Advent 2010

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.

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.

Planting the Seed of an Idea

December 8th, 2010

EMU Student Cheryl Woelk
By Cheryl Woelk, Center of Justice and Peacebuilding and Master of Arts in Education dual degree student
Matthew 1:18-25

This weekend, the campus movie theatre showed “Inception.” An entertaining story about technology allowing entry into another person’s dreams, the film strangely reminded me of the Advent story.

In the movie, dream architects and navigators interact with the sleeper in the dream world. Usually they would extract important information for a client. In this case, however, they had the impossible task of “planting the seed of an idea” in the sleeper’s mind, which would then change his actions in reality.

“We all crave reconciliation,” the dream navigators say. The only way to plant an idea is to use positive emotions, such as restoring broken relationships. Through their dream interactions, a former idea thief experiences redemption and returns to his family, and the dreamer, who is reconciled with his father in the dream, finds new freedom.

In the Matthew passage, dreams play a similar role. Joseph had made a decision. He was a good man and would not add to the consequences of the divorce for Mary, but that was it. Then the dream changed everything. An angel appeared, clarifying Joseph’s marriage plans, and showing a way to get back together with Mary. But the angel goes on, revealing a glimpse of the larger purpose of salvation and redemption – the seed of an idea that would change the world.

The idea planted in Joseph’s dream addresses the human craving for reconciliation and wholeness. Bringing freedom to the captives, light to those in darkness, and release for the oppressed, this idea of a Saviour gives us hope for a new reality. Our hope is not in some distant dream, but in our waking world.

Prayer: As we wait for the coming of “the idea,” the Messiah, during this Advent season, may we join in planting seeds of reconciliation, healing, and hope in our daily realities.

Extraordinary Love

December 6th, 2010

EMU Student Tim Heishman
By Tim Heishman, junior pastoral assistant
Matthew 1:18-25

I would not consider the events that take place in Matthew 1:18-25 to be exactly normal for a typical engagement scenario; in fact, they are pretty extraordinary, if not mind-boggling. But what I find most remarkable about this story are not the actual events themselves (the virgin birth, visits from angels, etc.)- it is not about the history or the biology of it, it is about the awesome fact that God chose to intervene in the course of human history in a dramatic and unexpected way, to redeem us once and for all from our sin, and to show us a better way to live life here on earth. He didn’t have to do it. We certainly didn’t deserve it. But he chose to come anyway, coming in the form of an innocent and defenseless baby, entrusting his son to the very humans who had rebelled against him ever since he had created them. That, is love!

Through all of these extraordinary events, God was at work in the world through his Holy Spirit. His Spirit caused Mary to conceive, prompted Joseph to obey, and lived in Jesus Immanuel- “God with us.” Today as the body of Christ and as individuals, we are charged with continuing this tradition of loving in dramatic and unexpected ways. In this season of advent, a season of waiting and expectation, I wonder how we can surrender to God’s Spirit in a new way, to let it work through us to continue to release this same mind-boggling love into the world. What areas of our lives can we hand over to the Spirit to be transformed? Our God seems to enjoy working in ways that often confound the traditional religious establishment and I wonder what some specific ways would be to love so deeply that it starts to turn heads. That would be exciting! So as we wait, let us be busy…..taking every opportunity to love like our creator, using his example as our model.

Ordinary People

December 1st, 2010

EMS Student Brett KlingenbergBy Brett Klingenberg, Master of Divinity student, Seminary
Luke I: 26-38

Finally it is happening!  The history of Israel is about to be changed!  God has remembered the covenant with Abraham and David and the promised Messiah has been announced!

The angel Gabriel has been busy…busy bringing all sorts of unexpected news to unexpected people; the elderly Zechariah and Elizabeth, and now a young virgin, engaged, from small town Galilee.  This young woman, Mary, doesn’t quite seem to catch the excitement of the announcement, this cosmic-shake up that is about to happen.  I couldn’t help but notice how she was “greatly troubled” by the greeting of Gabriel and wondered what “favored one meant.”  Maybe she wasn’t looking for any excitement; maybe she just wanted to get married and start a normal family leading a normal life.  Maybe she wanted to stay a small town girl.  What were these startling plans that God was making for her?

One of the things that I have grown to love about the Bible is that it contains hundreds of stories about ordinary people being confronted with an extraordinary God.  In this story we find that God’s most extraordinary act of love is about to be carried by the most ordinary girl in Israel.  And what does she say at the end of Gabriel’s magnificent speech?  She simply says, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”  I love small town girls.

This gives hope to us ordinary people.  I’ve spent most of my life trying to experience God through extraordinary events, but am finally realizing the truth that our extraordinary God is breaking in on our ordinary lives every day.  And the Spirit of this Messiah, announced to a regular small town girl, is alive and moving in our ordinary lives; moving us to proclaim our extraordinary savior to our world.

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, help me to embrace my ordinary life as I proclaim your astonishing love to my friends and neighbors.

Who am I that I should go?

November 29th, 2010

EMU Student Mitchell StutzmanBy Mitchell Stutzman, senior pastoral assistant
Luke I: 26-38

“Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

These were the words spoken by Moses in the book of Exodus. Jehovah called Moses from the burning bush to express the purpose that He had for his life. Moses initially hesitated to heed the Lord’s call.

Every Christian experiences some kind of a call to follow the will of God. Likewise, Mary was called by God through the angel Gabriel.

But Mary did not experience just any call. She received the biggest call: to be mother to Jesus Christ. A woman (truly blessed among women) was given the task to give birth to the Messiah, Emmanuel. After visiting her relative Elizabeth, Mary humbled herself before God and personally owned the call that she had received, offering praise and adoration.

As a college student, I am expected to make many decisions about what to do with my life. I have not, however, experienced the luxury of a burning bush or messenger appearing to me and explicitly telling me my calling.

Through reflection, prayer, and the counsel of friends, family, and church community I can discern my call. As Mary did, I work to humble myself and to follow God’s leading in my life.

Prayer

Adapted from #763 in Hymnal: A Worship Book

Oh Lord who keeps me from falling,

I came to worship.

I go now to serve.

I have been given the light.

I go now to let it shine.

I have been blessed by your love, oh God.

I am one of Christ’s disciples.

I go now to love, console, and witness, to all.

Amen

2010 Advent Devotions: Expectancy Inspired

November 28th, 2010

Welcome to EMU’s 2010 Advent devotion series. Beginning Sunday, Nov. 28, EMU and EMS students, faculty, and staff will share – three times a week – personal reflections on the coming of our Lord Jesus. We begin today with a devotion from the EMU campus pastor.

Expectancy Inspired: faith in servanthood

Brian Burkholder, EMU Campus Pastor Brian Burkholder, EMU campus pastor
Week one scriptures: Luke 1:26-38

Visiting anew the opening chapters of the gospels of Luke and Matthew, I found myself inspired by Mary, Joseph and Elizabeth.

I pondered what it would have been like to be in their places – to have been chosen for a special purpose of God; to have received a clear message from God; and to have responded 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.” She questioned the wisdom of the angel regarding conception before, after hearing his explanation of how the Holy Spirit would come upon her and the power of the Most High would overshadow her, 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.