Breaking Into the Ordinary

December 22nd, 2011

We thank you for sharing in EMU’s 2011 Advent devotion series. We end our series today with a reflection from the EMU campus pastor.

By Brian Burkholder, EMU Campus Pastor

Brian Martin Burkholder, EMU Campus Pastor

Brian Martin Burkholder, EMU Campus Pastor

Scripture: Luke 2:1-19

Most of us trudge through the ordinary of our lives. Although we complain about it from time to time, we like routine, we find comfort in predictability, we value being oriented to our surroundings. There’s nothing wrong with this. In fact, one could say it’s normal (as normal as normal can be).

In Luke 2:1-19, the shepherds were simply going about their lives. Ordinary for them was living in the fields keeping watch over their flock. This is what they did day and night, night and day. There was no doubt a level of comfort in it for them – amidst the drudgery. But imagine the shock factor when an angel of the Lord broke through this ordinary existence and stood among them! The text says the Shepherds were terrified and I believe it.

What is it that breaks through our ordinary?

Thankfully the angel offered the shepherds an explanation of the coming of a Savior, the Messiah Christ, the Lord (this might have shocked them as well) – and, after also hearing from a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, their curiosity got the best of them. Ordinary was a thing of the past – at least for now.

I fear sometimes that I’ve become so complacent in living the ordinary that I’m blind to that which has potential to break in. My focus is more on the tasks at hand than on expectantly watching and listening – expecting a message from the Divine to shine forth. It’s true that the shepherds were not expecting a Divine appointment on that night. That said, when the angel appeared, the shepherds didn’t miss or dismiss it. They took notice and took action!

Perhaps God’s messages to us are not so bold? Or could it be that we’re just that preoccupied with the ordinary of life to take notice?

I want to live life expecting to hear from God. I want to be on watch for angels of the Lord. I want to receive Divine messages from the music of heavenly hosts. Perhaps it’s as simple as orienting ourselves to expect such things? Such is the advent journey.

Losing Baby Jesus

December 14th, 2011
Carmen Schrock-Hurst, Co-Pastor Immanuel Mennonite Church

Carmen Schrock-Hurst, Co-Pastor Immanuel Mennonite Church

By Carmen Schrock-Hurst
Instructor of Spiritual Formation at EMU
Co-pastor Immanuel Mennonite Church

Scripture: Luke 1:39-56

Twenty years ago when I unpacked the family heirloom nativity set my three year old daughter Grace begged to be allowed to play with the baby Jesus. Lacking parental wisdom at the moment I said she could if she was careful. Naturally it didn’t take her very long to lose baby Jesus.

The two of us spent a lot of time that week turning the house upside down looking for Jesus. And at church on the second Sunday of Advent when the children were asked what they had done in their house to get ready for Christmas Grace eagerly announced, “Well, we’ve already lost baby Jesus.”

Over the next weeks Grace and I frequently had a conversation about where the little Jesus might be and I would assure her if we kept looking we would eventually find him. And she would say through her tears, “but when mommy, when will we find Jesus?”

Suddenly one morning it dawned on me, that perhaps that question is really the cry of our Advent hearts. “When will we find Jesus?” And maybe, earnest searching is what Advent is really supposed to be about. Maybe this is the time of year we are called to get down on our hands and knees and shine flashlights into the remote, dusty, cob-webbed corners of our lives searching for our promised Savior.

Indeed Jesus is everywhere, we just have to look. Indeed our gospel reading commands us to watch and to be alert, to look for signs of God and our Isaiah reading from the first week of Advent teaches us that when the awesome God does act it is often in unexpected ways. And so it was that the little manger scene Jesus was found 20 years ago, just in time for Christmas, under the corner cupboard in the dining room, right where we had thought we’d looked dozens of times.

He was there, all along, but we missed him somehow. Maybe our eyes weren’t really open. Maybe we weren’t calling his name or striving to lay hold of him. Maybe the timing wasn’t right yet. All I know is that there was rejoicing in finding God in an unexpected place and time.

And that is my goal for Advent this year. To watch and to wait and to prepare so that when Jesus acts in the world around me I will recognize him. I hope you join me on the journey.

Listening for God

December 6th, 2011

By Laura Lehman Amstutz, MDiv ’06, Seminary Communication Coordinator and Seminary Admissions Associate

Laura Lehman Amstutz, Eastern Mennonite Seminary

Laura Lehman Amstutz, Eastern Mennonite Seminary

Scripture: Matthew 1:18-24

This story of Joseph is a challenge to move beyond our rights and instead participate in God’s work in the world.

Joseph would have been well within his rights to not only divorce Mary, but to stone her, if he chose.

When I imagine Joseph, I imagine a quiet, strong man, who has a deep sense of right and wrong. He was what we would call a religious person. He is described as righteous, which meant he followed all the Jewish laws. He was a son of David, with a long and proud heritage. Rather than publically humiliate Mary for what looks like a pre-marital indiscretion he makes plans to privately break their engagement. He was not doing anything wrong; in fact he was choosing a compassionate route.

