Seeing Was Believing

Hearing the Christmas story read from the Gospel According to Luke is essential to the celebration, in my opinion. Matthew also records the events, but not in the lush detail that Luke used. And if your earliest memory of this passage comes from Charlie Brown, it was Luke that Linus read as he stood on the school stage. It resonates. It reveals. It will preach.

Because the passage is so familiar, I wondered what it would sound like in an unusual translation. Typically, we hear some variety of New Revised Standard, New International Version, New King James, or the original King James. As you know, I advocate for reading several translations of a passage to fill in gaps of nuance and meaning.

I realized that I had never read it in the Message, which I appreciate for its use of contemporary dialect. I eschew The Message for traditional writings (like the Psalms) so I thought I would see if there are any undiscovered nuggets in Luke 2. Peterson did not disappoint.

Luke 2 (The Message)

1-5 About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant.

6-7 While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel.

As I read the word “hostel” I immediately thought of the word “hostile”. Indeed, Christ was born into a hostile world. Born of unwed parents in a society that would instantly reject them, born to save a world that would basically ignore his gift, born in a government system that oppressed and persecuted his people, Jesus was born in a hostile, if not a hostel.

An Event for Everyone

8-12 There were shepherds camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”

An event for everyone! Be mindful that “everyone” includes the people who don’t look, act, think, or live like you. Everyone, worldwide.

13-14 At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:

Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.

15-18 As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the shepherds talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the shepherds were impressed.

Seeing was believing.

This is why it is imperative for modern day Christ followers to live out the Gospel in their behaviors, attitudes, and deeds. How can we hope that people will see Jesus if not in what we do and say? How can we expect the good news to spread if we don’t live it out in front of people? When we cut people off on the highway in our BMWs with the ichthus icon on the trunk, giving them the finger when they honk in protest, do we really think that Christ will be seen and believed in this life? You’re the ONLY Jesus some people will ever see. Act like it.

19-20 Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The shepherds returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!

As we roll into this new year, may we be like Mary and keep Jesus’ teachings dear and deep within us. And then may we be like the shepherds and let loose, praising God for everything!

My prayer for you today is that you have a deep, meaningful, and life-changing 2023.

Believing is seeing. Go, and tell!

Merry Christmas by Michelle Robertson

Happy Boxing Day!

The day after Christmas is known as Boxing Day in the British Commonwealth. It is said to originate from two different sources. One legend says that Boxing Day was a day when the servants of Lords received a box of small gifts and Christmas dinner leftovers. They were given the day off to travel to their homes with said boxes. Another tradition suggests that it is a reference to the Feast of St. Stephen, whose feast day falls on December 26th. Stephen was one of the men selected in the Book of Acts to ensure that the distribution of alms was done equitably, including the Greek widows who were being neglected. On the Feast of St. Stephen, clergymen take the alms that were dropped in boxes at the church on Christmas Day and deliver them to the poor in the village.

In both cases, Boxing Day is a celebration of offering charity to the marginalized.

What a lovely reminder as we bridge Christmas and New Year’s Day. Those who have received much are invited to give much.

Luke 14 (The Message)

12-14 Then he turned to the host. “The next time you put on a dinner, don’t just invite your friends and family and rich neighbors, the kind of people who will return the favor. Invite some people who never get invited out, the misfits from the wrong side of the tracks. You’ll be—and experience—a blessing. They won’t be able to return the favor, but the favor will be returned—oh, how it will be returned! —at the resurrection of God’s people.”

In this parable, Jesus seems to speak right into the type of Christmas that many of us experienced. We gave to our friends. We supped with our family. We received riches. We offered things to people who are able to offer things back.

But the way to be a blessing on Boxing Day is to box something up and give it to someone who had a scant or non-existent Christmas.

Your community has homeless people living in it. Your community has families who rely on assistance to make the most meager ends meet. There is need where you live.

What will you do on this Boxing Day?

God calls us to share what we have. Dig deep. Open up your eyes, your heart, and your wallet. Christmastide has only just begun, and it is always better to give than to receive. And this kind of favor is returned at the resurrection. You get to be a blessing today, and you will be blessed by your giving. 

Happy Boxing Day! 

Better to Give by Becca Ziegler

David’s Psalm

Today’s writing is a real treat. My friend David Jones is a retired United Methodist pastor in the North Georgia conference, my home base. He is an excellent communicator of the Gospel, and I know you will love this story that I am sharing with his permission. Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night!

