Monday, December 6

Rev. Dean Lueking

[Jesus said,]“Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25: 41-46)

During Advent, 2021, we do well to hold close to our hearts the key theme of this too-often neglected season of the church year.

That theme is hope.

Advent hope takes many forms such as including the person otherwise alone during the coming holiday gatherings, sending that overdue note to the friend who needs to hear from you, commending the teenager beginning to learn how satisfying service is, reminding someone long absent from worship how much they are missed. And there are so many more, much needed in these Covid 19 times of social distancing.

Including singing! Let’s not forget to sing, masks notwithstanding. (Concerning masks, a sign in a local shop puts it bluntly: “Wear the damn mask and wash your hands, too.”)

Advent hymnody is a priceless treasure drawn from all traditions of the Christian faith, spread across the centuries from the ancient church onward into our own time (and composers from our congregation). Do you have a hymnal for use at home?  If not, please consider getting one and enjoying the immense good of singing the faith there as well as in church. I grew up with that tradition and recommend it wholeheartedly

We do three things every time we sing hymns together: offer praise to God, upbuild each other in faith, bring contentment to our own souls. That’s uniquely Christian. I know of no other religion in which the people come together and sing).  

Such Advent-keeping leads on to year-around growth in grace, enabling us to welcome ever more faithfully the gracious Lord whose welcoming arms are ever open to us.

Even so, come Lord Jesus. Quickly come!

Sunday, December 5

Kjersti Anderson

See, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 4: 1-3)

Coming from the perspective of a 26-year-old teacher, still in the midst of questions of faith and the demonstration of such: Reading this passage from Malachi, I was struck by two contradicting ideas.

In the Advent season, we await with our calendars the coming of baby Jesus, to put it simply. Whether for children it be presents and the story of Jesus’ birth, or for more mature religious convictions, the very coming of God’s promise and salvation. During this time of expectation, I’ve always pictured (and I venture to speak for more than just myself) the innocence, beauty, and vulnerability of a tiny baby. Thus, the surprise of these verses in Malachi is that God appears abrasive and violent (to me, an at-times arrogant person). It reads as a very apocalyptic, “the end is coming” sort of thing, with days like burning ovens and evildoers reduced to ash. Albeit Malachi writes with expectation, but a different kind of expectation than I associate with Advent.

Thus, how does one unpack this burning? This leaving with neither root nor branch, foundation or connection? My personal understanding of God and the Christian story is one of complete and total grace, mercy, forgiveness and love.

Then I read the passage again, keeping in mind the context of our time. And in perfect honesty, as aggressive and morbid as it may sound, there’s a whole lot I would love to see burned up, as ash on the bottom of my foot, to put it as Malachi does so eloquently. When I consider this reading from the perspective of a person who faces oppression, like systemic racism, homophobia, sexism, abuse, unfettered greed in the face of poverty, God is clearly not taking a passive position. God is destroying oppression, arrogance, and greed. God is burning evil up.

And then Malachi inserts into this story climax the ever-so-necessary “but.” For it is in this word where the grace, mercy, and forgiveness of God that we know can be found (and word-choice wise, that is itself surprising). The empowerment of God’s people, that they will come out “leaping like calves,” is illuminated by a rising “sun.” Whoever transcribed this I’m sure was tickled with the play on words. The rising sun is, of course, Jesus, the son of God, in whom we put our faith and whom we model our lives after in love.

Our God, in our expectation for your coming, let us not lose sight of the very conflicts within ourselves. Illuminate your love within us and branch it outwards to those near and far. Keep our hearts and minds open, shining light, as we eagerly await you and your son. Amen.

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


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.