advent

Friday: Receive Peace

We pray to Thee, our Father
as Christmas comes again,
For peace among all nations
and goodwill among men.
Give us strength and courage
To search ourselves inside
And recognize our vanity,
Our selfishness, and pride.
For the struggle of all ages
Is centered deep within
Where each man has private war
That his own soul must win.
For a world of peace and plenty
Of which all men have dreamed,
Can only be attained and kept
When the spirit is redeemed. 
— A Christmas Prayer for Peace, By Helen Steiner Rice


Stories of Peace

Jesus calmed the storm, he healed the sick, he relieved the tormented. He united tax collectors and fishermen, men and women with one another. Crying out in our hardship, we wonder if he is still that Jesus. Hindsight is always 20/20 they say, and it’s true. We frame all of our stories within their happy endings and when we cannot see that ending, we deem our chapter a tragedy. But if there is a story of the provision of God’s peace, unrest preceded it. 

 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
— Matthew 5:2-12

These Beatitudes do not read, “Blessed is the one who gets it right, for they will find peace. Blessed are the winners, for the losers will be content beneath them. Blessed are the honorable, for they will not be questioned. Blessed are those whose lives are pristine, for they will be regarded with favor.”  But often in our prayers, those are the realities we are praying for. We want to be blessed with the ability to turn off the noise- freedom from the burdens of others that cloud our days. It doesn’t work that way, because the clamor and brokenness are within us. 

“And be yourself our King of Peace”

Jesus is our Peace. His peace is sufficient for today and remains for everlasting tomorrows. The lack of turmoil we beg for is worldly peace, one that quickly vanishes. The peace God can provide endures through even the greatest disasters. So, if you find yourself in a season of suffering, fear, sinfulness, or distress hear this: the Light of the World, The Prince of Peace, The Almighty God, The Wonderful Counselor, has come and is our Emmanuel, God with us. 

His presence is our peace because he imparts to us his righteousness. There is no greater peace than a right standing before God.There is no peace without righteousness. There is no righteousness outside of Jesus.

What better way to celebrate Christmas, than to allow him into your suffering, and trust in his eternal Peace? Your story will not be in vain. You will be called blessed because he can take your greatest fears and failures (drowning, sickness, death, and discord) and turn them into stories of victory. How beautiful to see the schemes of the Devil turned into narratives that proclaim his goodness and peace. How wonderful to know that in the moments when we feel so alone, that God can craft this very day, this very week, and this very life into the Grand Story of his redemption. 

This is the Gospel.

This is the Good News: one King for all mankind, one redemption story in which we all belong, one Kingdom under God. Lost in our own biographies of war-torn disfunction, Jesus came to reconnect us to the Light; and by doing so, offered us the rest of his story. No longer do we have to try to turn our tragedies into fairy tales, our hero has come. King of Kings, he is the Light of the World. 
 

Thursday: Study Peace

‘And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; 
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, 
to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God, 
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven 
to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.’
— ‭‭Luke‬ ‭1:76-79‬ 

 

There is a path of peace in this valley, and its trail name is forgiveness. 

John the Baptist prepared the way for the Lord by preaching, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near!” Shouting into the darkness he proclaimed the coming of the Light. I imagine a wandering prophet in my own soul, calling into the darkness, “Repent of your selfishness! Repent of your worry! Repent of your pride! For the Kingdom of Light is advancing to these places. You will be exposed, so come out of hiding!” 

That first conviction is always hard. When the thought hits you in the midst of a Netflix binge, “I should turn this off and stop avoiding God about how short-tempered I was today.”

Those “John the Baptist” moments when you know the light is coming to expose the ugly sins in its path, repentance to which may cause dramatic changes to your comfort, are unnerving. But the path of peace is found when we heed those calls, seek God’s forgiveness, and in turn, are able to extend forgiveness to others. 

Ask yourself: 

Am I listening for the coming Kingdom Advancement in my own life? 

When I pray for peace in the world, have I sought God on how I need to repent in order to be a peacemaker?
 

Wednesday: Observe Peace

...Oh, come, Desire of nations, bind 
In one the hearts of all mankind; 
Oh, bid our sad divisions cease, 
And be yourself our King of Peace. 
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel 
Shall come to you, O Israel!
— Oh, Come, Oh, Come Emmanuel: Translated by John Neal, 1818-66

There is a Holy loosening in the midst of this stanza- a relinquishing of the idols we have trusted independently in for peace. Between its lines lives a recognition that strengthening the divide will not create stability. Our seeking will only be satisfied by uniting under the rule and Lordship of Jesus. Oh, come Desire of nations… 

Jesus is the king we all desire. He grants the perfect freedom yet maintains absolute authority. In his might he protects, and in his compassion endows charitable welfare. He is the One King who can overcome the turmoil, the One King who is best for every subject. He is the one King who will never fail, never be overtaken, and never change. Jesus is our King of Peace. 