“This is my favorite Christmas story. A true and personal story. Christmas Eve 10 years ago I was the pastor of Glenn Memorial UMC on the Emory University campus. Between our 2 services I walked over to Emory Hospital to visit Ted and Cindy Runyon, long-time members at Glenn.

The hospital was quiet, as I’ve always found hospitals to be on Christmas Eve. The only people in a hospital on Christmas Eve are the staff and the patients who absolutely have to be there. Ted had to be there. He’d had emergency open heart surgery the day before.

When Cindy and I walked into Ted’s room in the ICU a nurse was checking Ted’s vital signs. Then he walked across the room and started writing on Ted’s chart.

Cindy and I stood by Ted’s bed for a brief visit. While it’s always difficult to leave someone in the hospital overnight it’s especially hard when they’re in Intensive Care. All the more so on Christmas Eve.

When the nurse came back over to check Ted’s monitors I said, “I hope you’ll take good care of this man. He was my teacher when I was in seminary here at Emory. Now it’s my privilege be his pastor.”

The nurse smiled. I don’t remember what he said. I do remember he said it with a Jamaican accent. Then he went back across the room and started writing on Ted’s chart again.

Ted and Cindy and I talked for a few more minutes, then I said, “Before I go I’d like for us to have a Christmas Eve prayer together.” The 3 of us held hands. As we finished the prayer and said, “Amen,” we heard another “Amen” from across the room, spoken quietly in a Jamaican accent.

I looked across the room and said, “You’re a believer.” “Yes,” the nurse said, “I am a Christian.” I said, “My name is David. What’s yours?” He said, “My name is Emmanuel. I will be here with your friend all through the night.”

At that moment the Christmas story hit me as never before. The angel said, “You shall call him ‘Emmanuel,’ which means ‘God with us.’” Every day. Every night. Wherever we are. Whatever is happening to us. In our growing and our becoming. In our rejoicing and our weeping. In our struggling and our loving. In our living and our dying. God with us.”

Oh, the wonder of it all!”

Matthew 1 (Common English Bible)

23 Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son,
And they will call him, Emmanuel.

Indeed. Oh, the wonder of it all. I pray you find your own Emmanuel tonight.

God With Us by Michelle Robertson

Just Around the Corner

The road to the little island where I live is a curvy mess right now. A two-year road improvement project is underway, and while we will all appreciate the raising of the surface that will mitigate some of our flooding issues and with wider shoulders that will protect bikes and walkers, living with the project is a challenge. We are forced down to one lane in as many as three different spots to accommodate the heavy equipment and the diligent workers. Human and mechanical stop/slow indicators are the norm now, and you never know how many you will encounter on a trip. This road is the only way off the island, so many of our conversations with neighbors sound like accounts of a great gambling adventure where we brag about not having to stop at all or only having to stop once. Having to stop three times can make you late for appointments … just ask my church Administrative Assistant, who also lives back here. When I get to the office and am late for a meeting, the first thing we do is compare our journeys.

The most challenging part isn’t even the added time it takes to complete to your journey. It is not knowing what is around the next corner. Because of the number of blind curves in the road, you can find yourself sailing along at the high speed of 35MPH only to have to slam your brakes on when you realize the cars in your lane are standing still at the stop sign, which you couldn’t see due to the curve.

That is exactly where we are in this last week of Advent. Christmas is literally around the corner, and here we sit at a stop sign waiting for the signal to change.

Some of have arrived at this stop sign in a moment of panic, realizing that we aren’t entirely ready for what is to come in less than a week. The panic shopping has begun as we search through Amazon to find what can be delivered before Sunday. The aisles of the local stores are crowded with people like us who, for whatever reason, got behind in our preparations and thought we had more time. Others choose to try to find last-minutes sales and they have waited here on purpose.

We have talked a lot this Advent about the season of waiting for the first coming as a preparation for anticipating the Second Coming. This is a particular emphasis of this lectionary cycle. Cycle A does not allow us to linger lovingly at the baby’s manger but continues to push us out of the creche to confront the reality of the Second Coming. We breeze though the nativity with a nod to its participants on the way to what lies beyond the crucifixion. We are invited to consider the end of this means.

