2015 Advent Devotional

Welcome to the main page of our 2015 Advent Devotional. You will find a digital version of the devotional for each day of Advent to the left. Simply click on the date to read, reflect, and pray.

We have also made the devotional available in a PDF format that you can download, print, or share. Click here to access the PDF version. If you would like a daily reminder to read it, you will find a link to each devotional posted daily on the CBF of Arkansas facebook page Please share this devotional with your friends, family, and church. 

You will find the daily devotionals were written from those across the CBF of Arkansas fellowship. We hope you enjoy this collection and please let us know how God has spoken to you this Advent season.

Leaning Forward:

Advent Reflections for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Arkansas

We invite you to join us for the next twenty-seven days on a devotional journey through this season of Advent. On the following pages you will find devotional reflections from brothers and sisters across the Arkansas fellowship. The diverse authors of these reflections will challenge us to lean forward this Advent season. We hope you will join us in leaning forward through prayer, reflection, and in the hope of what is to come in Christ.

“It is Advent: the time just before the adventure begins, when everybody is leaning forward to hear what will happen even though they already know what will happen and what will not happen, when they listen hard for meaning, their meaning, and begin to hear, only faintly at first, the beating of unseen wings.” (Frederick Buechner)

Please take some time each day to read the passages, consider the reflections and questions, and use the guide in your prayers. We are excited to see how the Spirit will lead our CBF of Arkansas community through this devotional guide. Feel free to share this collection with friends and family; we encourage you to forward the PDF file to friends and family, make copies to share with those in your church, or follow the devotional online (website: www.cbfar.org/advent-devotional or Facebook: www.facebook.com/cbfofarkansas).

You have an incredible opportunity to journey through this Advent season together with other CBF Arkansans. From Lake Village to Fayetteville, from Jonesboro to Hot Springs, and from Virginia to Slovakia our CBF of Arkansas community is well represented in this devotional. Let the adventure begin!

                                           Leaning forward with you,

                                           Megan J. Pike, CBFAR Assistant Coordinator

  

*Thank you to Calvary Baptist Church of Waco, Texas and Mary Alice Birdwhistell, Associate Pastor, for their resources to help make this devotional guide a reality for CBF of Arkansas.

November 29, Sunday                Waiting and Longing

Isaiah 60:19-22 (NRSV)

The sun shall no longer be your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you by night; but the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Your sun shall no more go down, or your moon withdraw itself; for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of mourning shall be ended. Your people shall all be righteous; they shall possess the land forever. They are the shoot that I planted, the work of my hands, so that I might be glorified. The least of them shall become a clan, and the smallest one a mighty nation; I am the Lord; in its time I will accomplish it quickly.

As a child, the time leading up to certain significant events seemed to take so long. Christmas took forever to get here, the anticipation of birthdays and their celebrations took an eternity, and it felt like the school year would never end.  Today, as an adult, I find myself longing for those days when life seemed more leisurely and significant events took longer to arrive.  The anticipation was exciting, thrilling, exhilarating!

Yet today, there are other things that take too long.

In a country ranked among the richest in the world, yet 46 million of our people live in poverty and over 20% of our children under 18 go to bed hungry,
How long, o Lord, shall we wait?

With 400,000 children in the USA in foster care, separated from parents and families in crisis, How long, o Lord, shall we wait?

With over 2 million adults incarcerated and the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world,
How long, o Lord, shall we wait?

With the increased bloodshed of our youth across all races and ethnic groups,
How long, o Lord, shall we wait?

With the alarming statistics of domestic violence against women and children ever increasing, How long, o Lord, shall we wait?

As the children of Israel waited and longed for deliverance from the oppressors thousands of years ago, we too wait and long. We rest, however, in the assurance that these days of mourning will come to an end. The Lord our God is our everlasting light and will bring it all to pass at the right time. 

Reflection
What are you doing to help God end the days of mourning while waiting and longing for the promised age of peace and joy?

Prayer
O Lord, we confess our anguish in the midst of so much human frailty and suffering. Yet, we hold fast to your promise while we wait and long for a time when this will all come to pass in your time. As we wait and long, may we as children of God reflect your love in the midst of oppression. Amen.

By Patricia L. Griffen, CBFAR Moderator-Elect
New Millennium Church, Little Rock

 

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November 30, Monday                                                  

Romans 13:11-14 (NRSV)

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

I’m finishing this devotional for Advent 2015 and the first statement in this passage is: “you know what time it is.” 

Yes, I do. It’s Halloween/Daylight Savings Time Saturday. I’m heading to the Razorback football game in about an hour. The leaves are turning colors. The temperature is getting cooler, and the days are getting shorter.

But that’s not the kind of time Paul is thinking about. He’s writing about salvation time. “For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers.”

I thought my salvation was as close as it gets when I accepted Jesus on an April Tuesday night in our living room when I was 13 years old. 

According to Paul that’s only part of it. There’s a moment in the past, but there’s also a time in the future. It’s that time in the future when Jesus returns and God totally redeems, reconciles, and restores God’s creation and creatures.  

Paul says, wake up and notice what time it is. And, then, he says, it is time to behave like you know what time it is.

So, in the first thirteen verses of Romans 13, Paul tells Christians to 1) be respectful and responsible citizens of your government, and 2) be loving toward your neighbors. 

Then in verses 12-14, Paul describes negative/unhealthy and positive/healthy attitudes and behaviors. He sums it up with the phrase: “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Advent is a good time to pay attention to God’s time and to the way we live and act as followers of Jesus.

Reflection
Can other people tell what time it really is by watching my attitudes, behavior and lifestyle?

Prayer
Saving God, Help me pay attention to your timing and the lifestyle that’s pleasing to you.  I pray in the name of the Jesus of Advent and the Parousia, Amen. 

By Ray Higgins, CBFAR Coordinator
Second Baptist Church, Little Rock

 

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December 1, Tuesday                                              

1 Corinthians 1:3-9 (NRSV)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

On December 25th, 1914, at various points along the Western Front, troops from all over the world exited their trenches and exchanged greetings, gifts, and even played a few soccer matches. The Great War was only four months old, but already thousands had died on the front lines and millions more would die before the war ended in 1918.  Despite the death and destruction in combat, the hope of Christmas was greater than the threat of dying in no man’s land. In the midst of terror, hope in the fellowship of Christ allowed men to overcome months of killing and find the grace of God in the midst of terrible conditions. Throughout history terrible things have happened: war, genocide, death, disease, famine, and suffering. But there always remains a thread of hope, a ‘beating of unseen wings,’ somewhere in the midst of despair. It can come from something as simple as a game of soccer between a group of German and British soldiers, or the exchange of pictures and stories from life at home. But it is always there. In looking for these moments of hope, we can find strength and beauty in fellowship. The Christmas Armistice of 1914 only happened once; every other year war overwhelmed thoughts of peace. And yet the events during the Armistice remained a symbol of hope, a way for people to come back together once the war ended. Today we are not engulfed in a world war, but there remain a multitude of opportunities for us to bring peace and fellowship to the hurting.