When it seems that the only option is to stand on one side of the divide, pray. The very Spirit of the Risen Lord dwells in us to empower us to do the work of Jesus right here in the midst of a chaotic world. His Kingdom has already broken in, and he has called us to give our first devotion, pledge our truest allegiance, and abandon any ties that impede on our obedience to his authority. “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Reflect:

Am I restrained from experiencing God’s peace because I am holding on to an idol? Do my actions point to one other than Jesus as the “King of Peace” I long for?

Repent:

God, may you expose the anchors I grasp at that fail me and lead to distress. I repent of placing my trust in any other source for peace. Forgive me for listening more carefully to the calamity than to your voice. You never fail, God, you never fail.

Tuesday: Pray for Peace

Lord our Light, 

We stand in awe of you. You not only calmed the seas and rescued Israel, you brought restoration to all mankind. You descended from heaven, experiencing trauma and sorrow for the sake of humanity. You suffered the mocking voices and open disrespect for the redemption of those you love. 

Help us recognize our brokenness. Show us how to live this season with repentant hearts. In your loving kindness, help us find our path back to your peace. Help us to break our perfume jars at your feet and weep from the knowledge of your love. Let us set aside our titles and our worldly reputations. Let us embrace who we are in you. 

You are our righteousness, our only need. 

May we forever sing your praises. 

Amen  
 

Monday: We Need Peace

Peace seems an unlikely treasure in this age of darkness. We say our prayers and cross our fingers in hopes that life will get less chaotic and Light will reign in our lives in the midst of such brokenness. The war between light and dark wages both in our world and in our hearts. 

Luke 7:36-50 tells an impossibly beautiful story about Jesus, some pharisees, and a sinful woman. In this story we find Jesus, the God Incarnate remembered at Christmas, reclined at a table with a group of Pharisees. We learn in these verses that the Pharisees disrespected Jesus openly by not washing his feet nor giving him the customary welcoming kiss. They even went so far as openly mocking him. 

As Jesus is reclining in the midst of such hostility, a woman enters the scene. This woman, shackled by her reputation and sins, came in search of her savior. Seeing him, she stood behind him weeping and washing his feet with her tears and her hair. She kissed them pouring expensive perfume over them.  This woman, steeped in dark sorrow and shame, bares her soul, her income, her reputation at the unclean feet of Jesus. 

Unlike the Pharisees, this woman understood who she was. She recognized the gap between her and God. She understood her depravity. The learned men of the age mocked her calling her “sinner” and proclaiming her brokenness, never once contemplating their lack of faith, their brokenness from The Divine. They ridiculed Jesus for claiming to be a prophet, yet allowing her touch. How could he not see who she truly was?

How did Jesus respond?   

Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.’

Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
— Luke 7: 44-48; 50

Your sins are forgiven. 
Your faith has saved you. 
Go. 
In. 
Peace. 

As we look toward Christmas and our Jehovah-Shalom (The Lord is Peace) being born in Bethlehem, we must also look to his life. As we contemplate the Light of the season, we must look to the stories of his ministry. Too many times we read scripture and place ourselves in the roll of the faithful servant or the repentant sinner who understood their brokenness. 

But if we were to truly look at our lives, inspecting our Christmas season, could we really say that were true? Are we not Pharisees openly mocking the Light in our own ways? Where is our repentance in this season?

Instead of hating the people you think are war-makers, hate the appetites and disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed - but hate these things in yourself, not in another.
— Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation 

 

Let us go forth, in the recognition of our brokenness, and let us live this season with repentant hearts. Let us fill our lives with the Light, recognizing who this baby we are celebrating truly is. Let us fill our hearts with the acceptance of who we are, breaking our perfume jars and kissing the feet of Jesus.  May we become undignified in our response to our Savior. 

Go in peace, my brothers and sisters. Your sins are forgiven. 
 

Sunday: The Light of His Joy

The Advent Wreath is a tradition that the Church has practiced for centuries! Each Sunday of Advent another candle is lit in honor of what Christ brought to us by becoming the incarnate God. 

The ring, often made of evergreen leaves, represents eternity. The Joy found in the promises of our God will last forever. 


Take a moment of silence to focus your thoughts. 

Light:

The candle of Hope.

Say: 

We thank you, Jesus, for being our hope.

Light:

The candle of Love.

Say:

We thank you, Jesus, for loving us. 

Light:

The candle of Joy. 

Read: 

We light the candle of Joy. Joy is more than happiness. It cannot be stolen or crushed by circumstances, but endures because it is rooted in God’s eternal goodness. Joy is a marker found in all of those who have chosen to truly trust God with their lives. 

Pray:

A prayer of thanksgiving to God for providing Joy through Jesus.

A prayer of request that you might be a bringer of Joy  to your neighbors this Advent season. 
 

Friday: Receive Joy

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see.

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.

You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls.
— The Hope of Eternal Life, from 1 Peter 1:3-9

 

Happiness comes and goes like the tide, completely dependent on our circumstances for existence. But joy? Joy is eternal because its source is the faithfulness of God, which has never, nor will it ever, change. God is faithful. 

