Advent Reflections and Prayers

Welcome to Advent at Wesley! Throughout the season our students will be offering reflections and prayers here.  We hope you will check back often and make these moments part of your Advent observance this year.  Blessings for this journey towards Christmas.

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12/25/10

Luke 2: 1-20
The Birth of Jesus

1In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2(This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3And everyone went to his own town to register.
4So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
The Shepherds and the Angels


8And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14″Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

This is it.  This is what we have been waiting for.  Our advent scriptures and reflections have guided us to this point.  Today we celebrate Christmas and the birth of Jesus Christ.  We are reminded of God sending us His Son and the promise of Him coming again.  A lot of family and Christmas memories came to mind when I read over this scripture.  My grandma always reads this story before grace for Christmas brunch.  Be sure to enjoy today (and really all of winter break) by spending time with family and friends and resting before the next semester.

Something else that came to mind was a song our music team sang at the last informal worship.  Actually this song has been stuck in my head ever since that service because (1) I love this song and Relient K and (2) our music team is awesome!!  Being that I was given the Christmas reflection it also seems appropriate so enjoy!

I Celebrate the Day by Relient K

Dear Heavenly Father,

Thank you for this day.  Thank you for sending us Your Son.  Thank you for letting us celebrate this with family and friends.  Help us to remember this day as a joyful end to Advent and a reminder of what is still coming.  Help us to be ever mindful of the Advent spirit of expectantly waiting and to carry it with us beyond just the Advent season.  Thank you for the many blessings in our lives.  Please continue to keep us safe during our winter break so that we may be safely reunited in the New Year.

In Your Son’s holy and precious name,

Amen.

Merry Christmas!!

Also, a little belated now that Advent is ending but still worth sharing.

Rob Bell (not the politician..the Nooma guy) wrote an article on the Advent Season: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/deeper-walk/features/23640-why-advent

– Melissa Holmes

1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. 4 So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.

5 For to which of the angels did God ever say,

“You are my Son;
today I have become your Father”[a]?

Or again,

“I will be his Father,
and he will be my Son”[b]?

6 And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says,

“Let all God’s angels worship him.”[c]

7 In speaking of the angels he says,

“He makes his angels spirits,
and his servants flames of fire.”[d]

8 But about the Son he says,

“Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever;
a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.
9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions
by anointing you with the oil of joy.”[e]

10 He also says,

“In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
11 They will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
12 You will roll them up like a robe;
like a garment they will be changed.
But you remain the same,
and your years will never end.”[f]

God is constant. In a world full of uncertainty and instability, we can still find hope and goodness in God’s love. What better day to remember this than today, Christmas, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ? He is “the radiance of God’s glory” who “[sustains] all things.” Isn’t it amazing to think that no matter what happens, we can always find comfort and acceptance in Jesus’s loving arms? And yet today we are also reminded of God’s humbleness, of He who sent His most powerful son to Earth in the form of a tiny baby. God works in mysterious ways, doesn’t He?

I particularly love the end of verse 9: we have been “[anointed] … with the oil of joy.” This passage describes Jesus in some awe-inspiring and perhaps slightly frightening ways. God “laid the foundations of the earth,” an immense accomplishment, and yet we approach one another with love rather than fear in our hearts, above all else. We take joy in His deeds. There are so many apparent contradictions that when put together make perfect sense in Christ. The master of the universe manifested in a small infant; the all-powerful Creator loving and shaping each of us individually, giving us our joy.

On this Christmas Day, I celebrate the happiness God has given us at the Wesley Foundation, by bringing us together in a community of faith. Our fellowship is fun-loving and full of praise; we strengthen and uplift one another. We have all been anointed with the oil of joy. The wait is over. Yes, we get to open presents and enjoy a Christmas feast, perhaps play in the snow or (in my case) bask in the sun. But we also celebrate the greatest joy of all – the joy of Christ’s coming and God’s everlasting love. How great is our God indeed! Merry Christmas, everyone!

Dear Precious God,

We praise Your name on this holy day. Thank you for Your steadfast love, Your guiding hand, and Your son, Jesus Christ. We are constantly amazed by Your mysterious works. Anoint us with the oil of joy today and every day, and let us never forget the great blessings You have given us.