Reflection
How can we use our gifts to help those around us? How can we help them hear ‘the beating of unseen wings’?

Prayer (adapted from The Book of Common Prayer: The campaign prayer book)
O Lord God, help us to strive for a peace beyond mere earthly peace, of restored fellowship among nations, enlargement of the Redeemer's Kingdom, and the reunion of Christendom in one faith and love. Amen. 

                                                                        By Amanda Ford, CBFAR Recorder
Rolling Hills Baptist Church, Fayetteville

 

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December 2, Wednesday 
The Necessity for Watchfulness

Mark 13:33-37 (NRSV)

Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

I like to be prepared. I like to have a pocket-knife and flashlight on me at all times, I like to have a toolset of some kind nearby at home or at the office and I don’t feel comfortable until my backup plan has a plan b. This probably has to do with having grown up in a small town near the coast, where hurricane season means keeping an eye out for destructive hurricanes. So, when Mark exhorts listeners to be watchful, I’ve got that down: add Jesus to the checklist of things to watch out for. Along with impending doom from gigantic storms on the horizon, I will keep an eye out for the impending return of Jesus as well.  

You don’t want a hurricane sneaking up on you; you either need the supplies ready to live without power and water after the storm, or the supplies to run away from the storm. So naturally, my subconscious doesn’t want Jesus sneaking up on me. I have never wanted to turn around and see Jesus standing there, saying, “Gotcha! You weren’t prepared!”  Reading Mark, I can’t help but hear this,
         “35 Therefore, keep awake-for you do not know when the master of the house will              
         come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you
         asleep when he comes suddenly.”

However, after re-reading the passage, I don’t think this is what Mark meant by, “keep awake.”

The return of the master of the house is a sign of completion: everyone is home. As followers of Christ, we are partaking in God’s Kingdom on earth. Right now, our king is away. We have his spirit, but he does not walk bodily among us. The return of Christ is the Kingdom becoming complete. This is something to be excited about! You and I don’t want to be asleep for this! Mark isn’t implying Jesus will punish us for being asleep, Mark just doesn’t want us to miss out on the homecoming!

As you lean in to this season where we expect the birth of Jesus, remember that as a church we are also expecting the return of our king.

Reflection
What are you waiting for? Is Jesus the boss you need to be busy for? Or are you waiting for the king to return to the Kingdom?

Prayer
God, when I just want to know what the plan is, when you’re coming back,
Make me truly watchful
God, when I get so busy, I forget to be on the look out for you,
Make me truly watchful
God, when you seem so far away, it’s easy to forget you’ll return,
Make me truly watchful
God, when my life is too full to see you,
Make me truly watchful

By Marty Pike, Minister to Children & Youth
Pulaski Heights Baptist Church, Little Rock

 

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December 3, Thursday

John 1:1-5 (NRSV)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

Many years ago I read a book written by Rob Bell entitled, What We Talk About When We Talk About God.  Bell became controversial for some of his views and eventually left his pastorate, but there was a chapter in this book that articulated something I had believed about God for a long time but had struggled to put into words. He talked about God not only being with us and for us, but also ahead of us, pulling us forward, “…pulling all of humanity into greater and greater love and joy and justice and equality and peace.” I believe God is out ahead of us, always prodding and encouraging us to move from what is comfortable and known to join Him in the work He is doing to lead us to better reflect the love of Christ in our world.  

In John 1:1-5, we are told that in the beginning, the Word was with God, was God, and all things came into being through him. He is life and the light of all people; and the light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it. I believe He meets us where we are, at our real time and place in history, and if we are willing to lean forward, shows us how to move closer to greater peace and well-being for everyone. We no longer define family by including concubines, multiple wives, and slaves as we did in Old Testament times. Slowly, one halting step at a time, God is bringing us to a reality that improves peace and justice for and equality of all. I believe He continues to move us closer to His vision in all sorts of aspects of life, one step at a time. As the saying goes, “He’s not through with us yet.”

This brings to mind the CBFAR Annual Meeting last spring, where I was confronted with “white privilege,” a reality I had never before considered in those terms, but which I recognized immediately as true. This felt to me like Christ standing out in front of me, telling me to look at things as they really are, and starting to show me how much my perception could be changed. It also scared me, because I could see how far we have yet to move, even our churches, away from injustice towards peace, justice, and equality for everyone. Scripture says, though, that the darkness cannot overcome the light, and encourages us to lean forward, to embrace the vision the light shows us and to move forward, even one small step at a time. It’s how we grow-one step at a time-how we learn, and how we love. It’s up to us to have the courage to lean forward and continue to join Christ where He is working.

Reflection   
Where do you see Christ leading you and are you leaning forward to join Him?

 Prayer
Lord, I pray, especially during the Advent season, as we anticipate yet again the birth of Jesus that we are open and willing to lean forward, to see where you are working and leading, and to have the courage to join you. Amen.

 

By Linda Bruns, CBFAR Coordinating Council member
Pulaski Heights Baptist Church, Little Rock

 

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December 4, Friday

John 1:6-9 (NRSV)

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

Nearly every year that I’ve lived in Helena, I’ve taken Zay, one of our students, to look at Christmas lights. Zay is the creator of a rigid five-point system for grading Christmas lights. A “1” goes to the houses with one wreath and a small string of lights; a “5” goes to those who go all out. But at each and every house, she leans forward to see what the people have done to decorate their home, and often without realizing it I do too, because the lights bring us joy. They’re part of the anticipation of Christmas. The lights arrive after we’ve begrudgingly accepted the increased presence of darkness that comes with the shortened days of fall, offering a reason to hope. “Joy is coming,” the lights say to us.

You can almost feel that same sense of joy and anticipation in this passage. John testified to the light – he’d seen it, and he could speak about its power to a people desperate for a reason to hope. The light’s power is the most real to those who know the darkness.

This is Advent. We remember the darkness that the Israelites felt waiting on their Messiah: the darkness of slavery, exile, rule from empires against which they could not stand.

But the light was coming into the world.

And like the Israelites, we acknowledge the darkness of our time: racism, poverty, illness, people without a place to call home or people to call family, how John’s testimony echoes.

The light is coming into the world.

Lean forward, people of God, and you will see hope! People testify to the light. Young people serve selflessly. Communities step across the boundaries of race and class to hear and learn from each other. Nations and neighborhoods welcome the stranger.

The true light, which enlightens everyone, is coming into the world.

Reflection
Where do you see the light coming into the world?
How can you testify to the light this Advent season?

Prayer
Light of the world, where we see darkness and hopelessness in our communities and our world, may we testify to your light in word and in deed. Amen.