When we choose to believe that the same God who was faithful in the past will be faithful in the future, we can experience true joy. Joy comes alive in us even when we know the Valley of the Shadow of Death to be our home address. Joy burgeons in the midst of darkness, grief, suffering and fear, because even though we do not see him now, we trust him. 

Ask Yourself:

In what ways have I forgotten the faithfulness of God? 

In what relationships, times of day, or patterns of behavior have I chosen to believe I am on my own in this struggle? 

When was the last time I considered my need for true Joy rather than happiness?
 

Thursday: Study Joy

My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
For he has looked on the 
humble estate of his servant. 
For behold, from now on all generations
Will call me blessed; 
For he who is mighty has done
Great things for me,
And holy is his name.
— Luke 1:46-49

Oh Mary and her eternal perspective. 

Her song of praise, sung in the privacy of her elderly cousin's home, sends shivers down my spine. These words are not a result of rehearsing, or camera-ready tips given her. They display a heart rejoicing in genuine praise. I have no doubt that in her life, thoughts like these came in waves. She had so much to navigate. The ridicule she received must have been overwhelming at times- seen as a disgrace, a sinner, her worth in society bankrupt.

What is true today was true then: we are much more likely to believe the lies of the powerful than the truth from the powerless. Mary was powerless in the eyes of now nameless religious men. But God made Mary’s story great. She held in her heart the truth that God saw her and chose her, even if no one believed her. He established a future for her that would long surpass the piety of those who deemed her worthless. 

Faith produces joy.

Mary experienced the joy of her promised future because she genuinely believed it. That is faith: assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1) While God’s calling in her life would bring her down a path of suffering, her spirit rejoiced in God her Savior because she had faith that he would follow through on his promises.

Do you really believe that Jesus came to save you even though the road ahead seems dangerous? Do you believe that if you follow him to the cross that you will follow him in his resurrection? In his inheritance? 

Jesus, the Light of the World, is our source of joy. We, like Mary, can choose to rejoice in God our Savior, rather than wallow in the world’s assesment of our worth. Christmas is a great time to be “bombarded” with the call to rejoice, because it is a season to remember that God looked upon our humble estate, and gave our lives meaning. For generations and generations we will be called “blessed” because God, in his great love, chose us as worthy. He came to live in our story (birth, worthlessness, death) so that we might live in his story (rebirth, importance, eternal life). Jesus changed our forecast from stormclouds of destruction, to the warmth and brightness of the sun. While that joy is not fully realized, if you have faith that he will do as he has said, you can experience the joy he offers now.

As we approach this Sunday, a day set aside to thank Jesus for turning our sorrow into joy, reflect on his promises.

Write down the promises you long for most (not a personal wishlist, but promises made by God) and repent of your unbelief.

And his mercy is for those who fear him
From generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
He has scattered the proud in the
Thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
And exalted those of humble estate;
He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
In remembrance of his mercy,
As he spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and to his offspring forever.
— Luke 1:50-55

Wednesday: Observe Joy

Joy, not grit, is the hallmark of holy obedience. We need to be lighthearted in what we do to avoid taking ourselves too seriously. It is a cheerful revolt against self and pride. Our work is jubilant, carefree, merry. Utter abandonment to God is done freely and with celebration. And so I urge you to enjoy this ministry of self-surrender. Don’t push too hard. Hold this work lightly, joyfully.
— Richard J. Foster, Freedom of Simplicity: Finding Harmony in a Complex World

In Freedom of Simplicity, Richard Foster describes holy obedience. Known for his many writings on Christian discipline, his rich theology of intentional living inspires many Christians in their discipleship and growth. When I imagine someone who is known for discipline, merriment doesn't come to mind. However, when I consider my role-models in the faith, there is a cheerfulness about them that attracts me. This difference of demeanor seems to be the marker of those who are working from a place of need and those moved by desire. 

Contemplate his statement: 

What stands out to you? Do you tend to be a lighthearted believer or does seriousness come more natural? Would you describe your work as jubilant, carefree, or merry?  

Reflect on this Advent season and your preparation for Christmas day:

As you seek holy obedience, do you tend to rely on joy or grit?

What does it mean in your life, and in this season, to cheerfully revolt against self and pride? 

Reflect on your relationship with The Light:

What would it mean to freely throw open the doors to your life and let the Light in gladly? 

What stops you from surrendering fully to the life-giving Light? 
 

Tuesday: Pray for Joy

Lord our Light, 

The pressure of the season surrounds us. Our facades of fake joy crumble as we experience the stress that comes with our cultural expectations. We try and try and try to find joy apart from you, to find identity in ourselves and not in You. We concern ourselves with the shadows as you beckon us towards the light. 

Have mercy on us, Lord. 

When we run towards performance and pageantry, help us to seek knownness, vulnerability, and intimacy. Show us how to trust that the Light is far greater than the dark and guide us away from the shadows.   

You are the Light of the world. Help us to believe and live out that truth in this Advent season. May the joy of your eternal gladness forever be proclaimed, even in the midst of darkness. To you be all glory and honor and praise. 

Amen.