PBAU Advent Devotional: Day 16

Monday, December 16
 
WONDROUS PEACE
 
“In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea … .”
(Matthew 2:1, NRSV)
 
These words read like an “oh, by-the-way” observation intended to convey general information about when Jesus was born — which, on one level, of course it is. But what lies beneath these words? What was that King Herod time like?

Many scholars think that Jesus was born in 4 BC. (I’ll let you figure out how Jesus could have been born “Before Christ”!) When you look back at the writings of the main Jewish historian that documented that time — Josephus — you discover it was a time marked by violent political rebellion and religious turmoil, caused in large part by the murderous rule of King Herod himself. As a result, in a number of quarters of Israel, Jewish freedom fighters and “wannabe” messiahs revolted, using guerilla warfare tactics to attack Roman troops in their country. Josephus records how the Roman general Varus was called to quell one of these rebellions: Varus sent a part of his army into the country, to seek out those that had been the authors of the revolt; … he punished some of them that were most guilty … now the number of those that were crucified on this account were two thousand.” And that was just one such incident among many. Josephus goes on to say that there were 10,000 other such disorders in Judea.

Into this time of confusion, anger and discontent Jesus was born. And as Jesus grew up, so also did this anger and discontent grow and spread throughout Israel. Violence, anger, discontent: they surrounded Jesus.

Yet Jesus chose not to be defined by what was around him. He knew the real kingdom he was a part of was not from this world. It was a kingdom defined by a value system that ran directly counter to the kingdoms of this world. Because this vision of that kingdom was so real and compelling, he was not enticed by his culture’s message and its ways. Instead of preaching against it, he lived a life of peace in the midst of a violent world and called people into a way of life that embodied peace and peace-making with their flesh-and-blood brothers and sisters they lived next to. And he calls us to follow this way of peace today. “Let us then pursue what makes for peace” (Romans 14:19).

 
Dr. Vic Copan
Professor of Ministry Leadership and Biblical Studies
 


PBAU Advent Devotional: Day 13

Friday, December 13
 
 
PRUNING
 
“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him — the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord — and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.”
(Isaiah 11:1-2, NIV)
My husband doesn’t garden very often, but when he does, his tool of choice is a hacksaw.

We had been married about five years when I first experienced his gardening panache. A long-established wisteria vine graced our Cambridge England back door with its lush and fragrant purple flowers. Much to my husband’s displeasure, the flowers gracefully dangled a bit too low for his 6-foot-4-inch frame, and they grazed his head each time he went into the back garden to play with our boys. In his view, something needed to be done.

So early one Saturday, he announced his plans to prune the wisteria and headed outside. Thirty minutes later, he came in triumphant. When I happily went outside to witness his handiwork, I could hardly believe my eyes. What was left can only be described as complete desolation. The vine that was once adorned with hundreds of flowers was now pruned down to a nub.

In Isaiah 10:34, the prophet paints a grim picture of a forest thicket that had itself been reduced to next to nothing. What was once a thriving forest now lay barren, left only with jagged stumps.

We all know that regular pruning helps plants to thrive. We rid our trees and vines of dead, weak or thin wood in order to encourage new growth. It’s not a pretty process, but it is necessary to ensure growth and to produce high yields for years to come.

And that is exactly where Isaiah 11 picks up. Out of this barren and lifeless forest, hope springs forth from the stump of Jesse. With great anticipation, Isaiah points forward to our Savior, Jesus the Branch, the son of David, the King who was to come from Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).

This King will usher in a new ecology: one where justice, righteousness, faithfulness and peace reign supreme.

Now that’s the kind of “new growth” I desire in my life. So this Christmas season, what do you need to prune out of your life to ensure the life-giving hope of Jesus takes root?

Prayer of St Francis of Assisi:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is discord, union.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.

 
 
Jill Hardin
Director of Children and Families at North Stuart Baptist Church
Wife of Dr. Justin Hardin, Assistant Dean of School of Ministry
 


PBAU Advent Devotional: Day 12

Thursday, December 12
 
PRESENT IN PAIN
 
The Christmas season is a time filled with joy, anticipation and giving. As families gather around tables to celebrate the coming of our Savior, they savor delightful meals and enjoy wonderful fellowship while creating new memories to treasure. However, Christmas can also be a time of insurmountable pain. Some will spend Christmas without their loved ones due to death or distance. Others will reminisce on a better Christmas past. Many will feel lonely and sad as they compare their tragic situations to what seems to be a season of happiness and joy.

As we look forward to the Advent of Christ, we are comforted by the very incarnation of Jesus, who emptied himself of all splendor and glory to take on our human predicament (Phil. 2:2-6).