 

By Mollie Palmer, Together for Hope, Arkansas Director
First Baptist Church, Jonesboro

 

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December 5, Saturday                    
Fresh Sprouts: Envisioning a greater reality

Jeremiah 33:14-16 (NRSV)

The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The LORD is our righteousness.”

I love green things. I've even attempted to grow herbs and spices in urban areas that had limited green space. Now that I'm back in my hometown in Southeast Arkansas, I am graced with the endless possibilities of the rich, fertile soil of the Mississippi Delta. Yet, my gardening knowledge and skills leave much to be desired. 

So, as the fall weather awakened and I neglected to water the once bright yellow mums that decorated my doorway, I reminisced on how beautiful the mums had been and prepared to lay the dying mums to rest.

Then, one day my eighty-seven-year-old grandmother stopped by my house and said, "You know they will come back." "What will come back?" I asked. My grandma said, "Those mums will come back.” She said, "When those last blooms fall off, just plant them in the ground and they will come back next year."

I was so thankful that my grandmother who is a master gardener could see beyond the fading blooms of my once yellow mums. Like the Prophet Jeremiah, my grandmother was aware of a greater reality.

Despite Jeremiah's incarceration and the Babylonian-induced desolation, the Prophet Jeremiah brilliantly described a bright and prosperous future for the house of Israel and of Judah.  

Jailed for his prophetic boldness, the Prophet Jeremiah bravely continued to speak truth to power and proclaimed the coming cultivation of a “righteous Branch” in the garden of God's grace. This “righteous Branch” would restore all that the enemy had destroyed. 

Jeremiah and my grandmother's prophetic witness reminds me that we serve a God who still rights wrongs and still brings life to seemingly hopeless situations.

We serve a God who is willing and able to show us a greater reality.

Despite the dire or seemingly dead situations in your life, I invite you to lean forward and see the Lord our Righteousness. I invite you to lean forward and see the Lord our Healer. I invite you to lean forward and see the Lord our Vindicator. I invite you to lean forward and see the Lord our Restorer. I invite you to lean forward and envision a greater reality, water it with faith and expect a fresh new sprout of hope to bloom as we await the coming of our Lord.

Reflection
In what way has your human understanding limited your divine expectations?

Prayer (Adapted from Jeremiah 33:3)
Thank You Oh Lord for Your promise that invites me to call upon You and You will answer and Show me a Greater Reality that I did not know. Amen.

 

By Demetria Edwards, CBFAR Coordinating Council member
New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, Lake Village

 

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December 6, Sunday                   Isaiah sees the Lord

Isaiah 6:1-8 (NRSV)

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”

She was so excited! The child leaned forward on the edge of her seat with eyes wide open to take in all that was happening on the stage. The colorful costumes, graceful dancers and soaring music were like nothing she’d seen before. When the ballet ended, she wanted to take ballet lessons and someday be the prima ballerina.

Advent is a season of anticipation and celebration of Christ’s birth, His life, and His gift of salvation. As we begin to focus on the season, excitement builds and we experience again the delight we felt when we first accepted the gift of salvation. Then we look beyond our own joy and wonder how we can be the presence of Christ in our world. Soon we hear the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”

On the edge of our seats, leaning forward with hope and a willing heart, we say as Isaiah said, “Here am I, send me.”

Reflection
What would the Lord have me do to show His love in our world and guide others to experience the presence of Christ in their lives?

Prayer 
Lord, help us to celebrate the Advent season with the joy of a child, with the gratitude of one who has received the greatest gift, and with complete surrender to Your will as Isaiah did. Amen. 

By Judy Dacus, CBFAR Coordinating Council member
First Baptist Church, Hot Springs

 

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December 7, Monday                    One Mind, One Voice

Romans 15:4-13 (NRSV)

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,

“Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name”; and again he says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”; and again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him”; and again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.” May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Advent - a time of hope and anticipation. Everyone is focused forward. We find ourselves leaning in to look more intently or leaning close to listen more carefully. Our hearts beat a little faster and our cheeks are flushed with excitement. We look forward to seeing our friends and family. But what about those unexpected guests or unplanned visitors? They also evoke responses of increased heart rate, sweaty palms, and anxiety.  

Our scripture today encourages us to welcome and accept one another as Christ accepts and welcomes each of us. Living in harmony with one mind, one voice...but maybe with differing accents. As we watch the news or check our Facebook and Twitter feeds, we see many examples of them and us. War in Syria, Iraq, Sudan. Migrant and refugee crises throughout the Middle East and Europe. Educational discrimination toward Roma students in Slovakia. Food insecurity in Arkansas. These all seem like insurmountable problems, but underneath it all is a glimmer of hope. 

Reflection
Identify the others in your community. How can you share hope with those who don't know how to define hope? 

Prayer
From The Voice New Testament - Romans 15:13:
"I pray that God, the source of all hope, will infuse your life with an abundance of joy and peace in the midst of your faith so that your hope will overflow through the power of the Holy Spirit." Amen.

By Dianne McNary, CBF Field Personnel, Slovakia
Pulaski Heights Baptist Church, Little Rock

 

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December 8, Tuesday

Psalm 43:3-5 (NRSV)

O send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling. Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy; and I will praise you with the harp, O God, my God. Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.

I walk into the house of God every Sunday morning with my head buzzing with dozens of questions on my mind. “Have I done everything I’m supposed to?” “Am I going to be able to pay that bill?” “Is she mad at me?” “Is my life headed in the right direction?” Sometimes, a heavy heart accompanies this buzzing mind full of questions, and it makes it hard to focus on anything outside of myself. Like the Psalmist, I often find myself asking, “Why are you cast down, O my soul?”

I imagine that I’m not the only one who feels this way. The pressures and anxieties of life have a way of burying deep into our minds and weighing us down. This can create tension in our interpersonal relationships, but it can also stand between God and us. When we’re so focused on our own stress, we’re unable to look outside of ourselves and connect with God.

Fortunately, there is a way out of this cycle of anxiety and self-focus: praise. It may seem like the most unnatural thing in the world to do when one is feeling downcast, but praise moves our focus outside of ourselves and our own problems and onto our loving, gracious God who is our help in times of stress. Before we can truly be the presence of Christ in the world for others, we must first overcome our own anxieties by entering God’s presence and praising him with all we have. It can happen in various places and in various ways, but when we choose to praise God, we can feel our anxieties melting away as we bask in who he is.

Reflection
What can you do today to praise God and take your mind off of your anxieties and fears?

Prayer
God of light and truth, draw me to you this day. Help me to look outside of myself as I choose instead to praise you, and allow my burdens to become lightened in your holy presence. Amen.

By Devon Dundee, 2015 Logue Scholarship recipient
George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Waco, Texas

 

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December 9, Wednesday 
Jesus, the Light of the World

Psalm 27:1-4 (NRSV)

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh— my adversaries and foes— they shall stumble and fall. Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident. One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple.