In Christ’s name, on Christ’s day, Amen
– Aida Barnes

12/24/10

Titus 2:  11-14

11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Writing the Advent reflection for Christmas Eve is a lot of pressure.  It’s the day before Christmas, probably the last day that people will actually check their email before the day after Christmas.  Also, compared to the reflections from the beginning of Advent, I’ve had a whole lot longer to write the reflection, which also means I should have had a whole lot longer time to reflect on the passage.  These are the thoughts I had when beginning to write my reflection (not quite at the last minute, but close enough).  Then, I read the passage only to find that the pressure is almost completely negated by the fact that the passage I had to reflect on announces the Messiah has come!  What wonderful news I get to share with everyone!  All the worrying or preparation that I felt I needed to go through just canceled out by the fact that a little baby had finally come to provide salvation to all men.

This passage ensures us, that while God wants us to rid ourselves of the “ungodliness and worldly passions” that try to distract us from what is truly great, when we fall short He will be there to redeem us from our shortcomings.  This is an especially wonderful message when we begin to realize that the end of Advent is here and we’ve run out of time for preparing and must be ready for Christ to arrive and claim us as his own.  The time has come that we must celebrate the coming of the Messiah!  Merry Christmas everyone!

Most wonderful and loving Father, It’s nearly impossible for us to be fully prepared for the gift that you’ve given us in Jesus, but despite our shortcomings, you continue to claim us as your own.  Help us to understand the reasons for your Son’s birth as we celebrate with our families this Christmas and help us to live “upright and godly” lives as your grace teaches us to.  In your Son’s precious and Holy name, Amen.

– Annie Bailey

12/21/10

Genesis 21:1-21

The Birth of Isaac

1 Now the LORD was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah what he had promised. 2 Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. 3 Abraham gave the name Isaac[a] to the son Sarah bore him. 4 When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him. 5 Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.

6 Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.” 7 And she added, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”

Hagar and Ishmael Sent Away

8 The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. 9 But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, 10 and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”

11 The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. 12 But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring[b] will be reckoned. 13 I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.”

14 Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba.

15 When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she[c] began to sob.

17 God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. 18 Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”

19 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.

20 God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. 21 While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.

This passage comes in two parts.  The first part is about the birth of Isaac. The parallels to this birth and the birth of Jesus are numerous.  Both births are considered miraculous, though for different reasons. Both children represent the deliverance of God’s promise to his people.  Both children come to be important for future generations, Isaac being one of the forefathers of the nation of Israel and Jesus the prophesied savior. Throughout the Bible there are events that appear to repeat themselves, this being one of them.

The second part tells how Abraham cast out Hagar and her son because Sarah did not like Ishmael pestering Isaac. Abraham does not like this because God says it is okay. This reminds us that the people of Israel will be persecuted, and those who do so must be separated so those others may flourish. Now God loves us all, even those who persecute so He does not want to do this, but He must separate the wicked from the good. As soon as Abraham has God’s approval, he does His will without hesitation. Many times those who God calls upon are reluctant and do some soul searching before they obey.

However in addition to exiling Ishmael and Hagar from Abraham, God also makes Ishmael a great nation and protects them both. This past Saturday I was able to see my friend’s headstone who committed suicide last year. One of my friends there spoke about how he was also contemplating suicide, but the sight of the pain and love that his death caused made him think twice. He is now enjoying life more than he ever has, which was of course great to hear. We can never see/ understand God’s plan. As the saying goes, the Lord works in mysterious ways.  Sometimes tragedy can lead to something good, for God opens our eyes to our wounds and our remedies.

Great God, help us to remember your promises to us, the promise of your son Jesus Christ. Keep us steady and remind us to trust in You, for You do not lead us astray, even if we can’t always see the purpose.  Amen

– Stephen Sholden

12/20/10

Psalm 42

1 As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, my God.
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?
3 My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”
4 These things I remember
as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
under the protection of the Mighty One
with shouts of joy and praise
among the festive throng.

5 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

6 My soul is downcast within me;
therefore I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan,
the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.
7 Deep calls to deep
in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
have swept over me.