And yet God breaks in and invites him to do even more.

And Joseph’s life is changed forever. He goes from doing what is within his right, to doing the will of God.

God did not need humans to participate in bringing about Emmanuel, God with us. I’m sure that God could have found a way to bring salvation that did not require the willing participation of humans. And yet God chooses to involve humans in this miracle.

I wonder sometimes if I do what is right or righteous (as Joseph’s intended divorce of Mary would have been), without paying attention God. I follow the rules and yet am blind and deaf to how God is moving.

I’ll admit that I’ve never quite had the angels-in-a-dream experience that Joseph had, but when I pay attention, sometimes I realize that what God is asking me to do is more than just right and righteous, but is true participation of God’s action in the world.

As individuals and communities of faith, do we do follow the rules and do what is within our rights, or do we truly seek the will of God?


Emmanuel, God with us, help us to be alert to your work in the world, and participate, like Mary and Joseph, not only in doing what is right, but it doing your will. Amen.

Expectancy Inspired by Servanthood

November 28th, 2011

Welcome to EMU’s 2011 Advent devotion series. Beginning Monday, Nov. 28, university and seminary students, faculty, and staff will share weekly reflections on the coming of our Lord Jesus. We begin today with a devotion from the EMU campus pastor.

By Brian Burkholder, EMU Campus Pastor

Brian Martin Burkholder, EMU Campus Pastor

Brian Martin Burkholder, EMU Campus Pastor

When I visit the opening chapters of the gospels of Luke and Matthew, I find myself inspired by Mary, Joseph and Elizabeth. I ponder what it would have been like to be in their places – to be chosen for a special purpose of God; to receive a clear message from God; and to respond out of reverence, servanthood and faithfulness to God.

Mary, who was engaged to be married, was perplexed and perhaps initially fearful when the angel Gabriel came to her and greeted her as “favored one.” After hearing his explanation of how the Holy Spirit would come upon her and the power of the Most High would overshadow her, she questioned the wisdom of the angel regarding conception before making herself available as servant of the Lord.

Joseph, ready to quietly dismiss Mary from their engagement so as not to expose her to public disgrace upon learning that she was expecting a baby, also encountered an angel of the Lord. In his dream, which must have been vivid and unmistakably from God, he was given clear directions to take Mary as his wife and to name the child Jesus.

Elizabeth, six months or so after having her own encounter with a messenger from God, and while carrying a son in what had been her barren womb, encountered the Lord himself for the first time. When she heard Mary’s greeting and felt her son jump in her womb, she was filled with the Holy Spirit leading her to boldly proclaim the child within Mary as her Lord.

Oh to have the faith of these three servants of God!

Granted, it helps when God shows up and speaks with such clarity. Many of us yearn for such clearness when making decisions of faithful living. Yet there is an essential posture of servanthood demonstrated here – a willingness to be of use for God’s ways, a practice of listening for and to God’s voice, and boldness in accepting and naming the Lord as Lord.

In this season of Advent, a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the coming of Lord Jesus, might we all be inspired to embody such a posture.

Beyond Words

December 24th, 2010

EMU Student Deb King
By Deb King, masters in business administration student

Luke 2: 1-18

I can’t help but marvel at how Luke’s account of Christ’s birth seems so utterly commonplace. It may have something to do with the short sentences with very little embellishment – just straight information. It reads a bit like my grandfather’s diaries. “This morning I had cereal for breakfast then drove to work. For dinner, Anna prepared meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and peas – no dessert.” When something special happened in my grandfather’s life, he used a red pen to record it. “Today our first grandchild was born at 9:20 a.m. Mother and baby girl are doing well.” Adjectives are nearly non-existent, so the only sense of passion comes through in the vivid color of the ink.

Luke tells us that the expectant parents had to make a trip to register for the census but were unable to find lodging in the crowded town, so their baby was born in a stable. Sounds like just another day in Luke’s diary – that is, until the shepherds meet the choir of angels. Then Luke begins to use words like “terrified” and “amazed”. As the shepherds leave Bethlehem, Luke’s tone changes in one sentence. The focus switches from the euphoria of the group to the unspoken thoughts of the young mother. “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” I imagine Mary holding her newborn son, gazing at his tiny face, considering who he would become. I wonder if Mary’s diary was filled with red ink or passionately descriptive modifiers. My guess is both.

Lord, as we gaze upon Jesus’ face this season, may our journal entries will be bursting with colorful words, whether we experience exuberant moments with friends and family or quiet, thoughtful moments in solitude.

At Peace

December 22nd, 2010

EMU Student Brandon WaggyBy Lorna Saunders, Master of Business Administration student

Luke 2: 1-18

Have you ever wondered how Mary and Joseph might have felt having to spend the night in a stable with animals versus being able to stay in a room at the Inn when they knew that the Son of God would soon be born to them? Have you ever wondered why Jesus had to be born in a stable instead of a palace? After all, he is the Son of God; shouldn’t He be born in a palace with servants all around Him?