Hark! the herald angels sing;
Jesus the Light of the world.
“Glory to the newborn King.”
Jesus the Light of the world.

Weʼll walk in the Light
Beautiful Light
Come where the dew drops of mercy shine bright
Shine all around us by day and by night
Jesus, the Light of the world                                                                            
- George D. Elderkin

I grew up in the Missionary Baptist Church tradition, where singing complemented the rich heritage of Black preaching. By the age of three I had come to enjoy singing songs like “Jesus, the Light of the World,” but I had little understanding of the meaning of the song. When teaching a child to grasp the concept of colors, the teacher demonstrates colors using objects. A red apple can be used to identify the color red. Before long the color consumes the child. “Mom, red!” the child proclaims, pointing to a red ribbon (and everything else red). But how would a teacher explain grateful? Grateful feels more abstract because it exists in the heart of the one who is thankful or appreciative.

The idea of “walk[ing] in the light” felt abstract to me. In my childish imagination, I pictured a bright light around an infant Jesus in a manger. I also remember a light that followed Jesus around in my imagination as I pictured the Scriptures coming to life. As I grew in my knowledge of Scripture and love of singing, I considered how I understood the significance of the Light, who is Jesus, in my life? How do I walk in the Light? What constitutes darkness? Jesus declares that He is the light in the darkness of our world (John 8:12), the hope in the midst of human condition.

Psalm 27 gives voice to the experience of human trials and suffering (Davids darkness), but the text also offers hope. Like David in our text at times we feel overwhelmed by the stressors that threaten the comforts of life, as we know it. In my experience as a pastor, chaplain and ACPE supervisor, I have seen darkness in the lives of those Ive served. For some poverty is their darkness. For others, times of depression, sickness, and failure hide their light. Still for others marginalization, hunger, social oppression and discrimination translate to the darkness that is realized in our world. How does the Light of Christ in you drive out the darkness that you see?

Reflection
How can we be the hope of Christ to a world in darkness?

Prayer
O Lord may we realize your Divine presence in the midst of the human condition to reflect the Light that shines through our lives. Amen.

By Ardella Gibson, CBFAR Coordinating Council member
Providence Baptist Church, Little Rock

 

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December 10, Thursday                                      Paths

Psalm 119:105-106 (NRSV)

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to observe your righteous ordinances.

Early mornings find me walking near my home, generally about three miles each trip. I do it for exercise because the orthopedist who replaced my left knee told me to do so. “Wear it out,” he said, referring to those pieces of titanium I now carry with me. “Walking is the best way to do it.”

Now that the days are getting shorter it is quite dark when I set out. There is generally enough illumination from streetlights for me to see, but at times I have to be careful that I don’t misstep. Often, this portion of the 119th Psalm comes to mind.

Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path.

At first this familiar passage from the psalm seems redundant...“lamp unto my feet,” “light unto my path.” Isn’t lamp and light the same thing? Not necessarily. Consider this: “a lamp to my feet” guides the pilgrim where she or he is, while “a light to my path” illuminates where the traveler is going.

And what is the source of this illumination? “Your word,” says the psalmist. Then he clarifies what he means...

I have sworn an oath and confirmed it,
to observe your righteous ordinances.

The Advent season affirms that God has now chosen to give us more than ordinances; we are given God’s self in the form of One who walks beside us. With Jesus, we have all the light we need to journey into the darkness. And as we journey together, Jesus whispers in our ears, “Wear it out. Walking is the best way to do it.” Somehow, I don’t think he means a prosthetic knee. He may just be referring to our life.

When we come to the end of life’s journey, wouldn’t it be great to say that we are thoroughly used up? If that is to be true, we can be assured it is because we have had available to us all the Light we needed to be able to see. 

Reflection
Where is your light taking you? Where is your path?

Prayer
Walk with us, Lord, in the way you have promised, and give us the Light of your grace. We ask this in your name, Amen.

By Randy Hyde, Senior Pastor
Pulaski Heights Baptist Church, Little Rock

 

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December 11, Friday                       Children of Light

John 12:35-36 NRSV)

Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.” After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.

So that you may become children of light…

After the annual time change in November, we find ourselves in a season of darkness. By the time we come home in the evening, it’s dark. Gone are the evening opportunities to sit outside in the lingering daylight. Darkness is our constant companion for the long, arduous winter months ahead.

Then comes Christmas, like a bright light at the end of a dark, depressing tunnel, giving us a respite from the long days of winter. Christmas comes just as the winter season is beginning. The nights become longer and longer. Colder weather keeps us bundled up and close to the fire. Christmas brings candlelight, gatherings full of family and friends, and strands of lights in every color imaginable.

Jesus stands in a crowd. He’s trying to convey to the women, little boys, old men, the toddlers, who are listening intently, that he will be leaving soon. Jesus tells them that the light will only be present a little while longer. The darkness won’t overtake you, if you bask in his light while he is still here. Trust in the light while there is time, because if you are walking in darkness with no light, you cannot see where to go. Jesus urges them to become children of the light.

The people in the crowd would soon be in a season of darkness once Jesus left. Just as Christmas is a brief moment of light in a season of darkness, so was the ministry of Jesus. Jesus came to be THE LIGHT. If Jesus’ followers chose to follow in his steps, live life as he lived, then they would be living in the Light as well. We, too, can be children of the Light. If we are peace in a chaotic world, if we are mercy in a world of judgment, if we are a glimmer of hope in this world of hopelessness, then we are living as children of the Light. We are leaning into the calling Jesus has placed onto our lives as followers of his way, as followers of his light.

Reflection
How can we be the Light in our world? Our country? Our neighborhood?

Prayer
God of Light. You came to show us your truth, your grace, and peace by the Light of your Son. Let us live into your calling, as your children, to be bearers of this Light in our world, in our homes, and in our neighborhoods.  Amen.

By Tiffany Pickett, 2013 Logue Scholarship recipient
McAfee School of Theology graduate
Admissions Counselor, Williams Baptist College, Walnut Ridge

 

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December 12, Saturday                         You Are Light

Ephesians 5:6-14 (NRSV)

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be associated with them. For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light—for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

“Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

In January 1970, I was academically dismissed from the University of Arkansas. My parents and siblings drove to Fayetteville, Arkansas, collected me and my belongings, and hauled me back to our home near Delight (Pike County), Arkansas. From January to late August of that year, I completed correspondence courses, pondered my errors, and hoped for redemption.  

Manual laborers and community elders, not college graduates, who were followers of Jesus, transformed that bleak time in my life.  Dad, Mom, and other followers of Jesus in my community were incandescent forces for me. Their faith in God’s grace was not only inspiring; it was infectious.  They told me and showed me what it means to “live as children of light.”

