Advent 2011

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.