2020 Advent Devotional: Week One - Hope
This will be an Advent season like no other we’ve had. The COVID-19 pandemic will not only prevent us from worshipping in our sanctuary, it will prevent many of us from gathering with our extended families, enjoying holiday parties, caroling in the neighborhood and many other things that we look forward to this time of year.
But remember the first chapter of the Gospel of John which promises that “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” God is not deterred by disease or disruption. Advent will still happen. A child will still be born for us.
How can we receive this news with open hearts this year?
This booklet may help--especially if you establish a little ritual for reading and reflecting on it each day. You can read the entry for each day on your own or with others in your household. Make the moment special by lighting a candle--perhaps the candle in an Advent wreath--and taking some time to be quiet before or after you read.
Then why not reach out? Send a note or give a call to the person who wrote the day’s entry and tell them what you appreciate about their reflection. And share the passage with a friend who you think might appreciate it--each week’s reflections will also be posted on our website and our Facebook page to make sharing even easier.
With some intention, we can make Advent 2020 a time of reflection and preparation to receive the gifts of God, even this year.
Yours, Pastor Heather Kirk-Davidoff
Sunday, November 29, 2020
Pastor Heather Kirk-Davidoff
From the Ending to the Beginning
The Advent season doesn’t begin with stories of the birth of Jesus. It begins, instead, with stories of the end of the world as we know it. These scriptures can be hard to hear, but it helps to remember that new things often begin with the ending of something that has come before it. Not everything in the world is open to change and growth. Just like the shell around a seed, some things need to be broken in order for something new to begin.
Let these questions guide your reflections before or after worship today:
Where do you look for God’s activity in your life? Are you more attentive to endings or to beginnings?
Where do you see endings in the world around you?
Could these endings actually be a place of Advent?
Monday, November 30, 2020
Reflection of the day:
Is HOPE a noun or a highly active verb?
Think about it. So frequently in casual conversation, in all places in our culture you hear people use the word HOPE. “I HOPE it doesn’t rain on the church picnic.” “HOPE you have a safe trip!” “We all HOPE your mother’s health improves.” Makes HOPE seem a tad passive, right?
Teachers plan and deliver lessons and activities for their class with the expectation that the students will learn and benefit. Our hypothetical teacher may never see the effect of her efforts. During planting season farmers put thousands of seeds in the ground anticipating a productive growing season and a bountiful harvest. Trusting that the rain and sun God provides will reward their labor. A parent strives to create a safe home for their child, encourages eating nutritious foods, seeks quality educational experiences and offers worthwhile activities as their child matures. That is not passive HOPE.
HOPE is a companion on our life-long journey. We people of faith participate as a committed believer, partners, with God to live into an amazing vision of God’s kingdom on earth.
Right now, today, we can share words of HOPE, perform deeds of goodwill, offer gestures of God’s kindness and love. We may not see, nor do we expect to see the result of our expressions. That is HOPE! Place your HOPE in God.
I believe HOPE is a highly active verb!
Awesome God, when we weep and worry, struggle and lament, be near to give all of us HOPE. Amen.
Tuesday, December 1, 2020
Reflection of the day:
Some of us felt optimism over the summer as we adjusted to the strange rhythm that is 2020. But when the leaves turned and fell, the warnings became more alarming. We, as a nation and a world, were reminded daily that we were in for a long, hard winter. As COVID numbers rise, even the young and healthy wonder, like the Psalmist did, “what is the measure of my days?” The days grow shorter and the wind blows colder. We brace ourselves for more isolation, anxiety, frustration and fear.
And we wait. We wait for good news. We wait for a vaccine, for a change in the numbers, a cure, different leadership, for something, anything, to break the tension or move the needle. But will any of those things help? Like the Psalmist, our prayers are as unsure and tentative as our fears. “O Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in you.”
This long hard winter is the time and the space into which the hope of Jesus manifested itself. Like a baby, that hope is fragile and unknown. That is the hope we marvel at and bring gifts to, the hope that we each parent and nurture and hide from Pharaoh, giving it time to flourish. All God asks of us in this season is to quiet our hearts and minds, and to let that hope grow.
Dear Lord, create a space among our fears and worries to tend to hope and to carry it out of the shadows. Amen.
Wednesday, December 2
Reflection of the day:
In Christ, there is always hope. Sometimes life seems very tough. Sometimes you find yourself in a situation where you feel there is no way out. But if you think about some of the Bible stories--like the story of Job, one of my favorite stories--then you can think about how God works. God doesn’t promise a smooth road in life, but He does promise He will walk along with us, holding our hands, as we walk on the rocky road. Sometimes when I think there is no way, I think about God’s promise that he would be with us through everything we face. That can give me strength.