I learned from their lives and that experience that followers of Jesus are children of light—brilliant forces—for “all that is good and right and true” to people (and a world) shadowed by fear, guilt, despair, hate, sorrow, and anger. Those people taught me to shine in the strength of God’s love. They taught me to shine in the power of divine goodness. They taught me to shine in the irrepressible strength of divine joy. They showed me the transforming difference people who “live as children of light” make in relationships, during times of struggle, sorrow, fear, guilt, and despair.  Because of what they showed me, the Negro spiritual “This Little Light of Mine” has been special to me, from then until now.

Beloved, we are, by God’s grace, “children of light.” Let us “lean forward” as brilliant forces of God’s love, truth, joy, peace, liberty, justice, and hope, because we are light from God! Let us “lean forward” and shine as children of light in the power of the Holy Spirit! “Lean forward,” beloved, and shine!

Reflection
What people have been illuminating forces of God’s grace, truth, peace, and hope in your life?

Prayer
Light of love, hope, truth, peace, and joy, thank you for calling us into your fellowship!  Teach, guide, and strengthen us to live as children of light in every breath, every heartbeat, and every relationship, for your glory, we pray, through Jesus Christ. Amen.

By ©Wendell Griffen, 2015, Pastor
New Millennium Church, Little Rock

 

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December 13, Sunday

1 Peter 2:5-9 (NRSV)

like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture: “See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,” and “A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Have you ever wanted to go home but just couldn’t?  Even if we have not personally experienced that longing, we are surrounded by images and stories of separation and displacement. From Syrian refugees fleeing their homes to those coming across the southern U.S. border looking for a better life. This kind of real, physical, and existential loss is similar to the experiences of the recipients of 1 Peter. Their spiritual home, the temple, had been destroyed by the military might of Rome and many of them had lost their physical homes. They had become outcasts, refugees and resident aliens scattered and fleeing for their lives.

1 Peter reminds us that God’s presence isn’t in stone or in a building but in the people of Jesus who claim him as Lord. Therefore, Christians aren’t merely victims or passive observers to the pain and hurt in our world. They are agents of hope and healing. How then should we both live and proclaim this one who resides in us? Mennonite theologian Jerry Truex answers that question saying that Christians “do not need to search for home; they can choose to be home and family for the homeless. They do not need to wonder where God is in all of this; they can choose to be the place of God’s presence in the world here and now. In this way, they are the people of God.”

Through our actions this advent, may we allow God’s presence in our lives to “proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

Reflection
How is your church being the people of God to those in your community?

Prayer
Lord may we sense your presence in our lives and in our churches, and may that sense fling us out into the world to love, care and be present for those in need. Amen.
 

By Chris Ellis, Minister of Mission and Outreach
Second Baptist Church, Little Rock

 

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December 14, Monday

Isaiah 60:1-3 (NRSV)

Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Is it possible to actually feel a time in your childhood?  It isn’t a sight, sound or even a place, but a feeling.  I can feel myself reciting this verse 55 or maybe even 60 years ago.  It was either a memory verse for Sunday school or part of a step requirement for Girls Auxiliary. It was only the first half of the verse: “Arise, shine for thy light is come.” Isaiah 60:1

If only my memory could connect with exactly what I thought that verse meant. In some way it was connected with Jesus coming at Christmas. This was a passage of hope for the Israelites. Jerusalem was not what they thought they had been promised. They needed a message of hope.

Isn’t that exactly what CBF is trying to offer in the poorest parts of our country with the Together for Hope initiative? I wrote this reflection from one of those places Together for Hope desires to serve: Elaine, Arkansas. My first trip here was in 1998. Coming from Fayetteville to Elaine, I thought I had left the country. Just last night I heard a lady, in Elaine, in her thirties say, “I just can’t see any hope for this town.” Physically and economically, this town is worse off than seventeen years ago.

Although food and clothing may sometimes be needed, that is not the biggest need.
What this town needs is hope:

Hope that some of their houses will make it through the next storm.
Hope that someone will open a dollar or grocery store.

Hope that their children have not been “thrown out” with the school closing.        
Hope that children have something positive to do.

Hope that life has more meaning than just passing time.

At the Lee Street Community Center we offer the only place with any organized activities in an impoverished area of town. We are bringing hope with the Birdhouse Project to make Elaine into America’s Birdhouse Capital. And we have hope for a park with outdoor musical instruments!

Just as the moon reflects the light of the sun, we bring hope by reflecting God’s love. May we all be good reflectors and share the hope God has for everyone.

Reflection
Where are you reflecting the hope that God gives us?

Prayer
Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer,
As I walk under the same sun and moon that Jesus walked under, let me see other people the way He saw them.  And wherever I go, give me insight to know how to reflect your love for them. Amen.

By Pat Kienzle, CBFAR Coordinating Council member
Rolling Hills Baptist Church, Fayetteville

 

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December 15, Tuesday

2 Corinthians 4:3-6 (NRSV)

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

I am a visual learner. I prefer instructions on how to assemble an item that include lots of pictures, ideally including an image for each and every step to take in the assembly process. I want to see the end result so that I know how a box full of pieces and parts will be transformed into a final product. Written instructions are helpful, sure, but the visual cues are what help me to interact with and understand the world.

This Advent we have an opportunity to lean forward into a story familiar to us. This passage in 2 Corinthians offers listeners and readers an incredible picture of the Christmas story. God “let light shine out of darkness.” Our Father moved beyond a written Law that was being strictly enforced to sending Jesus to earth to interact with humanity so that we might know God more fully. God sent Christ, as his image, to be born a human being, mature and grow, and walk this earth. Jesus, who is the image of God, is also the glory of God. Jesus walked with his followers, taught them his Good News, and showed them how to do the same with others.

Jesus was the incarnational image of God. For those who had trouble with the written instructions, Jesus brought to life the Law in new and challenging ways. As a visual learner, I am grateful that God would come to earth to live and walk among men, women, and children. It is because Christ came to earth that we are able to see more clearly the commands of God and how to live them out mercifully and justly. The presence of Christ transforms us into His image.

Reflection
In what way are you doing or being like Jesus when he walked this earth?
How are you being transformed into His image?

Prayer
Lord, “let light shine out of darkness” so that we may see you more clearly, see ourselves more clearly, and our neighbors more clearly. Help us to open our hearts to your light and knowledge of Christ, our King. Guide us as we celebrate this season the life born to this earth as the image of God. Amen.

By Megan Pike, CBFAR Assistant Coordinator
Pulaski Heights Baptist Church, Little Rock

 

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December 16, Wednesday                                            Light and Joy at Christmas

1 John 1:4-7 (NRSV)

We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

Latino food – up-tempo music – lively chatter – kids laughing and playing – different Spanish-language accents spoken – and piles and piles of shoes! – all taking place in our home.  For Sue and me, this is Christmas in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Held the Sunday before Christmas, LUCHA Ministries’ Christmas party attracts many of our Latino friends and families.  We started hosting our party in a local community center.  Then we moved it to a local church.  Finally we realized what would make it even better: putting it in a home to create a family feel.

