Hey! It isn’t Christmas yet

The most counter cultural thing a Christian can do today is to refuse the drive to Christmas. If you watched the Macy’s parade on Thanksgiving, Santa came riding in at the end of the parade with the bold symbolic statement that Christmas has come. The commercialization of Christmas is obvious. “Santa has come, the Christmas season is here, so come shop with us.”
The last thing our culture wants to do in this season is wait. We don’t want to hear about voices crying out in the wilderness, of a young woman wrestling with what the child she carries means for her and the world, or even about some long off time when Christ will come again. With all the decorations and advertisements we are collectively saying “Get on it with it.” Just like a child unable to control the excitement, who treasure hunts around the house for gifts, we want the celebration now. None of this waiting business.
Yet, in truth, this is Advent. It is not Christmas. We are waiting. We are preparing.
To observe Advent is to push back on our culture of consumption and immediacy. To observe Advent is THE Christian practice for our time. For in Advent we acknowledge the delay. We recall the Hebrew people waiting for the Promised One. And we proclaim the fact that we are liminal people. We live in the now-and-not-yet-ness of our faith. Jesus has come, and we wait for him to come again.
We wait.
Waiting is so uncomfortable because we have to acknowledge both our longing and our lacking. When we confront our longing, we realize that there is something we lack. That is very definition of desire. We want what we don’t have. And when we see our longing played out each Sunday of Advent we are confronted with the very reality that we are not yet in the fullness of God’s embrace. In a culture that celebrates immediacy, consumption, and satisfaction, such a realization is nearly anathema.
In Advent we embody both our longing and come to terms with the very distance between us and God. Christians today have bought into our culture of immediacy, preaching a Gospel of God’s full presence. To even hold the season and practice of Advent counters the way we have tried to share the Good News. Advent, then, chastens us as followers of Jesus by reminding us that God is both with us and yet before us. It forces us to accept the distance between us and Christ. Christ is not “in us” but coming. Christ is not here, but is calling us into the fullness of faith.
At the close of his beautiful memoir, The Seven Story Mountain, Thomas Merton put words to this paradox.
“I no longer desire to see anything that implies a distance between You and me: and if I stand back and consider myself and You as if something had passed between us, from me to You, I will inevitably see the gap between us and remember the distance between us.
My God, it is that gap and that distance which will kill me.”
To the world around us, living in want and wait does seem like death. Why wait for anything when everything is right here? Why wallow in longing when satisfaction is so easy? And for the dominant theology of our time, preparing for the coming of Christ contradicts the very immanence we preach. Why prepare for Christ when we have Christ now, in our hearts, and will go to heaven when we die? Why all this business of rough places smoothed, valleys lifted up, mountains made low, the overthrow of the powerful, and the proud humbled?
It is Advent sisters and brothers, and there is no greater resistance than to hold this season of waiting. Advent is counter cultural.

Star rising

AWAKE_ADVENT_4Matthew 2:1-12

Question for reflection:

What signs of Jesus have stood out for you during this Advent and Christmas season? Where have you witnessed the Light of Christ disrupting the darkness and shining brightly?


Prayer for the day:

Once again we have traveled the road of God’s promise, arriving at a simple manger occupied by an infant child. This, this is the light of the world? Thank you, God, for humble beginnings through simple servants. We marvel at your creativity and courage, entering this world as a human. We see Jesus, and we give you praise! Amen.

~ Jonathan Shively, Executive Director, Congregational Life Ministries

Congregational Life Ministries of the Church of the Brethren is offering these simple prayers and questions in connection to this year’s Advent Devotional written by Sandy Bosserman, a former district executive and an ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren. (Available from Brethren Press in print and E-Book formats). Join us as we look and listen for the coming of the Word through the reading of scripture, Sandy’s reflections, times of prayer, and conversations on this blog.

Last word and testament

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Luke 6:27-31

Question for reflection:

Where do you see conflict in your life today? What would a loving response look like?


Prayer for the day:

God, enemies are real. Help me to respond with an honest and grace-filled love to those who injure me. Show me when I make others into the enemy, and turn my violence and resentment into patient perseverance. Let Christ-like love penetrate the world through me. Amen.

~ Jonathan Shively, Executive Director, Congregational Life Ministries

Congregational Life Ministries of the Church of the Brethren is offering these simple prayers and questions in connection to this year’s Advent Devotional written by Sandy Bosserman, a former district executive and an ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren. (Available from Brethren Press in print and E-Book formats). Join us as we look and listen for the coming of the Word through the reading of scripture, Sandy’s reflections, times of prayer, and conversations on this blog.

Lord willin’

AWAKE_ADVENT_4James 4:11-17

Question for reflection:

How do you listen for God’s will? What do you hear God saying to you for this day?


Prayer for the day:

God, I want to trust your intentions for my life. My desire is to live a life consistent with your will. But sometimes it is hard to hear, to know, and to do. Forgive me for my sin. Grant me grace to be better today. Amen.

~ Jonathan Shively, Executive Director, Congregational Life Ministries

Congregational Life Ministries of the Church of the Brethren is offering these simple prayers and questions in connection to this year’s Advent Devotional written by Sandy Bosserman, a former district executive and an ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren. (Available from Brethren Press in print and E-Book formats). Join us as we look and listen for the coming of the Word through the reading of scripture, Sandy’s reflections, times of prayer, and conversations on this blog.

