loving as He loves,
Helping as He helps,
Giving as He gives,
Serving as He serves,
Rescuing as He rescues,
Being with Him twenty-four hours,
Touching Him in his distressing disguise.
– Mother Teresa of Calcutta

If believers in God don’t honor the cries and claims of the poor, we don’t honor him, whatever we profess, because we hide his beauty from the eyes of the world.
– Tim Keller

The most salient and consistent characteristic of believers that emerges from the Judeo-Christian and most other major religious traditions is care for orphans and widows—the helpless, the vulnerable, the marginalized of society. Love of the other serves as a litmus test of the true measure of our love of God. This concern and action are not merely options for when we have spare time or some extra change. They are absolute imperativites. In fact, the only judgment scene in all the Gospels clearly conveys the message that inclusion in the kingdom is based on fidelity to works of mercy. – Jerry Kearney, True Worship in The Upper Room Disciplines 2012

If we are not interested in the minds, the feelings, the hopes, fears, sorrows and joys of everyone with whom we come in contact, we are not interested in Christ. Whatever we do to anyone, we do to him. If we are impatient with the mental suffering, the doubting, the questioning, and the wrestling with the angel of the more sensitive minds, then we are impatient with the mind of Christ bleeding under the crown of thorns. If we shrink from the broken lives of sinners, then we draw away from Christ fallen and crushed under his cross.  If we will not go to the sick and the poor to help them, we will not help Christ. -Caryll Houselander, The Comforting of Christ

In her book Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, Kathleen Norris tells a story about an old, Russian Orthodox monk who has been trained in the monastic tradition of welcoming all guests as if they were Christ. He says the following to a younger monk, realizing how years of practicing this spiritual discipline have changed him. “I have finally learned to accept people as they are. Whatever they are in the world, a prostitute, a prime minister, it is all the same to me. But sometimes I see a stranger coming up the road and I say, ‘Oh, Jesus Christ, is it you again?’”

Click here for a reflection entitled Samaritan, by Steve Garnaas-Holmes. It’s an incredibly beautiful and challenging reminder of how the rich and poor need one another and heal one another.

Give me your eyes for just one second
Give me your eyes so I can see
Everything that I keep missing
Give me your love for humanity
Give me your arms for the broken hearted
The ones that are far beyond my reach
Give me you heart for the ones forgotten
Give me your eyes so I can see
– chorus of Give Me Your Eyes by Brandon Heath

James 1:27 (NRSV)
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief.
Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now.
You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.
-The Talmud

A sacrament is a “sign”, a place that renders God present. For Mary, the body of Jesus was a “sacrament”, the place where she met God. We often say, therefore, that the weak and the broken are a “sacrament” which means that they render Jesus present: “Whatever you did to the least of these, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:45)
– Jean Vanier, Befriending the Stranger

In Holy Communion we have Christ under the appearance of bread. In our work we find him under the appearance of flesh and blood. It is the same Christ. “I was hungry, I was naked, I was sick, I was homeless.” – Mother Teresa of Calcutta

I just don’t think the economy of grace includes 2 separate classes of people, one who hunger and one who offer food. The fact is, we are all both sheep and goat. We are both bearers of the Gospel and receivers of it. We meet the needs of others and have our needs met. And the strangeness of the good news is that, like those who sat before the throne and said huh? when did we ever feed you Lord?, we never know when it is that we touch Jesus in all of this. All that we have is a promise, a promise that your needs are holy to God. A Promise that Jesus is present in the meeting of needs and that his kingdom is here. And that he’s a different kind of king who rules over a different kind of kingdom. Because it looks more like being thirsty and having someone you don’t even like give you water more than it looks like polishing a crown. It looks like giving my three extra coats to the trinity of junkies on the corner than it looks like ermine trimmed robes. That is the surprising scandal of the Gospel; the surprising scandal of the Kingdom: it looks like the same crappy mess that bumps us out of our unconscious addiction to being good, so that you can look at Jesus as he approaches you on the street and says, man, You look like you could use a good meal. – Nadia Bolz-Weber

Philippians 2:3-4 (NIV)
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

I’m wary of faith outside of actions.
I’m wary of religiosity that ignores the wider world.
– Bono, Rolling Stone Interview (2005)

Look, whatever thoughts you have about God, who He is or if He exists, most will agree that if there is a God, He has a special place for the poor. In fact, the poor are where God lives. Check Judaism. Check Islam. Check pretty much anyone. I mean, God may well be with us in our mansions on the hill… I hope so. He may well be with us as in all manner of controversial stuff… maybe, maybe not… But the one thing we can all agree, all faiths and ideologies, is that God is with the vulnerable and poor. God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house… God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives… God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war… God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them.
Bono, Remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast (2006)

And I`ll follow you into the homes that are broken.
Follow you into the world.
Meet the needs for the poor and the needy God.
Follow you into the world.
chorus from Follow You by Jack and Leeland Mooring
inspired by the preceeding words of Bono

1 John 3:17-18 (NRSV)
How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.

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For more information on the scripture translations, art, lyrics and their use in other settings, please refer to the copyright information page.