Advent Devotional: Tuesday, December 25

Theme: Living Into Joy

Written by Rev. Raygan Baker, First Congregational Church of Fresno

Luke 4:16-20

Mary treasured these things in her heart.

The Advent calendars have counted down, the carols have been sung, the candles have been lit and extinguished. The baby was born, and the presents (which took hours to shop for and wrap), have finally been opened (in a matter of seconds). So, what did you get? Was it what you wanted? If so, was it as wonderful as fulfilling as you thought it would be? If not, was the countdown a bust? In short, did it work? Did your traditions live up to your memories of them? Did you ever really buy that that baby was a greater gift than everything else on your wishlist? Was whatever you hoped for, longed for, or watched for throughout Advent, even with guarded suspicions, as good as it was promised?

Personally, my favorite part of Christmas is late in the evening of Christmas Day. At least for me and my family, there’s nothing left to do. No more gifts to give or receive, no more big meals to prepare for, and in fact, leftovers will take care of the next several meals. Even more, whatever was left undone in the preparation for the season will now have to be left undone. For some, Christmas Eve feels like the big celebration, and by late on Christmas Day, it is over; but for me, it’s my best chance during the whole season to find silence. And I find that silence to be pregnant with an ineffable hope.

Whether your deepest longings and desires were fulfilled or not, Christmas worked. God came to us in the most intimate way, in a body. God longed so deeply to be near us, that God removed every barrier between the Creator and the created people. This is our “Good news of great joy.”

However your Christmas Holiday has gone to this point, can you find a time and a place to treasure these things in your heart? I find that this is often best experienced in silence, while being mindful of your body. Sit comfortably, breath deeply and intentionally, and don’t worry about where your thoughts wander, just point yourself toward what you treasure.

Advent Devotional: Monday, December 24

Theme: Living Into Joy

Written by Peter Wall, First Congregational Church of Fresno

Luke 2:8–14

I never understood how it could be that God “sent” his son. Sending is done from a distance. But God is supposed to be everywhere, always. “Am I a God near by, says the Lord, and not a God far off? Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? says the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the Lord.” (Jer. 23:23–24.) Or, as it is put so evocatively in the Quran, “We created the human being, and We know what his soul whispers to him. We are nearer to him than his jugular vein.” (50:16.) If anything, God must be immediate and intimate.

If you share my concern about “sending” and “distance,” then you will be rewarded by a close but imaginative reading of the passage today from Luke.

First, there are shepherds in fields—not one shepherd, and not one field, but shepherds in fields. Without warning their multiplicity in those fields is met with a surrounding but singular angel of the Lord, which, despite being in fields, neither sings nor shouts, but merely speaks to them the news of a savior. Their presence is immediate and intimate.

(I think of Elijah, standing on the mountain, hearing God not in a wind, or an earthquake, or a fire, but a “still small voice.” Or “a sound of sheer silence,” as the New Revised Standard Version puts it. Closer, perhaps, than the thrum of his own jugular.)

The shepherds in their fields receive the news of a savior and suddenly there is a multitude of the heavenly host. The intimacy and immediacy of these angels tells a story in itself. It is not so much an arrival after a journey from afar as it is a revelation of alreadyness — they are messengers from what already fills the fields, with all of heaven and earth.

And as this season of Advent comes to a close, we should also notice that the shepherds in the fields were not waiting for God, or for the news of a savior. They were watching over their flocks in the night. Peering into a murky darkness. And the glorious good news was already there, surrounding them. Closer, maybe, than their own jugulars.

Advent Devotional: Sunday, December 23

Theme: Living Into Joy

Written by Miranda Deis (age 13), First Congregational Church of Fresno

Luke 1:46-55

He 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.

Call to Action

You should love and respect your neighbor regardless of how much money they have, their skin color, where they live or who they love. If money and titles were not the most important thing to God they shouldn’t be the most important things in your life either.

Instead of a prayer, I want you to be a mirror to reflect God’s plan by putting it into action. On this day, two days before you celebrate the birth of Jesus I want you to get out in your community and show the disadvantaged people some love, show them that you care and that they matter.

Advent Devotional: Saturday, December 22

Theme: Living Into Joy

Written by Kimberly Williams, First Congregational Church of Fresno

John 1:9-18

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

Where do you keep your Christmas decorations? We store ours for 11 months of the year in the garage. Our garage is organized exactly the way you’d imagine two adults with ADHD would have it organized. Best intentions in January, the boxes clearly labeled and stacked together. By June one box has been ripped open because one of us (not pointing fingers, but it wasn’t me) didn’t read the label and it *wasn’t* filled with whatever it was that was being searched for. The tape is not reapplied. By November your guess is as good as mine about where everything went. We found the light up village, but where did the twinkle lights go? Ah, they’re on the shelf with the chlorine for the hot tub—of course. That makes sense.

“Hey babe! I found the lights! And, funnily enough, that dog harness we couldn’t find last April!”