So after church on that chosen Sunday, we get our home ready: we locate the donated Legos, crayons and Christmas coloring sheets for the children; we bring up the folding tables for the mountains of food to be served; we bring in every movable chair we can find; and we bring out a Spanish-language Bible to read later.

Around 4:00 p.m., our guests start arriving.  At least 75 people eventually come, each bringing a dish native to their home country.  LUCHA provides the Christmas tamales – because it’s not Christmas without tamales! – while guests bring side dishes.  Once entering our home, they remove their shoes and put them at the door.  We don’t ask them to do it, but they do it out of respect and because it’s cultural.  Now, can you imagine the pile 75 pairs of shoes make!

And we spend the next four hours eating, talking, laughing, singing, and enjoying the time together.    

Not everyone who comes to the party attends church.  Most are Catholic, only a few are Baptist. But all who come bring the light of Christ.  They come to eat tortillas, pupusas, mole, and drink ponche.  They brag on each other’s food, and smile broadly when someone brags on theirs.  And when the story of Christ’s birth is read, we all listen intently, and bow our heads in thanksgiving to God.   

This is joy.  This is light.  This is Christmas. This is one way God privileges LUCHA Ministries to walk in Christ’s light, enjoy the fellowship of our Latino friends, and feel His cleansing blood flow over us again.

Reflection
With whom is God calling you to experience the light and joy of Christ this Advent season?

Prayer
God, dispel the darkness this Advent season as I experience Christ’s light and joy in the lives of those you bring my way.  Amen.

 

                                     By Greg Smith, CBF Field Personnel, Fredericksburg, Virginia
Fredericksburg Baptist Church, Virginia

 

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December 17, Thursday

John 3:16-21 (NRSV)

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

One of the Christmas traditions in our family is to hide gifts within gifts. My wife started it years ago when she wrapped a small gift for one of our children inside a larger but much less desirable gift. She took great delight in seeing their puzzled looks as they opened a present that seemed to be of little value followed by relief and a return of their original enthusiasm when they noticed the gift within the gift. It wasn’t what they first thought it would be. It was something much better.  

Christmas is like that for me. It’s a gift within a gift. Some traditions fill us with anticipation for things that often are little more than bright shiny wrapping. Don’t get me wrong. I like those things too. This Christmas I’ll introduce my two-year-old granddaughter to Santa and Rudolph as we sing about jingling bells and snowmen. I expect to hear giggles of delight over those “gifts.” We’ll all enjoy them with her until there is nothing left but memories and the anticipation of next year.

But wait! There’s more. After the last package has been opened and wrapping is strewn all over the floor, we look around, not fully satisfied and maybe a little disappointed. God says, “Keep looking! There’s something else.” There’s a gift within a gift. It’s one that leaves us with much more than memories.

This gift wasn’t what many were expecting. When it was unwrapped they wondered, “Is this it? Should we keep looking?” Many were disappointed. But it was something much better than they imagined. Some were expecting condemnation but they were given grace.  Some were expecting judgment to be poured down on others; instead they were surprised when the doors to the kingdom were opened to everyone. Some were living in darkness but became filled with the gift of light and life. It wasn’t what they were expecting. It was something much better, a gift within a gift.

Reflection
What are the surprising gifts in your life? Are there gifts that seem disappointing at first? Can you see the gift within a gift?

Prayer
Gracious God, thank you for your surprising gift, one that is more than I could ever imagine. May I always have eyes to see your acts of grace illuminated by the light of your presence. And may I be sustained by the power of your love that overwhelms the darkness. Amen.

By Danny Reding, CBFAR Coordinating Council member
Minister of Music, First Christian Church, Rogers

 

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December 18, Friday                                    
The Uneven ground will become level

Isaiah 40:1-11 (NRSV)

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins. A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

When Lubo invited us to hike with several members of the Presov Baptist Church, he assured us with words of comfort, “Oh, this is an easy hike. Anyone can do it. It is no problem at all.” Truth is, one of us almost died…because had the hike been any more arduous, any longer, then I was going to kill Lubo! 

The Tatra Mountains in north-central Slovakia are a natural beauty. They are awe-inspiring. What does it mean for the Tatras when “the uneven ground will become level”?  This is one passage I do not want to take literally. In the renewed world to come, I might even hike the Tatras again with Lubo and enjoy tasting wild blueberries as we pause to witness the beauty of one of the several waterfalls along the trail.

I wrote this piece from the Budapest airport where I was on my way to a Central Asian country that also has beautiful mountains as well as low valleys. I travelled there to gather first-hand testimony about how fragile communities of faith are able to survive in a land where they have very little religious freedom. Even in the planning for our delegation’s visit, the local pastor preferred to communicate through a third party instead of write us directly out of fear of their government. Their journey towards a place where they are able to openly express their faith is longer and even more arduous than most of us will ever know. My task as a representative of CBF and of Baptist World Alliance is to advocate with and for those who face real persecution. 

Even in Slovakia, we have heard the cries of “Persecution!” coming through stories from the United States. We, like you, have also seen persecution as Christians and members of other minority faiths were slaughtered by evil men in the Middle East and North Africa. Those who know real persecution cry out for comfort, for the uneven ground to become level.

Reflection
In a world where inconvenience is misunderstood to be persecution, how can we be reminded of brothers and sisters in Christ who face real persecution today?
As we look forward to the promises of God being fulfilled, how can we be faithful witnesses even when our journey of faith feels long and arduous?

Prayer
Creator God, who formed the high mountains and carved out the deepest valleys, help us to know that not all find the journey of faith an easy journey.  Some face real persecution and have given their lives in witness to Christ.  During his season of Advent, help us to lean into the promises of Christ, which draws us towards a hopeful tomorrow.  In the Resurrected Christ’s name we pray, Amen.

 

By Shane McNary, CBF Field Personnel, Slovakia
Pulaski Heights Baptist Church, Little Rock

 

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December 19, Saturday                The Man Born Blind

John 9:1-7 (NRSV)

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.

 This fall, as the days grew shorter and nights cooler, my six year old son decided that he wanted to help “people who don’t have a home.” In order to see our son fulfill his dream, my wife and I decided to sell his out of season clothes and then give him the profits. With these monies my son elected to purchase sleeping bags. So on a recent Friday afternoon, my son joyously bought nine sleeping bags and loaded them into my car. He couldn’t wait to pass them out!

After driving around our city for only a few minutes, we saw a man sitting outside of an old church. With a smile on his face, my son walked up to the man. He asked the man if he wanted a sleeping bag. Without hesitation the man accepted, but then the unexpected occurred. The man asked my son if he was thirsty. Without hesitation my son nodded in agreement, so the man, with a smile on his face, gave my son a bottle of water. As it turns out, we all have a need. Every one of us is weak. 

