Saturday, December 4

Julie E. Hinz

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
    the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
    and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
    their young shall lie down together;
    and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
    and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
    on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.(Isaiah 11: 6-9)

Read the above text as someone might a novel; with no vested interest in it other than entertainment. I have never known Isaiah to dwell in fantasy or fairy tale as he seems to here. And yet, this is not that. This is the reality of God’s creation turned back to what God intended it to be.

What we understand about this life is its predictability – bears and lions are dangerous, children should not play near poisonous snakes, etc. For now, that is the created order and has been since the fall into sin.

But this vision of a world in which wolves and lambs, calves and lions all lie down together clearly moves beyond the possibilities of today. This is truly more like a fairy tale or a magical kingdom. But, by bringing together in peace the child and the snake, the text reminds us of that moment in Eden (Genesis 3:14-15) where God put enmity between Satan and the woman. God set a permanent divide between Satan and God’s beloved children.

That divide is Jesus, the babe we anticipate this season. That little child who leads not with armies or weapons, nor with an iron fist. But using the brute strength of God’s love for his creation, Jesus conquers the hold Satan has claimed on our lives and returns us to the wholeness God first intended. Where there will be no more sorrow, only joy. Where the lion and the lamb lie down together without fear.

Father, you show us glimpses of your kingdom here on earth. Help us to recognize them, build on them, make them part of our lives so that we might create for others those same glimpses of peace and joy that come through you. Amen.

Friday, December 3

Anonymous

He shall judge between many peoples,
and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;

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;
but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
and no one shall make them afraid;
for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken. (Micah 4: 3-4)

The book of Micah centers around the prophecy regarding the destruction of Samaria and Judah and its subsequent exaltation as a reborn city of God. We see in Micah a very divided Israel, war-torn, falling into the deepest degradation, seemingly abandoned by God.

And yet here, in what is Micah’s fourth discourse, we find hope for Israel and hope for ourselves.

Verse 1 and 2 offer us a view of a mountain where God sits. People of all nations and tongue stream up in order to learn the ways of God. This God judges each person and arbitrates between nations. And suddenly there is no need for weapons, only for the tools of cultivation and the building of lives. There are no more armies fighting against each other, only people, thriving in peace and harmony together.

God’s future for Israel is more than surprising; understanding how far they (and we) have strayed from God’s truth it might be downright ridiculous. And yet this prophecy remains a vision, a hope, the way life should be. It matters not if you or I see it, these words stand as God’s goal for our future. The first step toward that hope comes to us through Jesus, that tiny babe who will arbitrate on our behalf with God, who will settle the conflicts between us and draw all nations to himself. Who will show us how to stop destroying each other and instead build lives of sowing and reaping for God’s kingdom

God of the future, it is difficult to find hope when the world is full of the smell of war and hatred. Help us keep your vision of Zion ever before us as motivations for living as your people. Amen.

December 3, edit

We are so sorry! There was some text missing from today’s devotion! We are rectifying that immediately and a new corrected version will be sent by 9:00am.

Again, our deepest apologies and we hope you continue to find these devotions and God’s surprises a wonderful start to your days.

*The editor*

Thursday, December 2

Rev. Michael Costello

And God spoke all these words. … When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.” Then the people stood at a distance, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was. (Exodus 20: 1, 18-21)

As God speaks and the commandments are given to Moses at Mt. Sinai, “all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking.” What would be your response? Would you be afraid?

In Exodus the people were afraid of encountering God directly and wanted Moses to convey what God was saying. But just like the angels that would announce the good news of Jesus’ birth in Luke’s Gospel, Moses responds by saying, “Do not be afraid.” He continues: “God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.”

In Exodus and throughout the entire biblical narrative God is revealed in order to bring fallen humanity back to what it was created to be—free from sin to know and love God completely.

The church is given means of grace through which God promises to be present for us, just as God was present for Moses. Through these means we are given the very gift of communion with God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. What a blessed surprise!

In baptism, God’s claim on our life is one that cannot be washed away. In God’s Word, we hear God’s never-ending love given in the very person of Jesus. In communion, we receive Christ’s body and blood for the forgiveness of sin. In Christian community we receive what Bonhoeffer called the “mutual conversation and consolation of the saints.”

