Christmas Day

December 25
Julie Hinz

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overtake it. John 1:5

The basic question of these last weeks of reflection has been “how the reality of this Babe in a manger that we celebrate today, change how I live my life on a day-to-day basis?”

My gut response is often “I’m not sure it does. This is just who I am and what I do.” But dig a little deeper, push that annoying “why?” as far as possible and I discover that when I was very young, someone – parent, grandparent, teacher, mentor – taught me that Jesus loved me so much he became human to save me from death. And not just me but everybody else. So, I GET to love everybody else without hesitation. That message stuck.

Today, shaped by time, wisdom, and experience, that lesson has been honed, focused, and hopefully projected more deeply and broadly than before. As we discover who we are and begin exploring our own gifts we find that the Light of that tiny Babe has been implanted into our own hearts; our own ways of being have become conduits for that infant Light to shine into the world.

Every time we reach out a hand to help or bring joy, comfort, laughter, provide food, drink, clothing when they are needed; every time we engage in conversation with our neighbor or sit with the hurting; every time we gather as the body of Christ or faithfully tend to our vocations; every time we rejoice in who God created us to be and use the fullness of gifts given us, that holy Light shines out.

And what happens when there is light? There is no more darkness. Darkness cannot exist where there is light. When you and I allow the Christmas Light to shine out through us into the world simply by being God’s people in our every-day lives, the darkness flees. Light spreads.

May you go into the world boldly shining the Light of Christ into every dark and hurting corner of the world.

Lord God, continue to kindle your Christmas light in the hearts of your people. Remind us that this light is to be shared throughout our darkened world and, living our lives in you, we are beacons of Your love and hope to a world in need. Amen.

Christmas Eve

December 24
Laurie Schubkegel

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.  Luke 2:10-11

We have a message of spectacular rescue: the love of God has rescued us from the wrath of God. Christmas is about the Creator of the universe, coming himself, in the person of his Son, into the world that he made.

Hundreds of times in the Bible, God is either called Savior or speaks of saving his people. God’s act of grace in response to our sin is the heart of the good news. But it isn’t the end of the story. When Jesus appeared to his disciples following his resurrection, he gave them a mission. “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20:21)

God sent Jesus to be our Savior, but God was not finished sending. As disciples of Jesus, we also are sent into the world to proclaim that good news of great joy, that God has come to redeem and restore his creation. Do you know what we call sent people? We call them missionaries.

This is your new gospel identity as a follower of Jesus Christ. You are a missionary. You might think, “I’m not a missionary. Missionaries travel across the world.” However, if you look up “missionary” in the dictionary, it just means “one sent on a mission.”

We are sent as missionaries to our family, neighborhood, workplace, schools, and every other sphere of life. In other words, we’re given a mission to reach the people around us, wherever we are with the good news of great joy.

Everyone God saves, God sends. The result of our reconciliation is we are also entrusted with the mission to implore others to be reconciled to God. Where have you been sent?

Savior, send us as your missionaries to share your good news of great joy. Amen.


December 23
Ed Mason

And the king will answer them,‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.’ Matthew 25:40

To set the context of Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:31-46, the king—Jesus—is speaking in verse 40 to those people—the sheep—separated from the goats by the king and placed at his right hand. The king commends those who, in caring for “the least of these who are members of my family,” by feeding the hungry, providing drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick and the imprisoned, cared also for the king. This contrasts with the king’s condemnation spoken later in the passage those people—the goats on his left—who failed to care for the hungry or thirsty, the stranger, the naked, or the sick or imprisoned, and, in so failing to care for “the least of these,” failed also to care for the King. 

Difficult and challenging words by Jesus! 

Jesus’ words are a call to each of us, as disciples of Jesus. We need to always recall the Good News we have received and in which we hope: we are saved by faith in Christ, through God’s reconciling work of love, revealed in Jesus’ life, death on the Cross, and Resurrection. But our faith in Christ should be neither lifeless nor loveless, but rather, as Paul states in Galatians 5:6, a “faith working in love.” We are called by Jesus to love God and love and serve others, even those sometimes hard-to-love people who are “the least of these.” Praise God that, in His love and grace, He grants us the power to love, broken vessels that we are. God also grants us the Church, a family of brothers and sisters in Christ. We are called both to love our brothers and sisters in Christ and, together with our brothers and sisters, to love and serve others, even the “least of these!”

Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:40 are comfort for us, as disciples. Each of us suffers in various ways. The truth is that, however we try to shield ourselves, suffering is and will be an unavoidable, sometimes seemingly overwhelming, part of our lives. Jesus, the King, wholly and completely identifies with and is close to those members of His family who suffer—that includes us, as adopted sons and daughters of God.  We can take comfort that, however deep our suffering and pain, Jesus, through his identification with suffering humanity, is and will always be there with and for us.  That is Good News!

We thank you God for your great grace and love.  May our faith in You be a living and active faith marked by love and service to others, including the “least of these who are members of your family.” We thank you that, in and through the living Christ, You identify and always are with us in our own trials and suffering.  In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.


December 22
John Bouman

He has filled the hungry with good things
    and sent the rich away empty. Luke 1:53

“He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.” (Luke 1:53). So sings teenage Mary, pregnant with the Savior of the World.  It is a part of the Magnificat, her rhapsody about being chosen so shockingly to become an indispensable player in the great story of salvation – the transition from Law to Gospel. 