We will have to wait for nightfall to enjoy the display. All afternoon is spent on a ladder with kids running around sugared up with hot cocoa, one of us hanging the lights, the other offering “helpful” commentary from the ground.

I dunno, maybe you know exactly where everything is and this isn’t helpful for you at all. But it’s exactly this dash through utter disorganization and chaos that makes the lights seem so vibrant when we finally see them lit up. The lights have been here all along in the garage, but who could know we would have such a display based on the contents of ripped cardboard boxes that have been haphazardly stashed away?

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.

Our light display is a good reminder that in this season while we anticipate the birth of Christ, God has always been here. Obscured by our own chaos, no one has ever seen God, yet still here with us in the mess.

When Jesus is born, a true light is shone. Not the kind that gets turned off at dawn and on at dusk thanks to a photocell sensor, but light that stays, reaches everyone. Is isn’t merely seasonal, rather it is always available for guidance, clarity, or sometimes it’s there for us to just sit back and marvel at.

Advent Devotional: Friday, December 21

Theme: Living Into Joy

Written by Madeleine Guekguezian, Wesley United Methodist Church

John 1:1-8

John opens his gospel in exaltation of the coming of Christ—the living Word that has always been and was a part of God and God them-self. With him comes a life that gives light to all humankind and cannot be overcome by the darkness. Reflect on what this means for the world. More than a good turn or a period of happiness, Christ brings to us the power of God’s love in its totality which both gives and sustains life and light. What else could this be but joy?

The Word becomes flesh, and that singular incarnation is not a scarce resource, a limited commodity that must be purchased and only the worthy can afford. It brings life to all things, unconditionally. Could there be any greater joy? And John, in bearing witness to the truth and life of Christ, gives us a model for living as testament to the joy of a world in which God and the Word are with us. We are not the light, but God calls all of us to reflect it to our neighbors. As we approach the celebration of the birth of Jesus, take time to pray and reflect upon the joy of the season and the gifts that God has given you to testify to the light, to live the joy of God with us.

Advent Devotional: Thursday, December 20

Theme: Making Room for Hope

Written by Christopher Williams, First Congregational Church of Fresno

Luke 1:67-80

Parents have goals and expectations of their children. From the moment they are born we see children as unfinished pieces of work that need nurturing and direction and we receive a great sense of pride with their accomplishments.

There exists a story that after Michelangelo had carved the statue of David he was asked how he was able to craft such a masterpiece, to which he replied “The sculpture was already complete within the marble, all I did was chip away the edges.”

What we have to remember is that what we want for our children and what they do may not always be one in the same. God has a “dog in this fight” as well.

In the story of John the Baptist, his father Zechariah was singing a song of praise during John’s circumcision (which is apparently a thing people did in those times). During this song Zechariah spells out God’s plan to have John become the prophet “Most High” and prepare the way for the coming of the Lord and preach salvation and forgiveness to the masses. That’s a pretty tall order to be sung at an infant having their foreskin removed.

Zechariah had the advantage of being informed about John’s future by not just any old angel but the Archangel Gabriel himself. Most of us are not as lucky as Zechariah. We will blindly guide our children, try to get them interested in careers we want for them (astronaut/doctor for mine), and hope for the best.

Just remember that your plans and God’s plans may differ. After all, they can’t all be astronaut/doctors.

Advent Devotional: Wednesday, December 19

Theme: Making Room for Hope

Written by Kimberly Williams, First Congregational Church of Fresno

Luke 1:39-45

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb.

Anyone who has ever had a baby human growing inside of them knows that once the baby starts kicking and moving around, there’s no turning that sensation off. It’s not like turning down the volume on the TV or changing out of a scratchy sweater. That baby in there will be felt whenever there is movement — sometimes the cross-belly rippling movement of what feels like a full yoga session in the uterus, other times it’s a little flutter that rests somewhere in between indigestion and first-date butterflies.

Then there are times when it’s the strained, sick-with-worry awareness of a lack of movement, which is even more unbearable than a heel to the rib. All of it is noted, noticed, overthought about.

I can tell you one thing after carrying three babies of my own — I never once felt any of them leap in my womb. Lots of hiccups and elbows, zero leaping.

In this story, Mary enters Elizabeth’s home and greets her. Both women are pregnant, carrying little bundles of revolutionary joy — Elizabeth is the mother of John the Baptist. As soon as Elizabeth hears Mary’s voice, baby prophet John recognizes the presence of baby messiah Jesus, and he leaps. This is huge. This is even shocking to someone who has conceived a baby well past her time and is familiar with God’s surprise blessings. This child in her womb is ecstatic, the Lord is here! In this room! The awareness that often comes along with holding life in one’s belly is on high alert and Elizabeth immediately understands.

There is such beauty in these two women in this moment, belly to belly. The connection they have is unlike any other. Both trusted the Lord when the stakes were high. They see each other, not just two moms-to-be exchanging stories about sciatic nerve pain at night (which is a powerful connection on its own!), but as women who believed—who believe!—and who are deeply blessed.

Lord, thank you for the leaping joy that comes with feeling your presence! Amen.