Surprise! God is near! We may not hear thunder or see lightning and smoke, but through the means of grace God is present with and for us. Do not be afraid but rejoice!

Almighty God, you come to us that we may be forgiven and love you more. Help us not to be afraid, but to rejoice in the life you have given us through Jesus Christ, your Son. Amen.

Wednesday, December 1

Rev. Robert Shaner

“cross with Chi Rho, alpha and omega” by Leo Reynolds is licensed underCC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, “We are here as your slaves.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve numerous people, as he is doing today. So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.” (Genesis 50: 18-21a)

No surprise —

  • “Techni-colored coat” Joseph is not loved by his siblings
  • Jealous brothers throw him into a pit to die.
  • When a caravan appeared, the brothers sold Joseph

Surprise —

  • Through dream interpretations, Joseph ends up in Pharoah’s court.
  • In famine when brothers come begging, Joseph is Pharoah’s go-to man.
  • “I am Joseph, your brother.”
  • Vengeance is not the answer … (retribution belongs to God).
  • The estranged brothers weep together.
  • God’s people survive, ending up in Egypt.

In God (the alpha and omega) rests the redemptive, epic story full of surprises, revealing a God binding up wounds, restoring relationships, mending broken lives, healing every woe. God’s grace (undeserved blessings) always surprises us with extravagant love with Advent bringing us to the great surprise, the incarnation, the God who chooses to live with and die for us.

No surprise— grace is always there, often when least expected, even when harm may have been intended or our lives may have experienced trying or difficult times. In such moments comes God’s unexpected lavish generosity. Surprise — God not only came, but is coming!

Come, Lord Jesus, open our eyes, our minds and hearts to your daily surprises inviting us to be reconciled to our sisters and brothers. Amen.

Tuesday, November 30

Ella Bullock

The angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, “By myself I have sworn, says the LORD: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22:15-18)

The passage is the culmination of the Abraham and Isaac story. Abraham was tested when God requested that Abraham make a sacrifice of his only son, Isaac. Abraham must have been confused. God had established a covenant with Abraham. He had said that he would “make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great so that you will be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2). Why had God requested that Abraham sacrifice the one and only son that could continue this legacy?

At the last possible minute, the angel of the Lord arrives and lets Abraham know that he does not need to kill his son. God reiterates his promise to Abraham. Because he was willing to sacrifice his one and only son, he will be blessed.

This story foreshadows the ultimate sacrifice that Christ made for us. Centuries prior to Jesus’ arrival on earth, a similar scenario had occurred. Abraham, Isaac’s father, did not have to sacrifice his only son. By contrast, God paid the ultimate sacrifice for us all through Jesus’ sacrifice.

During this season of Advent, we anticipate and prepare for Christ’s arrival on earth. However, this was only the beginning of the story. Christ came to earth ultimately to serve as the sacrifice for us. Through this sacrifice, we are blessed.

Thank you, Lord, for blessing us beyond measure. We are grateful for your coming to earth and paying the ultimate sacrifice for us. Amen

Monday, November 29

Rachel Armstrong

God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. (Genesis 9: 12-15)

These verses reveal the first rainbow God ever created. This was, of course, a great surprise to Noah and his family. As for me, whenever I see a rainbow, I am overcome with a pleasant excitement. For most of us, I believe, seeing a rainbow is a lovely and rare surprise that can lift a mood instantly. I like to think of this as God’s way of using nature to brighten our days and give us something to be happy for.

Another less obvious surprise in this text, that I personally had never noticed before, is that God says that when he sees the rainbow in the sky he will remember the covenant made to us. I had always thought the purpose of the rainbow was to remind us of the covenant, but God made it as a reminder of his promises for himself! This is something I encourage you all to ponder anytime you see a rainbow, rare as they are.