Cost of complacency

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Proverbs 1:20-33

Question for reflection:

Where in your life are you resisting God through complacency? What change might you initiate to proactively mend and make amends, with God and with those around you?


Prayer for the day:

Give me ears to hear your direction, God, and then grant me courage to live beyond my complacency. Make me wise enough to discern your ways and follow your advice. Thank you for the safety of your promises. Amen.

~ Jonathan Shively, Executive Director, Congregational Life Ministries

Congregational Life Ministries of the Church of the Brethren is offering these simple prayers and questions in connection to this year’s Advent Devotional written by Sandy Bosserman, a former district executive and an ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren. (Available from Brethren Press in print and E-Book formats). Join us as we look and listen for the coming of the Word through the reading of scripture, Sandy’s reflections, times of prayer, and conversations on this blog.

Life at hard labor

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James 3:13-18

Question for reflection:
Who in your life do you need to treat with more dignity and respect? What specific steps could you take to build up the community through that relationship?


Prayer for the day:

God, help me to be a better friend to _________. Make me gentle and reasonable. I want to overflow with blessings and mercy. Give me strength to do the hard work of community, with dignity and humility befitting a follower of Jesus. Amen.

 

~ Jonathan Shively, Executive Director, Congregational Life Ministries

Congregational Life Ministries of the Church of the Brethren is offering these simple prayers and questions in connection to this year’s Advent Devotional written by Sandy Bosserman, a former district executive and an ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren. (Available from Brethren Press in print and E-Book formats). Join us as we look and listen for the coming of the Word through the reading of scripture, Sandy’s reflections, times of prayer, and conversations on this blog.

Year of our Lord, 2015

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Ecclesiastes 3:1-15

Question for reflection:
To “finish well” implies a conscious decision to use the resources of our lives by offering the very best gifts and talents to glorify God in ministry and service to all people. What can you offer in the New Year that is the very best of who you are for God’s glory? Imagine how your life might add to the “Life-Light” of Christ. If there is a season for everything, what would keep you from sharing your best efforts for achieving Christ’s peace right here and now?


Prayer for the day:

God,
We stand at life’s window, pondering last year’s events. We are grateful for each breath; for each loved one near and far; and for your son, the Savior. We also wonder what else could have been done to bring about different outcomes for people enduring the troubled and violent situations here and around the world. Open our eyes and hearts God. We seek the guidance and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, so that we might be empowered to consistently offer the best our lives have to offer in ministry and service to all humankind and creation.
AMEN

~ Stanley J. Noffsinger, General Secretary

Congregational Life Ministries of the Church of the Brethren is offering these simple prayers and questions in connection to this year’s Advent Devotional written by Sandy Bosserman, a former district executive and an ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren. (Available from Brethren Press in print and E-Book formats). Join us as we look and listen for the coming of the Word through the reading of scripture, Sandy’s reflections, times of prayer, and conversations on this blog.

Light encounter

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John 8:12-19

Question for reflection:

When have you been surprised by the simplicity of God’s work?


Prayer for the day:

O God, in whom no darkness prevails, bring to light all the places in which we hide from your grace. Empower us as those who carry your light into the world whose darkness too easily overcomes. Refine us with the heat of your loving light that we may live anew as citizens of the Kingdom of Light. Amen

 ~ Josh Brockway, Director for Spiritual Life and Discipleship

Congregational Life Ministries of the Church of the Brethren is offering these simple prayers and questions in connection to this year’s Advent Devotional written by Sandy Bosserman, a former district executive and ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren. (Available from Brethren Press in print and E-Book formats). Join us as we look and listen for the coming of the Word through the reading of scripture, Sandy’s reflections, times of prayer, and conversations on this blog.

Worth being awake

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2 Peter 3:8-13

Question for reflection:
What awakens you to the wonder, joy and presence of God’s new life in this Holy Season? How are you witnessing the “special things” of God?


Prayer for the day:

God of new life, open our hearts and minds to your holy presence as we wait and watch for your new heaven and new earth. Make us ever alert and responsive to the cries of the poor, the oppressed, victims of violence, and all who long for your way of peace and righteousness.  In the name of the Prince of Peace, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

~ Mary Jo Flory-Steury, Associate General Secretary

Congregational Life Ministries of the Church of the Brethren is offering these simple prayers and questions in connection to this year’s Advent Devotional written by Sandy Bosserman, a former district executive and an ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren. (Available from Brethren Press in print and E-Book formats). Join us as we look and listen for the coming of the Word through the reading of scripture, Sandy’s reflections, times of prayer, and conversations on this blog.

Since you’re already awake

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Isaiah 49:5-15

Question for reflection:
How will you share God’s goodness and mercy today? Think of one concrete action through which you can be gracious on God’s behalf to someone who is not related to you – and the watch for an opportunity to do it!

Prayer for the day:
Merciful God, whose goodness follows us all the days of our lives, soften our hearts towards others so that we may remind them of you through our actions. In the name and example of Jesus we pray, amen.

~ Becky Ullom Naugle, Director for Youth and Young Adult Ministry

Congregational Life Ministries of the Church of the Brethren is offering these simple prayers and questions in connection to this year’s Advent Devotional written by Sandy Bosserman, a former district executive and ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren. (Available from Brethren Press in print and E-Book formats). Join us as we look and listen for the coming of the Word