Titus pulls us in that direction. What is hidden around the Christmas Day curve is the reason for Christ’s arrival on earth. We are reminded of the things that he purchased on the cross: forgiveness for all, salvation for all, a changed life while we wait, and the excited expectation of the Second Coming:

Titus 2 (The Message)

11-14 God’s readiness to give and forgive is now public. Salvation’s available for everyone! We’re being shown how to turn our backs on a godless, indulgent life, and how to take on a God-filled, God-honoring life. This new life is starting right now, and is whetting our appetites for the glorious day when our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, appears.

While you linger in your festive living room, sitting by the lit Christmas tree and go over your plans for Christmas Day one more time, remember what he came. Jesus came to be a light in the darkness of this world, He came to conquer it and lead us to a future with hope. He came in humility but will return in glory. He was born to save souls and will return to resurrect the Body. He lived a life judged by men but will come back to judge mankind. His crucifixion will be completed with his coronation when all the world will proclaim him king.

He offered himself as a sacrifice to free us from a dark, rebellious life into this good, pure life, making us a people he can be proud of, energetic in goodness.

So be energetic in goodness as you wait. Everything we have longed for is just around the corner.

The Forest for the Trees by Mary Anne Mong

Here’s Johnny!

People of a certain age will get that reference … you younger folks may need to look it up!

The arrival of John the Baptizer on the scene is always so abrupt. I think this is fitting for a man whose entire raison d’etra was to be abrupt. He liked getting up in people’s grill about their sin and apostasy. His lifestyle was weird, his appearance was startling, and his message was unapologetically austere and forthright: “Change your life. God’s kingdom is HERE.”

Matthew 3 (The Message)

1-2 While Jesus was living in the Galilean hills, John, called “the Baptizer,” was preaching in the desert country of Judea. His message was simple and austere, like his desert surroundings: “Change your life. God’s kingdom is here.”

John and his message were authorized by Isaiah’s prophecy:

Thunder in the desert!
Prepare for God’s arrival!
Make the road smooth and straight!

4-6 John dressed in a camel-hair habit tied at the waist by a leather strap. He lived on a diet of locusts and wild field honey. People poured out of Jerusalem, Judea, and the Jordanian countryside to hear and see him in action. There at the Jordan River those who came to confess their sins were baptized into a changed life.

His presentation attracted folks from far and wide as though the circus had come to town. Yet when they heard him, the Holy Spirit convicted them about their sin and their need for redemption. John baptized them into a “changed life.”

7-10 When John realized that a lot of Pharisees and Sadducees were showing up for a baptismal experience because it was becoming the popular thing to do, he exploded: “Brood of snakes! What do you think you’re doing slithering down here to the river? Do you think a little water on your snakeskins is going to make any difference? It’s your life that must change, not your skin! And don’t think you can pull rank by claiming Abraham as father. Being a descendant of Abraham is neither here nor there. Descendants of Abraham are a dime a dozen. What counts is your life. Is it green and flourishing? Because if it’s deadwood, it goes on the fire.

Like Jesus, John had no trouble calling out the Pharisees and Sadducees for their hypocrisy. What a brood of snakes they were, showing up and showing off with very little to show for it. But in fairness, we have pews filled with people who are the same. Churches are filled with well-dressed folks who ignore the gospel message of God’s love for all people … folks who dress the part but are empty and hollow inside. John calls us all out when we put on airs while neglecting the poor and needy in our community. If our doors aren’t open to the marginalized in our society, we might as well close them. Our lives must change, not our seasonal wardrobes.

11-12 “I’m baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life. The real action comes next: The main character in this drama—compared to him I’m a mere stagehand—will ignite the kingdom life within you, a fire within you, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He’s going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.”

Are you baptized? Do you lead and live a changed life? Jesus came to light a fire in you for the things he is passionate about. And if we turn our backs on that, he will clean house and bounce us to the curb. Everything true will remain before God. May we be found to be people whose lives are green and flourishing in our zeal to live Gospel lives and invite others to come in.

Seasonal Finery by Kathy Schumacher

A Shoot from the Stump

We are moving into the Advent scriptures that focus on the peace on earth that will prevail when the Messiah comes to reign. I have always loved reading Isaiah in preparation for Christmas. I can hear Handel’s Messiah in his beautiful words of prophecy. In Chapter 11, Isaiah described what will happen to “the proud trees that God will chop down” which he had warned about in Chapter 10. After taking Jerusalem down to the stump, God will send a savior who will lead Israel back to prosperity after Assyria has done its damage. He foretells that a shoot will grow up from the stump of Jesse:

Isaiah 11 (Common English Bible)

A shoot will grow up from the stump of Jesse;
    a branch will sprout from his roots.
The Lord’s spirit will rest upon him,
    a spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    a spirit of planning and strength,
    a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord.

