Advent Reflection: Dec. 21, 2017

Seasonal Devotions

Scripture: Luke 1:39–48a  (Today’s Readings)

Oh, my soul leaps with inexpressible joy.
Like a mother holding a newborn.
With great expectation, I wait for You.
You knew me before creation.
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
I believe, but cannot see.
Your promises are true.
You have chosen me.
A humble servant.

Prayer: Father God, with joy we praise You, for You have come to be with us, and You have called us as Your own. Guide us now, that we may love and serve You with all of our lives.  Amen.

Contributed by Charie E. Daviston, Deacon

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Artwork: Detail of No Between © Jan L. Richardson. janrichardson.com. Inspired by Isaiah 64:1: “O that You would tear open the heavens and come down … .”

Advent Reflection: Dec. 20, 2017

Seasonal Devotions

Scripture: Luke 1:26–38  (Today’s Readings)

When I was a kid, the season of Advent was filled with anticipation, cookies as far as the eye could see, and questions of doubt. Will Santa know which house is ours? How will he fit down the chimney? What if reindeer don’t like carrots?! As an adult, I know (a little) more than I did then, but doubts remain: How will I buy presents for everyone on my list? How will we coordinate travel plans? How should we handle uncomfortable situations? And they are coupled with a bigger question: How will I get everything done in time? Though decades separate these different concerns, the theme is the same: we lack confidence and have doubts. Scripture reminds us, like Elizabeth and Mary, that we are His chosen servants. With faith in God and His plan, we are never alone and nothing is impossible. Even chimney descents.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for putting us on Your list and giving the ultimate gift of Your Son, Jesus. Please open our eyes to see Him in everyone we meet and our hearts to receive the love that surrounds us everywhere we go this season. In His name we pray.  Amen.

Contributed by Katharine N. K. Zeglen, Deacon

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Artwork: Detail of No Between © Jan L. Richardson. janrichardson.com. Inspired by Isaiah 64:1: “O that You would tear open the heavens and come down … .”

Advent Reflection: Dec. 19, 2017

Seasonal Devotions

Scripture: Luke 1:1–15  (Today’s Readings)

Ah, Luke, the Beloved Physician. My colleague, of a sort. Luke was converted, and traveled with Paul, documenting what he saw, and going back to interview the eyewitnesses for his report.

But why? Were these things not already known and spoken among those who had seen and lived with our Lord? Of course they were. But experience of the Almighty may not be enough for our logical minds. Unfortunately, spiritual experience may give way to a need for explanation.

How often has my faith failed me, that I must look for explanation rather than resting in my experience of the Lord? How often have I decided that I must be logical, and look for details, when the entirety of creation cries out that God is with us? How often have I missed the miracle of the Incarnation, preferring instead its details?

Such are our minds. But in His providence, God has seen fit to give us both. Cling to the Word, all of it. Let its majesty fulfill your faith. And, if necessary, let its proofs satisfy your intellect.

Prayer: Our Heavenly Father, in Your wisdom You have granted to us what we need: proof of Your presence, proof of Your providence, proof of Your love. By Your grace, grant to us a faith that demands no proof, and a peace that allows us to rest in Your love. In this season, You came to us and were with us. And You are with us still today.  Amen.

Contributed by Richard L. McGough III, MD, Elder

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Artwork: Detail of No Between © Jan L. Richardson. janrichardson.com. Inspired by Isaiah 64:1: “O that You would tear open the heavens and come down … .”

Advent Reflection: Dec. 18, 2017

Seasonal Devotions

Scripture: John 3:19–21  (Today’s Readings)

Growing up in Maryland, my family always took an annual sojourn to the beach. I loved catching (terrorizing?) sand crabs, holding hands with my brother and sister and seeing if we could stand in the biggest waves, and swimming to the bottom of the shoreline and feeling the waves rush over me from above.

My favorite tradition, however, was to watch the sunrise over the beach. This is no small feat, because to say that I am not a morning person is quite the understatement.

At least one morning during the trip, my father and I would rise while the moon was in its full glory and walk out to the beach. I, ever the impatient one, would play a version of the old car game, except now the question was, “Is it time yet? Is it time yet?”

But in growing a semblance of patience, I began to appreciate the sunrise process. And soon the part that intrigued me the most was not the actual sun — it is those few moments where you’re not sure if it’s day or night, dawn or dusk. Indigo hues are filling the skies, stars seem confused if it’s still their time, and gradually blues and pinks start to whisper onto the water. Finally, with my eyes firmly glued to the horizon, the first beckoning light of the sun’s rays peek out, simultaneously tentative and committed.

We know wrong and right like we know darkness and light. However, so much of the world’s sin, including my own, seems to take place in those indigo moments.

We participate in the gossip, but then rationalize that we are just helping them.