John writes in his gospel, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth … . For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:14, 16, ESV).

Since we worship a Savior who was born in our flesh and lived what we live, He eagerly sits around our table of laughter and joy and partakes with us in the wonderful moments of our lives. At the same time, we are comforted by a Savior who became flesh in order to suffer on our behalf and thus, is all the more present at the strike of every tear and the beating agony of every heart. As the Body of Christ, then, let us this Advent season be present at every table. Let us live incarnational lives that exemplify a Savior who came down and walked among us so that we might one day rise and walk with Him.

Jose Marrero
Admissions Counselor, M.Div. Student
 


PBAU Advent Devotional: Day 11

Wednesday, December 11
 
 
LIGHTING UP THE DARKNESS
Reading: John 1:1–14
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.”
(John 1:5, NLT)
 
I don’t know about you, but I hate being in the dark. There is nothing interesting about the darkness. Actually, there is only opposition, such as fear, distrust, doubt and maybe even feelings of hopelessness. Come to think of it, only creepy, crawly, “fungus-y,” stinky things grow and are born in darkness. Being in the dark can cause more harm than good. For example, relationally speaking, let’s say you have a business partner who is keeping you “in the dark” (not sharing ideas with you), and he or she has plans to overtake your business. That can bring about mistrust and ultimately you may part ways with that person. The same holds true for any relationship or situation that involves any aspect of being in darkness; eventually, someone or something will have to change. Let’s face it: being left out and kept in the dark about anything, implies rejection and exclusion; and that, my friends, is never fun. At times the darkness can be downright overwhelming.
 
Enter Jesus.
 
Here is the good news! Jesus is referred to as the LIGHT of the world. In the Gospel of John, chapter one, John talks about Jesus being the Word and existing since the dawn of time as the light that the darkness cannot extinguish. The Wonder of the Christ is that He is the illumination, the clear sight for those who want to leave the darkness of sin. This little child that Mary holds will be the one to extend His hands and lead us all into His marvelous light. He will reveal and illuminate all the creepy, crawly, stinky things that have been growing and festering in the dark places of our hearts and world and He will cleanse us with His blood. Thereby, constructing us to become carriers of that very same light; His light.
I am in awe of Christ at Christmas, the Light of the world.
 
Prayer: Father, as we marvel at the beauty of your love, would you encourage us to embrace the wonder and the awe of the inextinguishable light of your Son, Jesus. Give us the courage to walk in the light, so that we may truly flourish as we commune with you on this earthly journey.
Jeanny Alexandre
Chapel Worship Coordinator
 


PBAU Advent Devotional: Day 10

Tuesday, December 10
 
MEDITATION ON THE BENEDICTUS
(ZECHARIAH’S SONG FROM LUKE 1)
 
 
Filled with the Holy Spirit
filled to overflowing,
and now to speak, to sing, to prophesy
the wonders of God coming and redeeming.

 

Filled with the Holy Spirit
what can it mean?
I cast doubt and make excuses
for why God only works within my means.

Filled with the Holy Spirit
how would it feel?
Like a warrior gone to battle
or an athlete receiving a medal
or a bird lifted in flight
or grain crushed under the millstone’s might?

Seeing an angel, receiving good news,
but no news is good news
when you’re caught in uncertainty,
when you’re asking for a sign
when you do not believe,
when the best you hope for are ancient prophecies,
promises unfulfilled, salvation unreceived.

But lift up my eyes, loosen my tongue,
Praise be to the Lord, for he has come.
The dawning of hope, the anointed one
God’s tender mercy, the rising sun.

The horn of salvation blasts into oppression
The rod of redemption rebukes occupation
The light of forgiveness shines on our sins
Dispersing the shadows of darkness within
Our ignorant minds
Our guilt-ridden hearts
Our deathly silence
Our hesitant feet.

When we were not worthy, undeserved and stained,
hopelessly grasping at hope in our name;
when enemies besieged and darkness encamped,
when hate held the fuel for our flickering lamp

Your love broke the bonds
Your righteousness loosed
The chains of our enemies
And death’s common noose.

 
So enable us now, in spirit and truth,
to serve without fear on a path made smooth.
Our fathers, remember, our mothers, recall,
our children, rescue from this suffering world.
“I will make your name great,
I will give you this land,
I will save your children from the enemy’s hand.”
You promised so long, long we waited for You
to uphold your oath and our misery undo.

 

Now lift up my eyes, loosen my tongue,
Praise be to the Lord, for he has come.
The dawning of hope, the anointed one
God’s tender mercy, the rising sun.

In a world of war, guide our feet to peace
where “fears are stilled,” and “strivings cease.”
Not an easy balance of silence and distance,
or a polite respect of handshakes and kisses,
but a wholesale renewal that we cannot imagine
a fullness established by your coming kingdom.