Jesse, of course, was the father of King David. Jesus, of course, was from the line of David and so our New Testament glasses allow us to read this as a prophecy about Jesus’ coming. Seeing Jesus through this lens, look how perfectly Isaiah describes our Savior:

He will delight in fearing the Lord.
He won’t judge by appearances,
    nor decide by hearsay.
He will judge the needy with righteousness,
    and decide with equity for those who suffer in the land.
He will strike the violent with the rod of his mouth;
    by the breath of his lips he will kill the wicked.
Righteousness will be the belt around his hips,
    and faithfulness the belt around his waist.

Indeed, Jesus suffered no fools. When we focus on the gentle baby cooing in the manger, we forget about the radical Jesus who threw money lenders from the Temple steps and delivered many a harsh word against sin and unrighteous behavior. This picture of Jesus reminds us that he won’t play favorites with the rich and that equity for all will be the rule of law. He will be adorned in righteousness and faithfulness.

What will you be wearing this Christmas? As you adorn yourself in party clothes and that special Christmas Eve ensemble, will you also wear the clothes of your Savior and put on righteousness and faithfulness? Are you working for equity among all of God’s people?

Isaiah then turned to the “peace on earth” theme and wrote about the most extreme opposites getting along together. Do you suppose there will be a time when Democrats and Republicans will act this way as well?

The wolf will live with the lamb,
    and the leopard will lie down with the young goat;
    the calf and the young lion will feed together,
    and a little child will lead them.
The cow and the bear will graze.
    Their young will lie down together,
    and a lion will eat straw like an ox.
A nursing child will play over the snake’s hole;
    toddlers will reach right over the serpent’s den.
They won’t harm or destroy anywhere on my holy mountain.
    The earth will surely be filled with the knowledge of the Lord,
    just as the water covers the sea.

Someday, SOME day, we will all be under Jesus’ reign and our differences won’t matter. We will all seek Jesus with our whole hearts, and this stump of Jesse born from a trunk that was cut down due to its arrogance will flourish and grow to lead us as a nation of peoples. And that place will be glorious.

10 On that day, the root of Jesse will stand as a signal to the peoples. The nations will seek him out, and his dwelling will be glorious.

Oh, come, oh come Emmanuel!

A Branch Will Grow by Becca Ziegler

A Stunning Anthem

Our first Sunday in Advent at church was a blessing of fine music. We are the happy recipients of an incredible pianist/organist whose unsurpassed keyboard talents set the tone for high and holy worship with the first strike of the keys. I nearly wept after her prelude, which wove familiar hymns such as “Let All Mortal Flesh be Silent” with “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” in intricate chords and dramatic bass notes. I felt that in that singular moment, Christmas had blossomed in my heart.

Music can do that to you.

We were designed for worship and praise. As God knit us together in the womb, he had a plan for his people to be able to come and adore him in harmonies that have only been heard by the angels. I suppose that is why Christmas carols and Christmas songs are so important to this season. They set the stage for the advent of Christ in our hearts and draw us to that angel choir that hovered above his manger at his birth, singing their glorious “alleluias.” God invites us to sing along.

In the fifteenth chapter of Romans, Paul is reflecting on why Jesus came and how we should respond to him. Not surprisingly, he says that we should strive for a maturity of personal harmony with one another that will make us into a choir … “not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem.” What a beautiful image!

Romans 15 (The Message)

3-6 That’s exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but waded right in and helped out. “I took on the troubles of the troubled,” is the way Scripture puts it. Even if it was written in Scripture long ago, you can be sure it’s written for us. God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever he will do next.

May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as well as Jesus gets along with us all. Then we’ll be a choir—not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God and Father of our Master Jesus!

If we are to be a choir of worshippers who live in harmony, we have a few things to do. First, we must stay true to God’s purposes for his creation, which is to live in peace together. That may mean laying down old grudges, prejudices, and bigotry. Next, we need to invite outsiders in and welcome the insiders to return. As the “choir,” we can be integral in reaching out to welcome one another in love and acceptance for all.