8 By day the LORD directs his love,
at night his song is with me—
a prayer to the God of my life.

9 I say to God my Rock,
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
oppressed by the enemy?”
10 My bones suffer mortal agony
as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”

11 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

I was thinking about Mary and the annunciation the other day.  How is it that an angel, an angel that scared the crap out of everyone else he visited, hardly seemed to faze Mary?  And how on earth did she let him get away without more information?  If I were Mary, my response would be something along the lines of, “Are you [kidding] me?!  Okay Gabriel, let’s just say I believe you, but are you planning on telling my dad that this wasn’t Joseph’s doing?  Because I REALLY don’t think he’ll believe me.  And what are your thoughts on baby formula?  Cloth or disposable diapers?  Now if he has brown eyes, is that from my side of the family, or His?…”

That’s why I like this Psalm.  The writer asks a lot of questions, like me.  And who doesn’t have a lot of questions this time of year?  In the midst of finals, travel, shopping and family dynamics, sometimes I wonder like the Psalmist, “When can I go and meet with God?”  The Psalmist does not have a direct answer, but he does say, “Put your hope in God” just like Mary who said “I am the Lord’s servant.”  Now I ask, what better a place to put your hope than this baby?

Dear God,

This Advent, help us to forget the questions and focus on the hope You bring to us through Your son.  Amen.

Have a merry Christmas, everyone!  – Nina Ruhter

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

“1Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock!  You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth 2before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh.  Stir up your might, and come to save us! 3Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved. 4O Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers? 5You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure.  6You make us the scorn of our neighbors; our enemies laugh among themselves.  7Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved… 17But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself. 18Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name. 19Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.”

This passage is rich with the message that we are in need of God’s help.  As we await the coming of the Lord during the Advent season, we must remember the importance of God’s presence in our lives.  We have discussed how waiting is not a passive process, and how we should be preparing ourselves for Christ during the advent season.  This passage reminds us that part of that preparation is realizing how much we need God’s grace and asking him for this gift.  I especially like versus 7 and 19, “Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.”

Dear Lord, We thank you for all the blessings in our lives, and ask you to continue to remind us how much we need your presence in our lives.  We pray from Psalm 80 saying, restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.  Amen.

– Helen Ross

12/17/10

Zechariah 8:1-17

1 Then the word of the LORD of hosts came, saying, 2 “Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘I am exceedingly jealous for Zion, yes, with great wrath I am jealous for her.’ 3 “Thus says the LORD, ‘I will return to Zion and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. Then Jerusalem will be called the City of Truth, and the mountain of the LORD of hosts will be called the Holy Mountain.’ 4 “Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Old men and old women will again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each man with his staff in his hand because of age . 5 ‘And the streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls playing in its streets.’ 6 “Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘If it is too difficult in the sight of the remnant of this people in those days, will it also be too difficult in My sight ?’ declares the LORD of hosts. 7 “Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Behold, I am going to save My people from the land of the east and from the land of the west ; 8 and I will bring them back and they will live in the midst of Jerusalem ; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God in truth and righteousness.’ 9 “Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Let your hands be strong, you who are listening in these days to these words from the mouth of the prophets, those who spoke in the day that the foundation of the house of the LORD of hosts was laid, to the end that the temple might be built. 10 ‘For before those days there was no wage for man or any wage for animal ; and for him who went out or came in there was no peace because of his enemies, and I set all men one against another. 11 ‘But now I will not treat the remnant of this people as in the former days,’ declares the LORD of hosts. 12 ‘For there will be peace for the seed : the vine will yield its fruit, the land will yield its produce and the heavens will give their dew ; and I will cause the remnant of this people to inherit all these things.

13 ‘It will come about that just as you were a curse among the nations, O house of Judah and house of Israel, so I will save you that you may become a blessing. Do not fear ; let your hands be strong.’ 14 “For thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Just as I purposed to do harm to you when your fathers provoked Me to wrath,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘and I have not relented, 15 so I have again purposed in these days to do good to Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. Do not fear ! 16 ‘These are the things which you should do : speak the truth to one another ; judge with truth and judgment for peace in your gates. 17 ‘Also let none of you devise evil in your heart against another, and do not love perjury ; for all these are what I hate,’ declares the LORD.”

Well, this is heaven, isn’t it? I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how many friends I have. It is a wonderful thought to dwell on, but it unfortunately leads to thoughts about the friends I feel that I have lost.  As a 5-year-old, the number of people that I knew was appropriate for the amount of time I had to share with others. As I grow, I find that the number of wonderful people that I meet continues to increase, but there are still only 24 hours in a day and 7 days in a week. Inevitably, I fall out of touch with people that I used to have such a wonderful relationship with.  In this passage, Gods promises that one day, he will gather us all together again. As we wait for our Savior, we can anticipate the fulfillment of this prophesy and the coming of peace, too.

Dad,

You really have it all worked out, and I know that deep down. Help me to remember this fact whenever I start to let life get me down, and know that I have more than just hope for peace in the world – I have a promise from you. And help me to find the strength and wisdom to share this peace with everyone I know, not in the future, but all of the time.