In a world of doubt, put our faith in you
the solid rock
the unshakeable foundation
the certainty of victory
the promised Messiah
the Son of God.

In a world so dull, may your glory reveal
the beauty in simply living with you.
Relationship, covenant, faithfulness,
life to the full in the knowledge of salvation.

In a world of cynicism, let hope arise
not in politics, religion, people, or institutions
not in celebrity, potential, degrees, or relations;
but in the sureness and certainty
of your kingdom come,
of our place in your service never undone,
of a day drawing near, when you wipe away tears,
when you restore the land, and eradicate fear,
when holiness and righteousness become the norm
when these bodies take on a heavenly form.
No more shadow of death, disability, or disease;
only worship and praise and the reign of peace.

So lift up our eyes, loosen our tongues,
Praise be to the Lord, for he has come.
The dawning of hope, the anointed one
God’s tender mercy, the rising sun.

 
 
Drew Melton
Coordinator of the School of Ministry Accelerated Ministry Preparation Program


PBAU Advent Devotional: Day 9

Monday, December 9
 
DECORATING IMPERFECTION
 
 
 
It’s that time of year again: Time to plan the decorations (perhaps this year we will find an extra cute ornament from Anthropologie), time to get the tree, time to write the cards (losing sleep over who gets one and who doesn’t). Then there is the Christmas menu, catering for all the needs of the family (the gluten-free, the dairy-free and the new college girlfriend who is an overly zealous vegan). Then comes the seating that requires as much political maneuvering and diplomatic tact as a UN General Council meeting. All accommodated for and sought out with festive cheer and hospitality. All of this planning, effort, stress and financial expenditure come and go in a flash and the 26th comes around and we are left feeling exhausted, heavy hearted about that awkward conversation with a triggering relative, left drawing a blank on something new to do with all that turkey or ham and ultimately asking what was that all about? What did we just celebrate?

There is only so much that tinsel and show-stopping desserts can cover up. That meticulously planned seating arrangement can only create a cease fire when all we long for is peace. The money and the pressure we put on ourselves to create a perfect Christmas experience just misses the point completely and misdirects us. It creates a pressure to perform, and the whole narrative around Christmas we have as a nation is a perfect fantasy that no family can live up to. All this just distracts us from what the incarnation teaches us: Jesus, the perfect man, fully God, came into an imperfect world to redeem it and redeem us. Broken people being made new, fractured families being healed, old hurts being brought to light and outcasts having a place at the table. This year let’s try and fail to live out the perfect fantasy. Let us remember that Advent and Christmas day are opportunities to be present with the ones we love, opportunities to be present with ourselves and an opportunity to wrestle with what it means to be imperfect but being made new, in an imperfect world that is being restored.

 
Jordan Smith
M.Div. Candidate
Director of Outreach & Soul Care at Memorial Presbyterian Church
 


PBAU Advent Devotional: Day 8

Sunday, December 8
 
THE JOURNEY
 
It is striking how deeply the coming of Christ is connected to the journey motif. It is, after all, about the “coming” of the Son of God from the realm of eternity to the realm of time and history. But the journey appears in other ways, too. Mary and Joseph journeyed to Bethlehem to register for the census, and soon after on to Egypt as refugees. Sages journeyed from the East in search of the King. Angels came from the glories of heaven to the hills of Judea. Shepherds left their flocks to journey into town. And the one whose life began as a journey of incarnation would live out his ministry in the context of travel: through Samaria; to Galilee; to Jerusalem; and ultimately, to Golgotha.
 
At the core of it all is an epic narrative of God’s Son who set aside glory and privilege to journey through life as a servant, laying down his life sacrificially before being raised to life as the first born of a new creation into which he invites those who would live as his disciples, his followers.
 
Growing up with my grandparents in rural East Texas, I looked forward to Christmas because all the extended family would come home to celebrate together. I never realized how appropriate it was for them to celebrate by means of a journey the coming of the Christ. We are all sojourners, aliens whose allegiance is to God and who press toward a destination made possible by a visit to our world that started in a manger.
 