7-13 So reach out and welcome one another to God’s glory. Jesus did it; now you do it! Jesus, staying true to God’s purposes, reached out in a special way to the Jewish insiders so that the old ancestral promises would come true for them. As a result, the non-Jewish outsiders have been able to experience mercy and to show appreciation to God. Just think of all the Scriptures that will come true in what we do! For instance:

Then I’ll join outsiders in a hymn-sing;
I’ll sing to your name!

And this one:

Outsiders and insiders, rejoice together!

And again:

People of all nations, celebrate God!
All colors and races, give hearty praise!

Ask yourself if you are adding to the harmony of God’s worship or detracting from it. Have you welcomed the stranger into your heart and your home? Are you able to include every aspect of God’s diverse and beautiful world in your worship? Can you invite your neighbor to church this season?

And Isaiah’s word:

There’s the root of our ancestor Jesse,
    breaking through the earth and growing tree tall,
Tall enough for everyone everywhere to see and take hope!

Oh! May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!

I pray that each one of us will do all that we can to share the joy, the peace, and the live-giving energy of the Holy Spirit to an outsider who desperately needs it. Look around … they are in our midst. May we bring the brimming-over of hope to the world this season.

May the God of Green Hope Bring You Joy by Kathy Schumacher

Bleak Midwinter

Raise your hand if you are among the unfortunate ones who have a December birthday. Those of you born in the other eleven months don’t have a clue. Who else gets “combination birthday/Christmas presents?” Nope, that is reserved for us December babies. I can give you a list of such combo-presents: every bike I ever received, a fancy cowgirl outfit (with boots), a black and white TV for my teenage bedroom … yes, my parents would do the combo thing when they were debating a somewhat expensive present that they were struggling to afford. Bless them!!

On the other hand, I do share a birthday with Walt Disney. I found that out when I was in High School and have always loved it. It makes me happy to share a birthday with a man of his creative genius and genuine expertise in storytelling. Happy birthday to us, Walt!

The most important birthday in December of course is Jesus’ birthday. I had a childhood practice of either staying up past midnight on Christmas Eve or waking up early on Christmas morning to sing Happy Birthday to Jesus before the day began. I would look out the window from my bed at 5 Chatham Rd. and see the streetlight shining in the dark and sing to baby Jesus. More often than not, I could see the snow falling on Christmas morning in that light, and snow on Christmas was EVERYTHING. This is possibly the only benefit of growing up in New Jersey.

I wonder what Christmas would look like if we had kept it as just a birthday party for Jesus, instead of the giftpalooza-partypalooza-spendtoomuchpalooza-shoptillyoudroppalooza that it has become. Imagine it: we would wake up, talk about how wonderful Jesus is, plan a nice meal, bake a birthday cake, have the celebration, blow out the candles, and call it a day. And it would truly be just about him.

How can we make Christmas just about Jesus again?

First, we can care about the things that he cares about. The widow, the orphan, the children crying for their parents at our country’s border…he cares about that. Giving to the needy and sharing our abundance is something he cares about. He cares about the people who are ill, in hospital beds, or nursing homes. He cares about things that are lost: souls, marriages, teenagers, car keys, runaway pets, and your will to resist temptation. He cares about the planet his father created.

He cares about YOU.

Micah 6:8 Amplified Bible (AMP)

8 He has told you, O man, what is good.

And what does the Lord require of you

Except to be just, and to love and to diligently practice kindness (compassion),

And to walk humbly with your God, setting aside any overblown sense of 

importance or self-righteousness?

This Christmas, let us focus on getting Jesus the perfect birthday present. Let us dive deep into his word and grow closer in our relationship with him. Let us stand up for justice, diligently practice kindness, love one another, offer compassion, and be humble before him. Or, as Christina Rossetti once wrote:

What can I give Him,

Poor as I am?

If I were a Shepherd

I would bring a lamb;

If I were a Wise Man

I would do my part,

Yet what I can I give Him,

Give my heart. (In the Bleak Midwinter)

Happy Birthday, Jesus!

In the Bleak Midwinter by Mary Anne Mong

Reverse the Flow

Our text from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah comes from a time of high anxiety, impatience, and discouragement for God’s people. There was tremendous political infighting. Corruption was widespread. Powerful Assyria had gathered up smaller nations and was headed toward Jerusalem with an eye toward conquering them. Alternate religions infiltrated into the people’s minds, and they turned away from God. In the midst of this crisis, Isaiah had a vision of a united, harmonious Israel, and peace on earth.