Dear God, We thank you for sending us such a beautiful message as a reminder of the covenant you made with us, for not only you, but for us. Thank you for using your creation to bring us joy, and for loving us unconditionally. Help us to be reminded of your love and to be grateful to you every day, rain or shine, whether or not the reminder of your love is in the sky. Ame

Sunday, November 28

Welcome to your daily advent devotion from Grace Lutheran Church in River Forest, IL Our theme for Advent is Surprise! God has been surprising humanity since Genesis. In these devotions we explore a variety of surprises throughout scripture, seeing how our generous and loving God has and continues to show up in surprising and unexpected ways. May your journey to the manger be filled with surprise and wonder!

Rev. Troy Medlin

And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them. (Genesis 3:21)

It does not take long for sin to enter the human story. Just three chapters in, we see humanity’s intrinsic pull towards ourselves and away from God and one another. We know this is true. This is not all that surprising. We know that like Adam and Eve we oftentimes feel shame and guilt. We know we have not lived up to our own standards we set for ourselves. This truth is familiar to us. As familiar as an old and worn sweater. It fits snug and we cannot seem to get rid of it.

What is surprising, though, about God, and the story that unfolds in scripture is what God’s response to our shame, guilt and sin is. After the initial consequences of sin are laid out God does something else. Just 21 verses later God comes to them. God comes to them and responds with kindness, and mercy. God clothes Adam and Eve. In the midst of alienation, shame, vulnerability, and loss. God clothes them. This is an act of pure grace.

In places of alienation, shame, vulnerability, loss, and even death God will continue to come to us in surprising ways offering good news and promise throughout this season of waiting. All of it pointing to the one who will clothe us with himself. The one who in baptism has become our clothing, our covering, and our salvation. Clothed with Christ we are free from sin and death. Alienated no longer we are covered in the warm blanket of God’s own presence both now and forever. This surprising promise comes just three chapters in. Warm and welcomed we wait for all the surprises God still has in store.

God of promise, give us eyes to see the surprising ways you come to us again and again. May we know that we are covered by you and safe forever. Fitted with the garments of salvation that will never wear out. May they be as familiar as an old and worn sweater. It fits snug and we cannot seem to get rid of it. Amen.

Coming Soon!

Welcome back to Grace Devotions!

Sunday, November 28th marks the first Sunday in Advent. If you are receiving this notice, you have already signed up for our daily devotions from Grace Lutheran in River Forest, IL. Your first devotion will arrive on the 28th.

Our theme for Advent is Surprise! God has been surprising humanity since Genesis. We explore a variety of surprises throughout scripture, seeing how our generous and loving God has and continues to show up in surprising and unexpected ways.

Feel free to forward this message to family and friends who might appreciate this daily devotion for Advent. All are welcome to sign up! If you want to know more about Grace Lutheran, check out the website (www.graceriverforest.org) and/or leave a comment in the comments section!

May your journey to the manger be filled with surprise and wonder!

Thank you for being part of our journey.

Resurrection Living

Rev. David R. Lyle

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” (Mark 16:1-7)

The women go but not with hope. They go simply to do what must be done when a loved one dies. Even this task poses impossible challenges, for who among them can roll away a stone so heavy? The point is rendered moot, and the women mute, as they are met by the most surprising scene of all. The stone is rolled away and Jesus is nowhere to be found. Christ is not here behind death’s closed door. He is alive, in Galilee and beyond, playing in places throughout creation. He has been raised. Alleluia!

At the end of our discipline we fall headlong into deep waters of mysterious grace. There is little left to do but to chase after Christ and cling to him in faith. Just so, the disciplines of Lent are revealed as the marks of resurrection living. The life of Christian discipline is not the Sisyphean striving of those without hope. It is the joyful response of those who are already right where they need to be. Today, we stand with the women, blinking in the light of the newly risen Son. He calls our name and brings us back to life. Alleluia!

The stone is rolled away, the life of discipleship beckons. Christ goes ahead of us, calling us to follow him on a journey of joy beyond measure. Go! There you will see him. Alleluia!

Easter Prayer: Risen Christ, the light of your life drives out all shadows. Let me walk in this light always. Amen.

Thank you for traveling with us through these Lenten Disciplines. May the realities of confession, repentance, fasting, almsgiving, prayer, and acts of mercy live in your life as together we celebrate God’s unending love for us revealed at the cross. And may the resurrected Christ free our hearts that we might proclaim that love to all the world.