I love you with all of my heart. Amen.

– Kaitlyn Bixel

12/14/10

Ezekiel 47: 1-12

1 Then he brought me back to the door of the temple; and behold, water was issuing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east); and the water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar.

2 Then he brought me out by way of the north gate, and led me round on the outside to the outer gate, that faces toward the east; and the water was coming out on the south side.

3 Going on eastward with a line in his hand, the man measured a thousand cubits, and then led me through the water; and it was ankle-deep.

4 Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water; and it was knee-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water; and it was up to the loins.

5 Again he measured a thousand, and it was a river that I could not pass through, for the water had risen; it was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be passed through.

6 And he said to me, “Son of man, have you seen this?” Then he led me back along the bank of the river.

7 As I went back, I saw upon the bank of the river very many trees on the one side and on the other.

8 And he said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the stagnant waters of the sea, the water will become fresh.

9 And wherever the river goes every living creature which swarms will live, and there will be very many fish; for this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes.

10 Fishermen will stand beside the sea; from Engedi to Eneglaim it will be a place for the spreading of nets; its fish will be of very many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea.

11 But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt.

12 And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.”

God has a long history living among God’s people.  Ezekiel wrote during the Babylonian exile when the people called Israel were cut off from home and temple and they needed reminding that they were not also cut off from God.  They needed to know that God was still with them.  They needed a vision.

So Ezekiel told them about the new temple where God would dwell again right in the midst of God’s people.  Worship and right relationships would flow like water right from the threshold of that dwelling place.  The fresh lively worship-water would flow all the way to the Dead Sea, enabling even that salty lifeless place to teem with fish and life.  All along this river of life trees would grow and give the people good food to eat and healing leaves.  It probably wasn’t what the exiles were picturing but can you imagine how this rich vision would have fed them?

This is still a good vision for us, making our way through the season of Advent.  While we wait for the God who is with us, Emmanuel, we remember the surprise of this gift.  Who was expecting a naked, vulnerable baby?  Who knew Christ the King would show up like that?  With our ancestors in the faith we wonder at the God who is so persistently, intimately, incarnate-ly with us – and who confounds our expectations and our small dreams and inadequate visions.  We wonder at the reign of Christ, that new creation in which the first will be last and the meek will inherit the earth.  We wonder at that splashing noise beneath our feet, that soggy feeling in our socks, as we leave worship and flow out into the life of the world, amazed at the power of that Life to resurrect even the dead places in us.

Come, Lord Jesus, be born in me.  Transform my life into a gushing stream of worship-water.  Carry me along on your currents into the places I would not choose for myself, knowing that you always go with me.  Give me the courage to share the vision and to speak life into the face of death.  Bless me as I move through Advent and make me ready for your next surprise.  Amen.

– Deborah Lewis

12/12/10

James 5: 7-10
“7 Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. 8 You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. 9 Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!  10 Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.”

Just as the farmer in the passage does not sit idly while waiting for the “autumn and spring rains,” God desires that we also make good use of the waiting periods of our lives.  Unlike many passages about waiting, this one warns against a pitfall that humans are very prone to during times of waiting.  The passage directly heeds that we not complain about others in our own frustration.  Then to suggest a positive response to these waiting times, the passage encourages that we identify spiritual role models to emulate to develop patience in suffering.   Overall this advice shows that we should focus on developing spiritual discipline during frustrating times of waiting, rather than complaining about the situation, which is often natural to us.
Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank you for the periods of our lives that develop our patience most, and for the people you place in our lives that show us what spiritual discipline looks like.  Even though we find those times frustrating, help us to remember that they are important for our spiritual journey.  Lord, fill us with your joy and peace as we wait for the end of final exams and prepare for the remembrance of Jesus’ coming to earth.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.
– Lacey Williams

Luke 1: 47-55 (New International Version)

47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”

“The Mighty One has done great things for me”  Very nice!  I don’t care how many exams or papers or projects or crazy roommates or aversions to the cold you have, life is good.  Period.  God has done great things for me, for you, for all of us.  We go to UVA!  Just think, even if you get terrible grades on all your exams, and graduate last in your class, you still graduate from the University of Virginia, and that’s better than being the valedictorian at VT any day…I mean…well yea, that’s pretty much what I mean.  God has done great things for us.
As I went on to read more in this passage, I see that God scatters those who are prideful…oops.  But on that note, just realize that everything awesome about us is not because of us, it’s because of God! It does not matter how many all nighters we pull or how far in advance we start preparing, without God’s gifts, we would still fail.  That’s what I think we need to keep in mind as we prepare for Christmas: all our gifts are from God.  Rather than ignoring God in exchange for more time to relentlessly power through another hundred pages of that book we didn’t read a month ago we should realize that without God, we wouldn’t even be able to read…so yea, he deserves at least a little bit of our attention and thanks.  If we trust in him, he will be merciful, just as this passage reminds us he was to his servant, Israel.