Isaiah 2 

The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

In days to come
    the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains
    and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.

3     Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
    and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction
    and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

As we begin the season of Advent, we can easily put on our New Testament glasses and see Jesus in this prophecy. He came to bring peace, unity, and harmony to our hearts. In his second coming, he will bring these things to the world when he reigns from Jerusalem as the Prince of Peace. The second coming is what we are waiting for as we dwell in the marvel of his first coming on earth on that first Christmas morning. Advent is thus a time to reflect, rejoice, and make spiritual preparations for the birth of the Messiah again in our hearts. As the carol says, “Be born in us today!”

Yet many of us will be overwhelmed by the flow of secular Christmas and spend this time overspending, overeating, overindulging, and going over the top in ways that we will pay for all next year. It will take months to shed that credit card debt and those 3-5 pounds many of us will gain between Thanksgiving and New Year. And for what? Is that why Jesus came?

I propose that we work hard to reverse the flow of commercialism and dwell in the light of Christ instead.

A friend of mine told me a remarkable story about her trip to Fort Myers last week to help people whose houses were damaged by Hurricane Nicole. The team was ripping out drywall and wet insulation from a home and the homeowner showed her something amazing. When the house was built, the homeowners went through the house with their kids and wrote Scriptures on the walls. When the flood waters came raging through the house, the water stopped just short of the place on the walls where the Scriptures were written. God’s word remained.

This is a powerful reminder for us today about the power that God’s word has over the flow of destructive forces in our lives. As we spend this Advent season trying to reverse the flow of secular behavior, may we remember to stay anchored in God’s word, which is immovable and unchangeable. If we had to choose just one scripture for this Advent waiting place, it should be Psalm 46: “Be still, and know that I am God.”

This Advent, may we commit to being still in God’s presence!

Be Born in Us Today by Michelle Robertson

Ain’t Gonna StudyWar No More

Today’s devotional begins in an unusual place. We find ourselves in Nat King Cole’s marvelous song, “Ain’t Gonna Study War No More.”

Gonna lay down my sword and shield
Down by the riverside
Down by the riverside
Down by the riverside
Gonna lay down my sword and shield
Down by the riverside
Ain’t gonna study war no more.


I ain’t gonna study war no more,
I ain’t gonna study war no more,
Study war no more.
I ain’t gonna study war no more,
I ain’t gonna study war no more,
Study war no more.

The origin of this spiritual comes from our Advent lectionary passage found in Isaiah 2. This prophetic word points toward a time when peace and harmony will rule the earth with the coming Messiah. People will take their weapons of war and turn them into instruments of harvest, as the world moves from violence against one another to growing and sustaining one another:

Isaiah 2 (Common English Bible)

He shall judge between the nations
    and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation;
    neither shall they learn war any more.

In this season of reflection and waiting, I suggest we work toward finding inner peace. We won’t have outer peace without it and having peace in our hearts is something we can do now as we wait for Christ to return. Do you have peace? If not, try these things:

1. Rejoice in the Lord. 

Phil. 4:4 says to rejoice in the Lord always… not just rejoice occasionally. Not just rejoice when something great happens but rejoice in the Lord always. Making the choice to rejoice in every circumstance brings peace to your soul.

2. React with graciousness. 

Be gentle and forbearing… with everyone. Scripture teaches us that “A gentle word turns away wrath.” Paul says to let your words be seasoned with salt and designed to build up, not to cut down, designed to develop, not destroy, and designed to help, not to hurt. When your graciousness is evident to all, you not only experience peace, but you also give it to others.

  1. Rest in the Lord.

Jesus said: “I will never leave you nor forsake you!” Remembering that Jesus is with you and that you abide in Him will help you rest in Him and experience his peace when you have none. 

  1. Reach up to God in prayer.

Let prayer be your first response, not your last resort. Paul says: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 6:7)

5. Reflect on good things. 

The battle for peace is primarily fought in the mind. We must take every thought captive to Christ by meditating on God’s Word. In Phil. 4, Paul wrote: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” 

6. Repent and receive forgiveness.

The Holy Spirit will not let us be at peace when we are holding on to sin, so we must confess, repent, and receive God’s forgiveness. When we confess and repent of our sins, we find an inner peace.

Advent is a season of light. May we walk in the light of Christ as we wait!

O house of Jacob,
    come, let us walk
in the light of the Lord!

Let There Be Peace on Earth by Michelle Robertson