I believe Jesus was born in a stable because God knew humanity needed to recognize and understand that even the Son of God, Jesus Christ, was able to relate to all people. Jesus Christ was and is able to relate to even the least and lowly among us; the rejected and despised, the sick, the hungry, the naked, those in prison, the homeless, the oppressed, the stranger, the widow and the orphan. Sure, God could have ensured that His Son would be born in a palace but instead He allowed His Son to be born in a lowly stable. God allowed His Son to experience the human condition.

Many in society today are homeless, hungry, oppressed and orphaned and they are in need of knowing and understanding God’s grace and peace. We can share the grace and peace of God through allowing others into “our world” and allowing ourselves to be touched by the hurt and pain that others are experiencing. It is through helping those in need, even the least and lowly among us, that we can experience the peace that only God can give us during this Christmas Season.

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 1:14; NIV, 2010)

Make Me An Instrument of Your Peace (Prayer)

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love,
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith,
Where there is despair, hope,
Where there is darkness, light,
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much
seek to be consoled as to console,
not so much to be understood as to understand,
not so much to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
it is in dying that we awake to eternal life.
~St. Francis of Assisi

Seeing Jesus Through New Eyes

December 20th, 2010

EMU Student Brandon Waggy
By Brandon Waggy, first year pastoral assistant

Luke 2: 1-18

When I was asked to write a devotional for Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus, I had to laugh to myself. This is THE passage that I grew up hearing every year on Christmas Eve. What could anyone possibly have to say about it that is new? As I began reading it, the first few words felt so familiar that I zoned out. Before I knew it, I had mindlessly skimmed through the whole story.

I have a hunch that my situation is not so unique. Most of us have heard this story so many times, year after year, that we zone out and don’t pay close attention. We forget to notice the real story. Furthermore, we live in a time and place so far removed from the Roman Empire that it is hard for us to comprehend what the birth of Jesus really means.

We cannot understand what it is like to live as Jewish people under the Roman occupation. We have not grown up hoping for the Messiah to come and liberate us from our oppression. We do not understand how antithetical Jesus was to the traditional image of a Messiah; The Messiah was supposed to come from royalty, as a mighty warrior, and lead his people to victory. A feeding trough is hardly a place for the savior of God’s chosen people, a poor carpenter and his young wife are not fitting parents, and shepherds are not a proper welcoming committee.

Yet this is exactly how Jesus chose to enter our world and reveal himself to us. “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things-and the things that are not-to nullify the things that are” (1 Corinthians 1:27-28). This story is exactly the way God intended it, but we cannot comprehend it. We read this story, and we miss it.

As we near the birth of Jesus once more this year, may we pay attention. May we look on this passage with new eyes. And may we see the foolish, weak, lowly, and despised way that our Messiah comes to us, that he might shame the wise and the strong and the powerful.

Week Four Scriptures – Luke 2:1-19

December 18th, 2010

Luke 2:1-19

1In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.
2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.
3All went to their own towns to be registered.
4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.
6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.
7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
8In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:
11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.
12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”
13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
14“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”
16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.
17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child;
18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.
19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.

Mary’s Song of Hope

December 15th, 2010

EMU Student Linda Herr
By Linda Herr, Master in Conflict Transformation student, EMU Center for Justice and Peacebuilding

Luke I: 39-59

Words I wonder about:  What if English had verbs for justice and mercy?  Why the fascination with figuring out the meaning of forgiveness?  What is the difference between wishing and hoping?  We know to expand love beyond candlelight and romantic dreams, but do we expand hope?

I learned something about hope and its relationship with suffering when I worked in the Gaza Strip with MCC, years ago and in somewhat better times.   It came home to me as I complained about road work that made me late to a meeting.  My counterparts in the local organization reminded me that new roads and projects like the airport, with its little jewel of a terminal, gave them hope for the future as they faced thicker border fences, more complicated crossings to leave the narrow strip of land, and the loss of jobs.

Recently, I found a news photo of children in Gaza trying to set a world record for basketball dribbling.  They were gathered on pavement in front of the airport terminal, now in lying in sand-covered ruins: children with basketballs a sign of hope in the midst of new, deeper despair.

In her “song,” Mary ties together suffering and hope in the coming Messiah. Her soul magnifies the Lord.  She looks to the Magnificent One for mercy, to bring down the proud and powerful and to feed the hungry.

I believe that hope comes out of involvement in suffering, others and our own.  It involves looking away from naiveté on one side and cynicism on the other and leaving behind despair.  It is a choice to light a candle that pushes back darkness, remembering that darkness cannot put out light.  It means deciding on basketballs and a camera.

May we look towards Christmas as nights continue to grow longer.

Week Three Scriptures – Luke 1:39-56

December 11th, 2010

Luke 1:39-56

39In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country,
where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.
41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit
and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?
44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.
And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
46And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,
47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
56And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.