So yea, as we go about the things we think are most important these next few days, stop, breathe, and realize that God is still the most important; all other things are void without him.  As we think about these gifts God has given us, realize that the greatest gift of all was his Son, and that’s what we’re celebrating in just a couple weeks.  God is great.  Stop. Breathe. Pray. Thank Him.

Our Father in Heaven,  Bless us this day as we struggle with the stress associated with this time of the year for students, but more importantly help us to remember you and the amazing gifts you have given us and continue to give us every day, from the ink in our pens to your holy son, Jesus. You are amazing. Thank you, Lord.  Amen.
– Matthew Hunt

Psalm 21

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

1 The king rejoices in your strength, LORD.
How great is his joy in the victories you give!

2 You have granted him his heart’s desire
and have not withheld the request of his lips.[b]
3 You came to greet him with rich blessings
and placed a crown of pure gold on his head.
4 He asked you for life, and you gave it to him—
length of days, for ever and ever.
5 Through the victories you gave, his glory is great;
you have bestowed on him splendor and majesty.
6 Surely you have granted him unending blessings
and made him glad with the joy of your presence.
7 For the king trusts in the LORD;
through the unfailing love of the Most High
he will not be shaken.

8 Your hand will lay hold on all your enemies;
your right hand will seize your foes.
9 When you appear for battle,
you will burn them up as in a blazing furnace.
The LORD will swallow them up in his wrath,
and his fire will consume them.
10 You will destroy their descendants from the earth,
their posterity from mankind.
11 Though they plot evil against you
and devise wicked schemes, they cannot succeed.
12 You will make them turn their backs
when you aim at them with drawn bow.

13 Be exalted in your strength, LORD;
we will sing and praise your might.

It is hard to let your mind be free from the 10 pages you still have to write, the argument you still have to defend, the exams you still have to take, the library you still have yet to leave…yep, I’m sure you get the picture. But what if we allowed ourselves even just a few minutes to remember that ‘through the unfailing love of the Most High/ [we] will not be shaken’? We are far from alone. As Christians, we can look to God in comfort in these trying moments. It is easy to get caught up in everything that we have left to do in this last week but what if we look at these times as opportunities to be brought closer to God?

The Psalm ends with my favorite verse of the passage: “Be exalted, O Lord, in your strength; we will sing and praise your might.” I know for me, singing and music are one of the powerful reminders of His love and strength in my life. I thought of these songs when reading this Psalm. Try to just listen to them while studying or any other time and remind yourself of the amazing strength of our Lord and how He is always with us.

Option #1:

His Eye is On the Sparrow-

I got a little too excited and found a few versions I like. Look at the words– they are lovely. They are at the bottom of this email.

a)  This one is Marvin Gaye, in a nice classic, R&B or slow gospel style. Mm. Real good.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=unjrQPGkx90&feature=related

b)  This one is another Marvin Gaye but more of a swing quartet feel. Same song though and just as good so it’s just what you’re feelin’. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NnLzqZFODjs&feature=fvw

c)  This is Lauryn Hill, soul singin’ it up. Also great. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_eAboY5zfYE

Option #2

I just got distracted by YouTube and thought this was just too good not to pass on as well. We all could use a gospel reminder of Happy Days!

a) A Sister Act II classic…oh man, at 1:30, I get chills and may throw my hands up in the air because it’s so good. Check it out. You won’t be able to sit still J http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r_ni4LEA_nI&feature=related oh happy

Verse 1:

Why should I feel discouraged,

Why should the shadows come,

Why should my heart feel lonely

And long for Heav’n and home,

When Jesus is my portion?

A constant Friend is He:

His eye is on the sparrow,

And I know He watches over me;

His eye is on the sparrow,

And I know He watches me.