In John 9, the disciples and Jesus encounter a man born blind. The weakness of this man is on display for the world to see, so the disciples begin to speculate about the cause of his blindness. But Jesus will have none of it, because Jesus, in this instance, is unconcerned with the cause and more concerned with the result. The result of the man’s blindness, of his weakness, is that his life can be an avenue for the light of God’s salvation to be revealed in the world. The result of the man’s blindness is that the disciples are confronted with their own “blindness” because as it turns out, we all have a need. Every one of us is weak.

Advent is the season when the church, in our own weakness, leans forward as we await the return of our Savior. Advent is the season when the church, in our neediness, longs for the fullness of God’s salvation to be revealed in the world. But, even as the church waits, we like the man born blind are also sent. We are sent to proclaim the good news of Jesus to carry the light of his salvation into the world; we all have a need. Every one of us is weak.

Reflection
How can my weakness be an avenue for God’s salvation to be revealed?

Prayer
Lord, use my weakness to declare the good news of the gospel.  May I carry the light of Christ to the weak and needy, so that they might experience the healing that only Jesus can bring. Amen.

 

By Jonathan Kelley, Associate Pastor
Calvary Baptist Church, Little Rock

 

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December 20, Sunday                                     
Joseph's Eye-Opening Experience 

Matthew 1:18-25 (NRSV)

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”

When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

As a middle-school little girl, I just had to have a guitar. I pleaded with my mom for a guitar for Christmas. She was doubtful but said, “We’ll see.”

Several weeks before Christmas, the Christmas tree began to display one present after another under it. Then one day a wide, long wrapped box appeared.

“That’s my guitar! I know it! I am sure!” I announced to my family. My mom took me aside, pointed to the wrapped, large box and explained that my stepfather needed a new suit, which had to lay flat. My heart sank. I told her I understood.  

I kept hoping and hoping for that guitar, but nothing. Finally Christmas morning arrived and more presents “mysteriously” appeared under the tree—just not anything guitar-shaped.

My mom divvied out all the presents which were opened in a flurry. After bows and scraps of paper were everywhere, I realized the large suit box was still under the tree. I motioned to my mom to go get it for my stepfather. Instead she said: “It’s actually yours.” My eyes popped wide open! I now could see what everyone else had known all along. This little seventh-grader could not have been happier with her pawnshop guitar.

In today’s Scripture, Joseph didn’t have a heart problem; he had an eye problem. He saw with the only truth he had—the Law. And even then he tempered the Law with compassion and mercy for Mary because he was “unwilling to expose her to public disgrace.”  

Like many of us after we have been dealt a disappointing blow, I am guessing Joseph laid down to collect his thoughts and strength. He went to sleep resolved to end the marriage. But while asleep, he had a revelation about God’s plan. Upon awakening Joseph changed directions and proceeded forward into God’s revolution with the coming Messiah—Mary’s and his baby, Jesus.

Reflection
Do I have a spiritual heart problem or an eye problem or an ear problem that needs healing attention before I am able to hear and follow God for my next step forward?

Prayer
Oh Lord, this Advent season, please help me to see, to hear, and to love with an obedience to you that is revolutionary.

By Kay Hardin, Chaplain, Baptist Health, North Little Rock
Second Baptist Church, Little Rock

 

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December 21, Monday           Finding Favor with God

Luke 1:26-38 (NRSV)

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

When someone unexpectedly tells me how much they appreciate me or how good I am at getting things done, I can’t help but think, “Uh, oh, what does s/he want?” I’m pretty sure I’m going to be asked to do something hard, something I wouldn’t choose to do -- or something no one else wants to do!

For Mary, God favored her. Wow, how cool! But God’s favor didn’t mean an easy, “blessed” life. In fact, Mary was beginning a long, difficult journey filled with challenges:
Pregnant teen with a suspicious fiancé;
a life of poverty and insecurity;
mom of a precocious child who challenged his parents, of a young man who often hung out with the wrong crowd; and
grief over a murdered son, whose promising life was cut short.

I doubt Mary felt very special, and she probably wondered where God was at times. But God recognized in Mary the ability to survive challenging circumstances and grow stronger from them. God chose her for a special task, and Mary was willing to trust and follow God’s direction.

A young immigrant from El Salvador faced tough times. Abandoned by his parents, he moved to the US at age 13 to live with his sister. He became involved with alcohol and drugs, never finished school, and spent almost two years in jail and immigration detention. His wife betrayed him, his marriage is in shambles, and he may lose his children. He won’t be deported, but he has no home, job, or family support system. But while he lost everything, he found Christ. He has a powerful story to share about God’s unfailing love and grace shown to someone often deemed as unworthy by society. I believe he has found favor with God, and God is using his experiences to touch the lives of others in similar circumstances.

Reflection
What special task does God have in store for you? How is God preparing you?

Prayer
Oh God, help me remember that the hard things in life don’t mean that you’ve abandoned me; perhaps they mean you’re strengthening me for something no one else can do. Help me to trust you and say, “Here I am, Lord, use me.”

By Sue Smith, CBF Field Personnel, Fredericksburg, Virginia
Fredericksburg Baptist Church, Virginia

 

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December 22, Tuesday                      Baby-Leaping Joy

Luke 1:39-45 (NRSV)

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

After reading today’s text, I was reminded of a song that I sang with my peers at Wake Forest School of Divinity recently. The song told of the story of Christianity beginning with women whispering about a tombstone that was rolled away. Oftentimes we forget that the story we hold as sacred in our churches and in our hearts began with women whispering! They experienced something strange, mysterious, and exciting.  

In this story, we see two women who share deep friendship as cousins. Mary greets Elizabeth and the child in Elizabeth’s womb leaps. Then, mysteriously, Elizabeth recognizes Mary as bearing the child of God, her Lord. The story of Christianity, the story that we have inherited that tells of a God that loves us deeply, came to us through ordinary women sharing conversation and love. I found myself curious about why Mary came to Elizabeth that day. I wonder if she was in need of support as a young, pregnant mother afraid of the unknown. I wonder if she needed the comfort of her cousin and the affirmation of the Spirit.

But what is most important to me about this story is that the extraordinary God is present in the ordinary lives of women long ago in ancient Palestine. God cares about us and often shows God’s presence in seemingly simple encounters and conversations. There is something so beautiful about two women and their unborn children discovering something new about life and God. God cared about these women and God cares about us.

As we approach Advent, we might find ourselves in ordinary situations. But let’s look for the extraordinary miracles around us. Let’s hope for baby leaping, Spirit awakening, mind-boggling moments in the midst of those ordinary times. And let’s thank God for those whispering, joyful women as we anticipate the coming of Christ.

 Reflection
How can you seek God’s presence today and experience unexpected, surprising moments of joy in the midst of the ordinary?

Prayer
Loving God, we are just amazed that you acted in the lives of Palestinian women long ago and brought Jesus to us through unexpected circumstances. Stay with us and when we are bogged down by shopping lists and routine holiday celebrations, remind us that You show up in unexpected ways. Amen. 