Just thinking about God gives you hope in anything you do.
My sister, Joann, has inflammatory breast cancer. It is very, very serious and she is trying to leave Liberia to get treatment in India. Unfortunately, she has run into many obstacles along the way. But in all her struggle, in all her pain, she keeps having hope. She has faith that she will be healed. That makes me want to try to help her. Even the Health Minister told me, there’s no way to help your sister right now. I told her thanks for her advice, but I still want to try because of my sister’s faith. If it doesn’t work out, that means that God’s will is better than my will. I have hope that God will see her through.
Hold my hand, Lord. My hope is in you. Amen.
Thursday, December 3
Margaret Elbow Conn
Reflection of the day:
My friends know I am not comfortable around animals but still they share stories of being nudged out of bed in the morning by a beloved dog needing to go outside. For me HOPE provides that nudge to leave my comfy bed and address the day ahead.
Like many others I have lost loved ones and might describe my life now as “solitary confinement” although I prefer “healthy hermit”. Hiding away and doing nothing could be an easy path but instead I choose to follow the direction in Psalm 43 to “hope in God.” However, I don’t think God intends us to HOPE in a vacuum. I believe in order to realize what HOPE offers, we must stay engaged in the world even if it is via TV and ZOOM right now. We must eat, sleep and exercise to stay well. We must reach out to others to help them along. And, with HOPE, I embrace the possibility there is a new, positive, happy chapter ahead for my life, for Westminster Presbyterian Church, for the United States and for our global world. I trust you, my brothers and sisters in Christ, to share this HOPE.
Dear Lord, as you sustain us with HOPE, we pray you will give us strength and courage to translate HOPE into action. Amen.
Friday, December 4, 2020
Reflection of the day:
Psalm 62 gives us an important message on how to help us strengthen our faith. It says, “I depend on God alone. I put my hope in him.” If we “Trust in God”, “he is our refuge.”
When I was departing for Westminster’s first effort to visit Ghana, I remember the departing message from our pastor: “You will find that trips to Africa will change your life.” They did change mine. For the first time I met people who talked openly about putting their hope in God. I had the opportunity to watch how they responded to situations that confront them. By watching my friends from Ghana, I have learned to say, “Here I am Lord” when others are facing crises.
A clear example of how collective Church action brings hope to others is found in the virtual African Family Night video first aired on November 7th on Westminster’s YouTube channel (the video is still available for viewing). Mary Freeman, one of 11 children orphaned by Ebola and now fully funded by Westminster at the Hope Mission School, said to us on that video, “I remember 2014 when my people were gone.” Westminster “came in and gave us hope.” “We are still alive.” In 2014 six members of Mary’s family died from Ebola in a single week. Mary and 10 other orphans have been fully supported by Westminster since the Ebola crisis.
Mary’s statements had a real impact on me. I had a flashback to a Mission Committee meeting in the Welles Room when there were some strong voices urging Westminster to make a long-term commitment to support children orphaned by Ebola in Liberia and Sierra Leone. I was initially reluctant to announce that I would vote “yes”, because of the size of the financial commitment that we were making. Then a new thought dominated my thinking: These children desperately need us. We must have hope that we will be able to annually raise enough money to support these children. I did vote for the proposal and am very grateful for the strong annual support that the Church has received for these orphans.
Gracious God, I pray that I always try to say, “Here, I am, Lord,” when the Church has an opportunity to hold out a helping hand to those who face hopelessness. Amen.
Saturday, December 5, 2020
Reflection of the day:
We find ourselves in a liminal space. A liminal space is a space between spaces. It is a transition from when we have left something behind but are not fully in something else.
What if we look at this time with hope? This can be a quieting time to examine our lives and to grow our faith. Throughout history there have been times like this, whether it is 40 days in the wilderness or 40 years wandering the desert. The hard times come, and better times follow. In my life I can look back on difficult times. During them, I asked “why?” Years later I look back and say, “Now I know why.”
Hope takes us through uncertain times. It gives us strength to get through the darkest times when we wait “more than watchmen wait for the morning” as our scripture states. In the night there is nothing we can do to hurry daylight. In times of darkness, we find it difficult to wait. We have hope that the light will come, and it always does. As with generations before us, there are the familiar things in the past and unknown things in our future.
Have faith and hope for our future. God is with us, in all times, and will see us through them.
Dear God, please be with us in these uncertain times. We ask to feel your unwavering love and strength. We know you have a plan for each of us. Help us to have hope and know that you are with us at all times. In Jesus name we ask this. Amen.