We sit down in church, though we are anything but mentally present.

We see those in need, and give but a pittance, with a begrudging spirit.

We say, “This is wrong, someone should do something,” and forget we are someone.

We must acknowledge before we change. We must allow God’s light to illuminate the darkest corners of our souls and allow His still, small voice to nudge us toward acts that glorify Him. We must simultaneously be light to others and grow toward God’s light, much as a sunflower tracks the sun.

Life is a journey, not a destination — and so, too, are the sunrises.

Prayer: Loving God, as we anticipate Your coming, may Your light shine into our lives and cast out all darkness, that we may revel in Your beauty.  Amen.

Contributed by Corinne M. Nunez, Deacon

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Artwork: Detail of No Between © Jan L. Richardson. janrichardson.com. Inspired by Isaiah 64:1: “O that You would tear open the heavens and come down … .”

Advent Reflection: Dec. 17, 2017

Seasonal Devotions

Scripture: John 5:30–47  (Today’s Readings)

“I can do nothing on My own. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I seek to do not My own will but the will of Him who sent Me.” (John 5:30)

As I read and reread the opening line above, I am reminded of the Heidelberg Catechism’s first question: “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” The catechism answers for us: “That I am not my own, but belong — body and soul, in life and in death — to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.” I am not my own, and as John includes in his gospel, “I can do nothing on my own.”

Yet, the words above are Christ’s words. What must it mean when Christ says, “I can do nothing on My own”? Take a moment and ponder that question.

In addition to revealing God to humanity, Christ entered this world to reveal humanity to humanity. Christ exists in the community of the Trinity, and, in fully human flesh, Christ entered the community of this world. Christ models and calls us to live in community as well, for, “I can do nothing on My own.” Christ chooses to need community, and that, too, is the choice for His followers.

Prayer: Holy Lord, as we prepare ourselves in anticipation of Your coming, may we learn to lean more heavily on one another, and may we learn to carry one another’s burdens. May we invite others into our celebrations, and may we learn to rejoice more closely with those who are rejoicing. May we live as the holy community You have established, through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Contributed by the Reverend Todd E. Leach

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Artwork: Detail of No Between © Jan L. Richardson. janrichardson.com. Inspired by Isaiah 64:1: “O that You would tear open the heavens and come down … .”

Advent Reflection: Dec. 16, 2017

Seasonal Devotions

Scripture: Haggai 2:1–9  (Today’s Readings)

Advent, taken from the Latin word adventus, means “arrival” — that four-week period of waiting and preparation for Christmas and the Nativity of Jesus. And while we wait and prepare, we can take time to pause — to think about our spiritual journey.

The shortest book in the Old Testament is written by the prophet Haggai. Haggai prophesied after Cyrus, the king of Persia, had allowed thousands of Jews to return to Jerusalem and their temple, which had been lying in ruins. The Jews began to rebuild the temple. But because of opposition from neighbors and their own discouragement and indifference, the rebuilding was abandoned, and their spiritual vitality began to fade.

Haggai received messages from the Lord and exhorted the leaders and the people to renew their efforts to rebuild the house of the Lord. The Lord said, “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” To Haggai, the temple also represented God’s dwelling place, His presence with His chosen people.

The Lord said, “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it. Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored.” And the Jews obeyed. Haggai reinvigorated and motivated them by reminding them that their drought and crop failures were caused by misplaced spiritual priorities (1:9–11).

God continues to encourage them with hopeful words, “ ‘Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work, for I am with you . . . . My Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’ ” He promises greater glory for His house, peace, and blessings. Ultimately, their crops were blessed, and they completed the work of rebuilding the temple; the second temple was completed in four years.

How does this apply to us? Advent is a timely call for spiritual renewal. In Haggai’s message, God focuses on what is eternally important: our attention to spiritual priorities, and our obedience to and relationship with God.

Prayer: Father God, during this blessed time of year, help us to recognize that incessant activity can be a distraction from the blessed miracle of Jesus’ birth. Help us to make time for quiet reflection; to give thought to our priorities of faith, hope, and love. In this spiritual journey, keep us mindful of our eternal hope and strengthen us with revival, renewal, and rededication.  Amen.

Contributed by Laura B. Vondas, Deacon

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Artwork: Detail of No Between © Jan L. Richardson. janrichardson.com. Inspired by Isaiah 64:1: “O that You would tear open the heavens and come down … .”

Advent Reflection: Dec. 15, 2017

Seasonal Devotions

Scripture: Haggai 1:1–15  (Today’s Readings)

The primary theme of the book of Haggai is the rebuilding of God’s temple. Our passage today opens with the description of a people who are truly discouraged. Saddled with opposition from their neighbors, and met with construction difficulties, the people had wrongly concluded that it was not yet time to rebuild the temple. With five pairs of poetic contrasts, Haggai paints a picture of their economic and social distress. The people are admonished for spending all their attention on their own homes and interests, while God’s home was set aside to lie in ruins.

