[#pictureAdvent] December 15: LIGHT

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By Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Pastor, Trinity UMC      
Sarasota, FL

First, read John 1:6-8

Christmas is often called the Season of Lights. When most people hear this, they think of colorful Christmas lights or soft glowing candles.

Christmas is actually the Season of The Light, Jesus Christ. What a wonder! What a mystery! God’s love made flesh to bring light into the shadows and brokenness of our world.

Like our brother John, we are not the Light. We need the light of Christ to reveal the truth of our need and the grace which meets it.  

Like our brother John, we are witnesses. We have seen and heard and experienced Jesus overcoming our darkness. We know what it is to be lost then found, blind then seeing, dead then alive. We want others to know this, too. We want to share what we have found and who has found us. 

Like our brother John, we testify to the Light. The media assaults us with an unending cannon blast of gloom and doom. Yet, our still, small stories shine. We speak to the hope, the welcome, the transforming power, the One who loves and saves the world. We testify to the Light. 

We are witnesses. Witnessing is not just something we do; it is something we are. We don’t go to witness, we witness as we go. With every breath we take, with every word we utter, with every action we make, we are witnessing. – William Richard Ezell, God’s Redemptive Plan

Prayer: O Christ, Light of the World, whoever follows you will have the light of life. Help us to speak of you with such grace and hope that all who hear place their trust in you. Amen.

Discussion/Reflection Questions

1.       How have you neglected to be a witness, to testify concerning Christ?
2.       When you consider testifying “to the light,” how does that change what you will say about Jesus and how you will say it?
3.       Give a short testimony to those you are with right now. Encourage one another, pray, and plan how you will witness and invite this holy season.  

[#pictureAdvent] December 14: REJOICE

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By Warren Pattison
First UMC Lakeland
Lakeland, Florida

First, read 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

Today marks the fifth anniversary of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. I still remember hearing the news. It was my birthday. I cried for nearly two days straight.

Another December day, just a few years before, my wife and I got up and walked out of what I’m sure was a wonderful Advent worship service. We simply couldn’t bear to hear again the story of barren Elizabeth and the virgin Mary. Barren women and virgins could get pregnant, but not us. Wiping tears from our eyes, we quietly slipped out of the sanctuary.

In the midst of the joys and the tears, Paul calls us to rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances. Paul doesn’t say give thanks for all circumstances, but rather give thanks in all circumstances. While that distinction is helpful, finding something to rejoice about in the midst of deep pain can feel next to impossible. When we are in pain, our world shrinks and the palette dulls to shades of dun and gray. There are times that we simply must embrace the biblical practice of lament.

But how do we rejoice in that lamentation?

A wise spiritual companion once encouraged me in times of pain to pick something simple to be grateful for – to “hold on to what is good” as Paul would say. She reminded me that even though I may not be aware of it, God is present in the pain. She counseled me to find seven flowers on my morning walk, and to pray “Thank you, God, for this flower.” Or to give thanks for the beauty of twinkling Christmas lights. I discovered that even when I could not rejoice in the midst of pain and lamentation, I could find simple things to be thankful for. Breath. A candle flicker. A warm blanket and Netflix. A friend’s hug. The taste of tears.

Those simple things allowed me to see with new eyes. To give thanks — not for the pain, but in the midst of it. Thankfulness is like leaven. A little bit goes a long way in making space for God’s presence – and even rejoicing - to fill.

Prayer: God of all goodness, grant me the grace to recognize your presence in all situations, to give thanks in all circumstances, and to rejoice in all things as I hold on to the good. Call my attention to the simple things and grant me grace to give thanks for them. By the power of your Spirit, fill me with rejoicing for your goodness, love, and action in the world. 

Discussion/Reflection Questions:

  1. Share a time when you felt you simply could not give thanks. What would it mean to give thanks in that circumstance, but not for it?
  2. What are two things for which you can give thanks now? 
  3. How does thankfulness lead to rejoicing?
  4. Paul admonishes his readers to pray continually. In what ways are prayer, thankfulness and rejoicing connected?

[#pictureAdvent] December 13: CHANGE

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By Rev. Christy Jo Harber
Eastwood Christian Church (DOC), Associate Pastor
Nashville, T

First, read Psalm 126

“The trees are about to show you just how beautiful letting go can be.”  

This quote has remained in my thoughts for quite some time now. Sure, I love to watch the seasons change. Yet when a quote about a tree becomes a metaphor for my life it’s not always comfortable.This year seems as though everything has changed. Some of the changes have been easier to receive than others.

I have witnessed change in my community, church, and world…
I have felt change in tragedies, trauma, and grief…
and yes— I, too, have changed.
Our relationship with change can come with an array of different feelings. Some of us try to stay as far away from change as possible, some of us welcome change, and sometimes our response depends on what is changing.

Advent calls us into a holy time of seeking and making room for Jesus the Christ.  
As we seek hope, love, joy, and peace
we are invited to make room for all that this season will bring. 

When we make room for Christ we open ourselves to life-giving change. The writer of Psalm 126 celebrates change and boldly prays for restoration.