By Jenna Sullivan, CBFAR Coordinating Council member
Second Baptist Church, Little Rock/First Baptist on Fifth, Winston-Salem, North Carolina

 

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December 23, Wednesday

Luke 2:1-7 (NRSV)

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

When we think of the “Christmas story” our minds immediately go to signs of the miraculous and magical. Yuletide cards are covered with singing angels, reindeer that fly, a GPS Star, and a virgin who gives birth. But there is nothing particularly magical or miraculous in our advent passage for today; at least nothing obviously so.  The first seven verses of Luke read more like the minutes from a Chamber of Commerce meeting than an announcement of the coming of God’s son. Everybody in this part of the story was just doing what he or she was supposed to do.
(1) Augustus took a census so he could probably increase his tax base. Typical.
(2) Governor Quirinius looked on jealously from Syria. Big deal.
(3) Everyone went to his or her own hometowns to be registered. That’s the rules.
(4) Even nativity-scene Joseph was just doing what he was supposed to do. He went to Bethlehem because that’s where his grandparents are from. And he took pregnant Mary with him. What else was he gonna do with her?  
(5) The baby’s about to be born, but hey, it’s the Census Season. All the holiday visitors have booked up the Hampton. So Mary does what any good first century mother would do. She made due with what she had, a stable, a makeshift blanket, and a food trough. Nothing special going on here. Or is there?  

Sometimes the biggest surprises and blessings come not when you make grand plans and life-changing decisions. They come when you are just doing what you always do; checking the next thing off your to-do list. Being where you’re supposed to be and doing what you’re supposed to do can put us in places where we can experience the miraculous in ways we wouldn’t anticipate. Just “leaning forward” into your typical, humdrum, Christmas routine and responsibilities, might put you in a place where God can surprise you this season. I’m a chaplain at the VA and last year we got a few hundred Christmas cards from kids in Mountain Home. They were homemade cards sent to Veterans in the hospital. As usual, a few of us had to sit down and open every single one of the cards as a part of hospital protocol. To us, this was just another annoying Christmas task that a VA chaplain has to do. About ten cards into reading what these kids wrote, our eyes began to widen. Their candid words, creative artwork, and bold generosity stirred our souls. Before long, we were laughing, taking pictures of the cards and fighting over the next stack. It’s not an exaggeration for me to say that this mundane task made my Christmas season and gave me much-needed and unexpected joy. If you’re not experiencing the magic and splendor of the holiday spirit yet, don’t worry. Maybe you are right where you need to be. Maybe you, like Joseph and Mary, just need to keep on doing what you’re supposed to do and let the miracle come to you.

Reflection
What are some of the routine things you have to do this Christmas that God might surprise me in? Who is one person that you always see at Christmas that God might want you to approach in a unique and maybe even miraculous way? 

Prayer
God, our expectations of Christmas are all over the map. Some of us long for a unique experience that reminds us of the presence of Christ and that Christmas is still special. Others of us are just trudging through our Christmas obligations till Christmas goes away for another ten and half months. Wherever we are today in our Christmas walk Lord, may you give us the willpower to keep on doing what we know we are supposed to do, and give us the grace to open our eyes to the miraculous in the midst of the mundane. Amen. 
 

By Steve Sullivan, CBFAR Coordinating Council member
Providence Baptist Church, Little Rock

 

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December 24, Thursday

Luke 2:8-15 (NRSV)

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”

There is a posture which inspires me: little children standing on tip-toe, leaning forward ever so slightly, trying to see or reach something. Regardless of the outcome, I find myself smiling at their posture. It implies desire, hope, effort, and joy. Most certainly they would not go to the effort to balance precariously on those tiny toes if they were not earnestly seeking or reaching. Often their mission takes a bit of time and persistence. They can get weary in the effort, lose their balance, forget the purpose, or completely lose interest. Whether they accomplish their mission or not, hurray for the effort!

I have realized I don’t assume that posture much anymore; rarely putting myself in a position to get off-balance, seldom sticking with a challenge long enough to see the reward, or experiencing the joy that’s sure to come with an unexpected discovery. In our gospel passage today, the shepherds were doing exactly what they did everyday – tend to sheep. There was no seeking, reaching, tip-toe balancing, or sense that there was really anything to find. Until…an angel. All of a sudden their lives became filled with hope, renewed energy, and a desire to find. “Let us go now…and see” was their response. We’re not told what happens to their sheep, but we can see their enthusiasm and determination. They were willing to risk finding the Promised One.

Are we ready to stand slightly off-balance, lean forward and peer into the manger? What will be our reward? What are we willing to leave behind in order to find something greater? May we assume the posture, which implies desire, hope, effort and joy!  “Let us go now…and see.”

Reflection
What are some ways you can step outside of your normal pace and put yourself in a position to find God?

Prayer
God, place within our hearts and spirits an earnest desire to seek You out. Help us to not be afraid to risk our comfort and the known, for the journey and what we will find. May we lean into You in these days and discover all that You have promised. Amen.

 

By Jana Wolfe, CBFAR Coordinating Council member
Minister of Music, First Baptist Church, Jonesboro

 

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December 25, Friday

Luke 2:16-20 (NRSV)

So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

They were shepherds. I imagine each one with dirt under his nails and sheep wool in his robe. That morning, he probably cupped his hands around a warm cup of coffee while the steam ascended into the cool Bethlehem morning. Perhaps he clocked in at the stable before he prepped the sheep, just like he did every day of his adult life. I imagine him sitting under the shade of a sycamore tree while eating lunch with the other shepherds, discussing the politics of Rome and the local economy. Did all of them take an afternoon siesta while the sheep slept under that tree? We don’t really know. All we know is that they were normal people going about their normal duties. They were shepherds!

But that night, they were privy to the most extraordinary activity. This was the night when the heavens stooped to kiss the earth. This was the night that God revealed himself in the most powerful and pertinent way. This was the night when both the Creator and creation experienced something new. This was the night when the angels sang of peace on earth and goodwill to men.

And those who were invited to the party, those who had a front row seat, were shepherds, who epitomized the ordinary. Of course, if God drew near shepherds, if God was active amidst the shepherds, if God was born amidst the shepherds, to whom would God NOT speak?  

In this way, Christmas doesn’t challenge us to rethink what is miraculous and extraordinary. Christmas demands we reconsider what we typically call ordinary- namely…ourselves.

Reflection
How do you see God moving in the ordinary places of your life?

Prayer
Loving God, in this season we are mindful of your presence amidst the most ordinary and mundane places of our lives. Help us to be with you, even as you are with us. And like the shepherds, enable us to be sensitive to what you are doing in our everyday lives so that we might also praise God for all we have seen and heard. Amen.

By Preston Clegg, CBFAR Moderator
Pastor, Second Baptist Church, Little Rock

 

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