Dr. Gerald Wright
Professor Emeritus of Intercultural Studies
 


PBAU Advent Devotional: Day 7

Saturday, December 7
 
 
LOVE IS KING
 
All creation is groaning
We feel it in our bones
The hope of love returning
For the lowly and alone
The heart of God is beating
Through a mother’s suffering
With us in our weakness
Emmanuel, the King

Can you hear the savior sing
Welcome home, welcome in
Peace on earth shall he bring
Born to us the baby king
Let all creation see
And together let us sing
Peace on earth shall he bring
God is love, love is king

The brightness of the vision
When days of strife will cease
Is swaddled in a manger
Born to bring us peace
Soon will dawn the morning
When all will be set free
So let there be peace
And let it start with me

Written by senior ministry major Emily Blaylock and Daniel Brunjes
With Paradise Hymns
 


PBAU Advent Devotional: Day 6

Friday, December 6
 
SEEING WITH NEW EYES
 
 
 
Reflect on the miracle of Christmas through the eyes of the mother of the Christ child — with eyes of wonder and love. I can barely get through listening to the song, “Mary, Did You Know?” without choking up, imagining Mary kissing the face of God.
 
I came to real understanding of God’s gift to us when I had children of my own. We all have experienced the wonder and awe of seeing those little ones as they behold the beauty of the season and grow to love the little baby they kiss and place in the manger at night. As I got older, I grew in appreciation for that gift as I watched my own parents and in-laws renew their love for that Christ child when our kids came to visit at the holidays. Seeing their grandkids place little Baby in the manger became a highlight for my mom and dad. My in-laws took us to their church not only to celebrate the birth of that Baby, but also to delight the grandkids with the gorgeous Nativity set up on the side altar. My understanding of God’s precious gift grew during those happy years. And now?
 
Our own kids are grown and live too far away, but have given us the most precious gift in our grandson, Maddon. Seeing the world through his eyes gives us all new appreciation for the truly wonderful gift that God sent to us, in his only begotten Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ. Children are a gift and heritage from the Lord, reminding us that the most wonderful time of the year is a time to thank Him for all these good gifts.
 
Dr. Ann Yanchura
Associate Professor of Education
 


PBAU Advent Devotional: Day 5

Thursday, December 5
 
BEHOLD THE LAMB
 
 
“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
(John 1:29, RSV)
 
When this scripture is read the accent is most often placed on the second part of the verse: sin. Because God’s plan of salvation is such a wonderful provision, we are prone to continually re-examine the fact that Jesus came into the world to free us from it. Indeed, freedom from the bondage of sin is at the core of the Good News of the Gospel, but I would like to take a few moments to examine the first part of the verse: Behold, the Lamb.
 
What does it mean to behold? The dictionary defines the process of beholding as, “to gaze at, or look upon.” The word is also used to express amazement. Middle English usage includes the idea of possessing or holding onto something. Today, that meaning is nearly lost, and the notion of beholding is rarely used. But just what is beholding, particularly in the context of “the Lamb of God,” and why is it of any significance?
 
It is one thing to read the scriptures and learn of God’s wonderful purpose of salvation entering the world the day Jesus of Nazareth was born, and quite another thing to behold Him in our hearts and realize that He, indeed, is our Savior, our Shepherd! Something deep and transformational happens when we begin to behold our Lord.
 
My first Christmas in Christ was like that. For 17 Christmases I was in church with my family. From infancy, mom had me by her side. But it was not until I truly beheld the Lord and received Him as my own, that I knew what the Presence of the Lord meant. What a joy to learn that the incarnation was not only an event in history, but that Jesus Christ was alive, and I could know Him and actually walk with Him in the Spirit! It was not until that 17th year of my life that I began to turn my gaze upon the living Lord and experience the reality of salvation, truth, meaning and purpose in my life. What dazzling Christmas gifts ⏤ gifts that far surpass anything money could buy. “Oh what fellowship, oh what joy divine” ⏤ I began to learn the true meaning of Christmas!

Before very long I learned that to “behold the Lamb of God” was not just for Christmas day or for the three wise men. With each year it seemed the Lord bid me to come and fellowship with Him, to transform me and get a hold of my heart in deeper ways. This process is part of the normal Christian life and accomplished in as many ways as there are people, but always through the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 12:1-5). As I grew in my faith I learned that the great Apostle Paul discusses this need for transformation at length and in one instance to the young Christians in Corinth he wrote, “But we all are beholding the glory of the Lord, and being transformed into His same image, from glory, to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18). Indeed! There is a glory and a joy of first beholding the Christ, but there is an ongoing and increasing glory as we get to know Him better! As we behold the Lord, or gaze upon Him intently, our lives are inexplicably changed. How the Lord actually does it, we do not really know, but in beholding Him, it is clear that we take the focus of our eyes off our needs, our desires and our day-to-day challenges, and bring the focus of our attention on who He is and all that He is doing. In His Presence, we begin to see things as they really are; we begin to gain a view of life from the eternal perspective.

 
Moving more deeply into this Christmas season let us remember that He is the gift, and we need only behold Him. Behold … the Lamb of God.
 
Dr. Stephanie Bennett
Professor of Communication and Media Ecology
Fellow for Student Engagement