Refrain:

I sing because I’m happy,

I sing because I’m free,

His eye is on the sparrow,

And I know He watches me (He watches me)

His eye is on the sparrow

And I know he watches (I know he watches)

(I know he watches me)

I sing because I’m happy,

I sing because I’m free,

His eye is on the sparrow,

And I know He watches me (He watches me)

His eye is on the sparrow

And I know he watches me (He watches me)

He watches me (I know he watches me)

Verse 2:

“Let not your heart be troubled,”

His tender word I hear,

And resting on His goodness,

I lose my doubts and fears;

Though by the path He leadeth

But one step I may see:

His eye is on the sparrow,

And I know He watches me;

His eye is on the sparrow,

And I know He watches me.

Verse 3:

Whenever I am tempted,

Whenever clouds arise,

When songs give place to sighing,

When hope within me dies,

I draw the closer to Him,

From care He sets me free:

His eye is on the sparrow,

And I know He cares for me;

His eye is on the sparrow,

And I know He cares for me.

Dear God, help us to take a moment to praise you in this storm. Help us to take a moment to feel your ever comforting presence even amidst these trying times. You are always with us and are watching and caring for us every day. Advent should be a time of waiting but we are running in tons of directions just trying to get through exams. Help us be reminded of You every step of the way as we await the coming of Your Son.  Amen.

– Natalie Roper

12/8/10

Matthew 12:33-37

33 “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. 35 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. 36 But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

This scripture emphasizes the importance of speaking only words agreeable to God.  When reading this passage, I thought not only of the words we speak, but also of our actions.  Jesus was recognized by his actions: his compassion and love for others, and his commitment to God.  In this season of Advent, we should be ever mindful of the life Jesus lived.  We should be striving to speak words and do deeds pleasing to God.  God sent the perfect example of how to live in the form of God’s son, Jesus.  It is our responsibility to live our lives as close to God’s example for us as possible.

Dear God, Thank you for the gift of your son, and for this time of waiting to reflect on his impact in our lives.  Please help us to be constantly mindful of what you call us to do, and help us to reflect your love through our words and actions.  In Christ’s name, Amen.

– Becca Worley

12/7/10

Isaiah 40:1-11

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.  2Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.  3A voice of one calling: ‘In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.  4Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.  5And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.’  6A voice says ‘Cry out.’ And I said ‘What shall I cry?’ ‘All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field.  7The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass.  8The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.’  9You who bring good tidings to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, ‘Here is your God!’  10See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and his arm rules for him. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.  11He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those who have young.”

This scripture includes both words of comfort and a call for action. The first part emphasizes preparing for the arrival of the Lord, which is an important Advent theme. Although Advent is a season of waiting, the scripture calls us to make this waiting constructive by preparing ourselves and the world for the Lord’s coming. I liked the image of making a highway for God through the wilderness, because to me it means that in order for God to have a way in when He comes we need to clear a path through all of the distractions and “wilderness” in our lives. I think this is one of the key objectives of Advent – to make sure that when God comes we have given Him a way into ourselves and our lives.

The message I drew from verses 6-8 is that everything worldly will no longer matter when the Lord comes. It will wither and die, and only God’s word will remain, so we need to concentrate on maintaining our faith because it will be all that we have left. Verses 9-10 emphasize the “good tidings” which it is our job to spread throughout the Advent season, but which also bring us joy during the long period of waiting because we know what is to come. We have no reason to fear proclaiming the good news because the power of the Lord is with us. Verse 11 describes God as a shepherd, and says that when He comes He will gather us up and carry us close to His heart like lambs. I particularly liked that this section of scripture ended with that comfort, just as the season of Advent ends with joy and comfort when we receive the gift of God.

Dear God,

Thank you so much for your words of comfort during a long season of waiting. Help us to prepare a way for you through the wilderness in our lives so that we can fully receive the gift of you. Please also help us to concentrate on you and not get distracted by everything else that is going on right now and in the coming weeks. In these times of trial and stress, let us remember that you carry us close to your heart. Thank you for your many blessings. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

– Emily Gorman

12/5/10

1 In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea 2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”[a]

4 John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5 People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. 6 Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 “I baptize you with[b] water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with[c] the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

My friends, Advent (not only Deborah Lewis’ favorite liturgical season, but a time of “purposeful waiting”) is upon us and we should ask ourselves how we should prepare for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ!

One thing always hits me when I read this passage from Matthew: Here is John the Baptist, not your average Biblical male; he eats strange delicacies of candied locusts and is dressed in wild clothing. Why should people stop and listen to what this guy has to say?