We learn that Haggai’s message caused the people to consider their ways and energized both the leaders and the people to carry on God’s work of rebuilding His temple. Following the harsh command tone earlier, the Lord’s message of, “I am with you,” was a response to the people’s genuine repentance and obedience. This assurance only strengthened the people and their efforts to serve the Lord.

Prayer: Lord, as we dwell in the world today, we can become burdened with a myriad of discouragements and struggles. May You help us to be reminded to focus on You, and building Your Kingdom. In this time of expectation and anticipation, may we remain focused on the coming glory of Your Kingdom.  Amen.

 

Contributed by Randy C. Adams II, Elder

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Artwork: Detail of No Between © Jan L. Richardson. janrichardson.com. Inspired by Isaiah 64:1: “O that You would tear open the heavens and come down … .”

Advent Reflection: Dec. 14, 2017

Seasonal Devotions

Scripture: Amos 9:1–10  (Today’s Readings)

I would not want to be a prophet. Prophets are all too frequently tasked with the responsibility of sharing God’s messages with people who don’t want to hear them, or who are unprepared or unwilling to listen to them. The prophet Amos has some particularly difficult news to share as he observed God’s people cheating, acting without compassion, and dismissing those who were suffering. Amos described five visions of Israel’s punishment for not doing God’s will. Yet, even after considerable doom and gloom foreshadowing, Amos’s message is one of love and hope. Amos reminds us God pays attention to God’s people and to how we care for others. When we act in love, show compassion, help the suffering, and seek justice, we are helping God rebuild the broken parts of the Kingdom. As we anticipate the coming of the Christ Child, how can we as Christians help to repair the brokenness?

Prayer: Lord, be with us as we look to Your coming and guide us in our own brokenness as we seek ways to help rebuild Your Kingdom. Keep us ever mindful of all those You have placed in our lives, and open our eyes and hearts to the blessings of those around us. Thank You for the promise of Your Son Jesus, and allow His light to shine through us. In the name of Your Son, our Savior, we pray.  Amen.

Contributed by Ellen L. Allston

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Artwork: Detail of No Between © Jan L. Richardson. janrichardson.com. Inspired by Isaiah 64:1: “O that You would tear open the heavens and come down … .”

Advent Reflection: Dec. 13, 2017

Seasonal Devotions

Scripture: Amos 8:1–14  (Today’s Readings)

Christians speak of three comings of Christ: in the flesh in Bethlehem, in glory at the end of time, and daily in our lives. Advent is a time of preparation for the celebration when Jesus of Bethlehem arrived. Advent preparation moments also can and should happen daily in our lives — setting aside quiet times to listen for God’s direction and guidance as we prepare to make decisions and choices.

The entire Bible speaks of God’s gift of freedom. Often however, we — as individuals, and institutions to which we belong, and even nations — can move in directions which would not be pleasing to God. God wants for us a life which is secure, prosperous, happy, and healthy — elements of His Kingdom here on earth.

As we prepare for the Bethlehem birthday of Christ into this world, let us also daily take time away from the world to listen to God’s plan for our lives.

Prayer: Father, find for us daily time to free ourselves of our worldly toils and tasks in order to listen for Your voice and direction.  Amen.

Contributed by Robert G. Mayer Jr., Elder

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Artwork: Detail of No Between © Jan L. Richardson. janrichardson.com. Inspired by Isaiah 64:1: “O that You would tear open the heavens and come down … .”

Advent Reflection: Dec. 12, 2017

Seasonal Devotions

Scripture: Matthew 22:32–46  (Today’s Readings)

When the Pharisees asked Jesus what the greatest commandment in the Law is, Jesus replied saying, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and all your mind.’ . . . The second commandment is ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” We need to remember this commandment now more than ever, when it seems we are so focused on who is right, who is wrong, and who is more deserving of our love. Really, we just need to love one another. During times of devastation, I see God when people come from all over the world to help the people devastated by hurricanes and earthquakes; it seems our hate and differences get put on pause. My Advent prayer is that we can take the love we feel for each other during times of devastation to remind us to love each other always.

Prayer: Loving God, focus our hearts on You this Advent season so we may fulfill Your command and love You with all of our heart, soul, and mind, and therefore love our neighbors, as well.  Amen.

Contributed by Audrey L. H. Werling

Read more Advent Reflections on the blog of the Shadyside Presbyterian Church website.

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Artwork: Detail of No Between © Jan L. Richardson. janrichardson.com. Inspired by Isaiah 64:1: “O that You would tear open the heavens and come down … .”