Remembering what God has done in the past encourages us to have hope for the days to come. During our anticipation we will most likely find ourselves experiencing both reasons to rejoice and reasons to cry out for a better today, tomorrow, and future.  When we allow the Holy Spirit to show up in our thoughts and actions we are able to see that change can be replenishing, restoring, and revolutionary.  

As we continue journeying through Advent may we write our own songs and prayers of celebration and restoration as we seek to live as faithful disciples of Christ.

Holy God, Thank you for hearing my prayers of celebration and my petitions for restoration. Remind me when the journey seems difficult that I am not alone.  Equip me with the strength and courage I need to navigate change.  In all of my thoughts and actions may I shine the light and love of Jesus. Amen.

Discussion/Reflection Questions

1.  Recall a time you have experienced a change for the better.
2.  What might you need to let go of in order for a new chapter to be born?
3.  What are you celebrating?  What needs to be restored? 
4.  How might you make room for hope, love, joy, and peace this Advent season? 

[#pictureAdvent] December 12: GARDEN

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By Rev. Dr. Tanya Marie Eustace Campen  
Rio Texas Conference, United Methodist Church

San Antonio, TX

First, read Isaiah 61:8-11

When I was in seminary I spent an entire summer uprooting, weeding, tilling, and re-seeding my small plot of grass outside my seminary home. I committed to this summer project as a distraction from my Greek coursework and as an excuse to get outside at least once a day. This was not a small project and required many tools, supplies, and effort. My goal was to kill off the weeds, lay new soil, and plant new grass. In my mind, I had to destroy everything in order to bring new life.

One month into the project I planted my first flowers- tulips and calla lilies. Each day I would walk towards my home after class and smile as I saw the bright colors and the newly tilled yard greet me. A few days later I awoke and headed out to water the garden. Much to my surprise the tops of the flowers were gone! It was clear that some animal had come in the night and eaten my flowers, robbing me of their beauty, and the joy that came from their presence. I was frustrated and annoyed. I spent the entire day wondering: “what can I plant that will not get eaten?” “How can I keep those pesky critters away?” “Is it even worth the time and energy to try to keep this garden alive?

My three-month gardening project helped me realize the hard work, the frustration, and the joy that comes from seeing new life grow around us. With a bit of earth, seeds, water, good soil, and the proper love and care there are persons who can make a garden not only grow- but thrive. While this is not my gift, I am grateful for those who garden and help nurture God’s beautiful creation. Seeing the beauty of the garden gives us cause to rejoice and to give thanks for the hands who lovingly care for the plants and for the creator who imagined it all and gives it life.

In this winter season, many of us may live in a climate where there seems to be more darkness than sunlight, bare trees where there once were blooms, or brown and dry grass where there once was a lush, soft, and green place to rest. It is in this time that we hold fast to God’s promise in Isaiah. God promises life even when the garden seems bare and empty.  In the winter months, we can find joy knowing that God does not destroy us to encourage us to grow, nor does God leave us when others rob us of joy and life. Instead, God provides so that we will grow and thrive.

Our work is to till and care for the garden, to share the fruits of our labor with others, and to work to ensure all persons have access to the resources they need to live. This advent, may we find ways to rejoice in God’s goodness as we share the resources God provides with others.  

Short Prayer: Most gracious God, you are the good and faithful gardener. We give you thanks for all that you have given us. Thank-you for the seeds you plant helping us grow and thrive. Help us remember that all good gifts come from you. Give us generous hearts as we find ways to share the fruits of your garden with others. It is in your holy name that we pray, Amen

Discussion/Reflection Questions:

  1. What seeds has God planted in your life?

  2. What work did you do to help them grow?

  3. How can you share the fruits of God’s garden with others?

[#pictureAdvent] December 11: TREE

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ByJohn Renfroe, Deacon
Messiah Lutheran Church
Cape Coral, Florida

First, read Isaiah 61:1-4

Oppression and mourning has as much of a grip on us today as it did in Zion’s city some two thousand years ago. As God’s people, it is easy to imagine horrible oppressive situations. Those atrocious predators, thieves, even elected leaders. It’s hard to be oaks of righteousness when we are victims of such oppression. It is even harder to be oaks of righteousness when we are unwittingly the oppressor. 

If we are honest with ourselves, we will discover times that we have been both the victim and the oppressor. Those times that we used our power/influence to put others down so that we look better, or those times that we had an opportunity to say something against an injustice but remained silent instead. We mourn our losses. Yet, we may cause others to mourn because of the things we say or do.

This passage reminds us today that we are sent by God to bring good news to the oppressed, to comfort those who mourn, and God calls us to be oaks of righteousness. The good news is that we also receive the good news that we are forgiven, comforted and empowered to proclaim the Kingdom of God which is at hand.

We are oaks of righteousness when we show love to our neighbor. Our witness is like an oak tree that stands strong in the midst of stormy times.

Prayer: Holy God, thank you for the gift of your Son. As we pattern our lives, after Jesus, may we be reminded of your loving grace as we travel through this advent season. Come, Oh holy Jesus.

Discussion/Reflection Questions:

  1. Who has been as an oak of righteousness in your life?
  2. In times of mourning or oppression, who has looked to you to be an oak of righteousness for them?
  3. How has God’s grace been in your life during times of oppression and mourning?