We, like my buddy John, are all in the wilderness at this time of year, waiting patiently and actively for the coming message of Christ’s entry into the world, in the midst of our busy lives and the hustle and bustle of daily life.

So, how can we prepare the way of the year of the Lord? Well, first of all this Lord is described as coming to proclaim the year of the Lord, a year according to scripture where the captives will be set free, the broken-hearted will be restored and light will overcome darkness. While these acts seem far out of reach from us on Earth, we are blessed with the ability to proclaim this good news to each other and the community as John the Baptist did.

There will be obstacles along the way that halt our journey this Advent season, as were the Pharisees and the Sadducees. However, these obstacles will be overcome by the presence of Jesus Christ who brings the Holy Spirit and fire as he baptizes all, even those who once spoke against him, but have now found faith.

We make preparations for Christmas, but it seems we sometimes skip over the preparations for Advent. Advent has not even started yet and Christians are already trimming the tree, drinking Starbucks out of a holiday cup, singing “Away in a Manger” and baby Jesus hasn’t even gotten here yet. During Advent, we are preparing for preparation: we light candles each Sunday for four weeks as we anticipate what our Lord will bring upon his entry. We reflect on the past year, acknowledging what has come and what is to come by sharing in the scripture lessons of Mary and the angel’s visit to her in Matthew and Luke. Today we gather as a community with our brothers and sisters in Christ at Wesley Memorial to prepare ourselves together in worship.

This season is about purposeful waiting and John the Baptist informs us that this type of waiting is not easy, but with patience and active prayer and participation, Advent becomes truly Advent and not another Christmas.

Let’s pray: Gracious and loving Lord, be with us this Advent season as we draw closer to the coming of Your Son and as we prepare a path with purpose rather than haste. Help us accept each and every day these days of preparation; allow them to serve a meaning and not simply another mark off the calendar. We are hearers of Your Word and pray that You may bless us with the gifts that will guide us along the path of Advent as we learn to proclaim and to receive your Son. Let us pay attention to our spiritual journey as we anticipate a message in a way where we are not rushing to hear it, but refreshing our ideas of what this season of Advent is truly about. Praise God! Amen

– Ryan LaRock

12/4/10

Psalm 124
A song of ascents. Of David.

1 If the LORD had not been on our side—
let Israel say—
2 if the LORD had not been on our side
when people attacked us,
3 they would have swallowed us alive
when their anger flared against us;
4 the flood would have engulfed us,
the torrent would have swept over us,
5 the raging waters
would have swept us away.

6 Praise be to the LORD,
who has not let us be torn by their teeth.
7 We have escaped like a bird
from the fowler’s snare;
the snare has been broken,
and we have escaped.
8 Our help is in the name of the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

As we all add finishing touches to our semester-long projects and begin to study for
final exams, it is easy to understand how one could feel overwhelmed. And it is with
good reason, right? But one thing that I think we are all guilty of is believing that we
have to do everything on our own…not so fast, my friend. Just as God was with the
Israelites through all of the trials and tests mentioned in this passage, we have God
in our corner. There may be final exams that seem too intimidating to even face, but
we must believe that God is with us always. As we prepare for the coming of Jesus
we must always remember, as verse 8 states “Our help is in the name of the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth”.

Lord, let us praise you daily! For it is by your presence that we are able to persevere
through the many tests placed before us. Help to always remember that you are
with us and that our true well-being depends solely on your love, power and grace.
Amen

– Kemper Steffe

12/2/10

Isaiah 54:4-10
Do not be afraid – you will not be disgraced again; you will not be humiliated. You will forget your unfaithfulness as a young wife, and your desperate loneliness as a widow. Your Creator will be like a husband to you – the Lord Almighty is his name. The holy God of Israel will save you – he is the ruler of all the world. Israel, you are like a young wife, deserted by her husband and deeply distressed. But the Lord calls you back to him and says: “For one brief moment I left you; with deep love I will take you back. I turned away angry for only a moment, but I will show you my love forever.” So says the Lord who saves you. “In the time of Noah I promised never again to flood the earth. Now I promise not to be angry with you again; I will not reprimand or punish you. The mountains and hills may crumble, but my love for you will never end; I will keep forever my promise of peace.” So says the Lord who loves you.

All of us, no matter who we are, feel like not everything is quite right in our life. Whether we are lonely, overwhelmed, or stressed, there is always something to complain about, something to feel upset about, or something to feel angry about. We may feel abandoned by God at times, wondering, “Why would God let this happen to me?” or “Why can’t God fix what is wrong with my life?”

This verse begins with a very powerful message – “Do not be afraid.” God is comforting us; telling us not to worry about our lives. The verse goes on to explain that although we feel deserted and distressed, God will show his love to us forever. He promises us that he will not be angry or punish us for our wrongdoings. Whatever our past is, we are forgiven and forever loved.

My favorite part of this verse is “I will keep forever my promise of peace.” God’s promise of peace is the most comforting thing in the world. No matter what troubles may come upon us, we know that God will always be there, forever loving us. The fact that God loves us no matter what gives us peace – that in the end, all will be well.

In this stressful exam time, it is important to remember that it is advent, and Christmas is coming – the time where we celebrate that God sent his son down to the world to save us. Instead of focusing on the little things in life that get us down, we should instead focus on God’s huge gifts to us, his love, his forgiveness, and his promise of peace. This verse end with a very powerful message: “the Lord who loves you.” God loves us. What more do we want?

God, be with us during this stressful time in our lives. Even though we feel overwhelmed and little things can sometimes get us down, help us to look at the bigger picture and remember that you will forever love us, and that you “promise us peace.” In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

— Kirsten Rumsey

11/30/10

Genesis 6:11-22

11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. 12 God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. 13 So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. 14 So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. 15 This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high. 16 Make a roof for it, leaving below the roof an opening one cubit high all around. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks. 17 I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. 18 But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you. 19 You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. 20 Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. 21 You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them.”

22 Noah did everything just as God commanded him.

Imagine: You’ve been stuck on a boat with your family and a menagerie of various reeking animals for a month.  It seems as if someone is always seasick, and a rooster is constantly waking you up in the middle of the night.  One night you get up to see if there’s any way to make the rooster shut up.  Before you can find it, you see a cow staring at you gloomily and you suddenly think that after eating the same food every day for the past month you could really go for a steak right now…

This passage doesn’t do Noah justice.  We’ve all seen the toy arks with the happy animals and the smiling people and we forget how difficult it must have been for Noah to do “everything just as God commanded him.”  Despite these difficulties, Noah managed to make it 40 days without throwing a rooster overboard or eating a cow for dinner.  To quote a religious cliché, with God, all things are possible.  As you reflect on what God is calling you to do this Advent season, remember that no task is insurmountable.  This passage also reminds us about an important aspect of being called by God.  When we think of Advent, the first thing that comes into our minds is the word “waiting.”  This is probably not the best word to use, because we think of waiting as a time where you patiently sit around and do nothing.  This is not the kind of waiting that God wants from us.  Here, Noah doesn’t wait for the flood by sitting on a lawn chair and counting the things that he never got to do in life.  Instead, he listens to God and builds the ark.  This passage reminds us that our waiting during Advent should be an active waiting, rather than a passive waiting.

Dear God, please help us to actively wait for the coming of Jesus and to follow your direction, no matter how difficult of a task we may think it is. Amen.

— Thomas Roehl

11/28/10

Romans 13: 11-14

11 And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.

Christmas isn’t just for Christians anymore. It can be very easy to get caught up in all of the secularized traditions that accompany the holiday now. While these can be fun, they also can keep us from truly appreciating what this season means. Advent is a time of expectant waiting, and our thoughts should mainly be about Christ and the promise of his arrival. I don’t mean that we can’t enjoy the festivities, but we should take time to remember why we have Christmas in the first place. Reading this passage reminded me of some of the conversations we had during our breakfast with the Muslim Student Association during Ramadan. Their dedication to the season is very clear through their fasting, prayer, and readings. I have been wondering how we can similarly remind ourselves of the importance of Advent. What can we do throughout the season to keep in our thoughts on Christ? Where are we failing to do so? Is there some sort of practice that will help us in this respect? I’m sure the answers will vary for all of us, but my hope is that everyone will be able to take some time and remember what this season is truly about.

Dear God, help us to focus on you as we enter this holy season. Though we find ourselves in this world of distractions, help us to be not of this world, but of yours. Remind us to be patient and thoughtful as we prepare for the arrival of your son. In your name we pray. Amen.

-Matthew Henderson

Weekly Meeting Schedule
  • Sunday
    • 11:00 Morning Worship at Wesley Memorial UMC (next door)
    • 5:00 Sunday Night Worship
  • Tuesday
    • 6:00 Tuesday Night Dinner
    • 6:45 Forum — Discussion/speaker on a variety of faith topics and student life.
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