Young Mary is saying that, in choosing a woman of “low estate” for this exalted role, God is being powerfully consistent.  In Mary’s heritage, God has always insisted on social justice, a responsible sharing of resources.  His prophets consistently laid down the law against wealthy and powerful exploiters. For example, in the famous words of the prophet Amos, addressed to the rich and powerful people he criticizes for exploiting the poor, “Hate evil, love good, and establish justice in the gate! … let justice roll down like water and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”  

Mary says that her own elevation echoes this consistent theme about the justice God wants and models: he fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty.  This is not a punishment for the rich just because they are rich; it is a declaration that justice – that God – prioritizes those who have little.  And it is a lesson for us who have plenty but seek more, and who thus thwart God’s consistent insistence that we do justice with our power and resources. Mary is swept away in admiration for this principle of the law, but she also has a glimmer of the transition from Law to Gospel.  God is great for demanding justice, and He is even greater for bringing into her womb and thence into the world the Agent of forgiveness for the failure of all of us to deliver it.  That forgiveness gives us peace.  And that peace gives us gratitude and courage to work for justice.      

Dear Lord: Thank you for your gift of peace that comes from forgiveness.  Be with us as we seek to work for justice in your world. Amen.


December 21
Bill Koehne

To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Romans 1:7

Going through Confirmation or maybe even earlier, many of us memorized the verse, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”  Ephesians 2:8-9. This verse served as the theme for our school during the 2021-22 school year.  As I read today’s verse from Romans, I thought of this verse as well.

When we think of the Coming Christ during this Advent season the focus tends to be on the baby Jesus born in a stable and placed in a manger.  We don’t often think of the end game, Jesus’ death on the cross.  That is something I love about the Children’s Christmas Eve service at Grace.  Every year, for nearly 75 years, the service begins with carols sung by our students while standing in the form of a cross.  It portrays the full story.  The message, that we are justified by faith through the death of our Savior on the cross, is front and center. 

Paul reminds us of this message in the Ephesians verse above and in our verse for today from Romans.

In the Gospels we learn over and over of the love Jesus has for his followers.  Our faith grows as we see this love and the power of the Spirit playing out in our lives.  In our faith, we understand that we have been made righteous by the power of God’s saving love.  And with this righteousness firmly planted in our hearts we are sent out to serve.  What a wonderful cycle that occurs when we feed our faith and allow the Spirit to work within us.

Heavenly Father, thank you for the seed of faith that you planted in me.  Help me today to live my life firmly rooted in your righteousness. Amen.


December 20
Val Spiller

Restore us, O God of hosts;
    let your face shine, that we may be saved. Psalm 80:7

Restoration. What a powerful word. Life has a way of beating you down and battering your heart. We are created so full of expectation and hope, yet we constantly struggle to find the peace and purpose. God, in his great goodness and mercy shines his face on us. He draws us close to him when we least deserve it. He provides us rest from the mess of our lives and from ourselves.

This Advent season, salvation and restoration are close. God is our refuge, our comfort in times of trouble. Restoration is what happens when we land in God’s grace. He restores our hope, our heart, our will to survive. He redeems our purpose and gives the circumstances of our life new meaning.

Life brings hardships. They are unavoidable. I can see how the struggles I have encountered were for a divine purpose. They have shaped who I am, and who God wants me to be. I can now share and offer the wisdom of those experiences to others as they work toward restoration in their own seasons of suffering. The quality of our suffering can determine the beauty of our gratitude. Our moments of sorrow have the potential to deepen those seasons of splendor. How do you view your pain? Is it the road to your peace? Does it drive you to Jesus? Is it the cross to your restoration? May you look to your road with great expectation this advent season. May you carefully embrace and savor your journey, all the parts and all the bumps. May God be real, and deep, and potent in your life, today and every day forward.

Dearest Lord and Savior, you are the one who gives us life, and breath and meaning. May we always look to you for our renewed sense of purpose. May we see your salvation and restoration in everything you do, everything that happens to us, and every road that lies ahead. Help us to be more of who you designed us to be, and may we decide to be more and more like you. Give us eyes to see the work you are doing in our lives, today and always. In Christ’s precious name we pray. Amen.


December 19

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son and shall name him Immanuel. 
Isaiah 7:14

At first blush, this passage seems to lack any connection to our question of how God’s saving act changes how we live our lives. So, let’s step back just a bit.

The prophet Isaiah saw the world differently “The word that Isaiah, son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.” (2:1) Isaiah knew visions, saw God’s word, translated God’s intentions for people to understand. These word choices are not random but Isaiah’s own neon sign that screamed “Prophet!” to the world.

The language throughout Isaiah boldly reveals the bleeding wounds of Israel, a desolate country, cities burned, Jerusalem besieged by its enemies and the abhorrent behavior of its inhabitants – “Crushing people, by grinding the face of the poor,” their haughtiness, their self-importance, etc.

God is angry. Isaiah sees that God is angry. Isaiah sees Judah’s complicity and how Jerusalem has become a place of injustice. It seems right to expect words of condemnation, the proclaiming of the consequences of sinful behavior.

But Isaiah starts with something more powerful and more important. Hope. “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” In Matthew (1:23) we learn that Immanuel means “God is with us.”

While Isaiah is addressing the sinfulness of Judah’s here and now, his words are far reaching into our future. He (and we) must also face the destructive forces of the world and, like him, we must begin with hope. Only through the hope of this “God-with-us” can Isaiah (or we) create and sustain any systems of justice for the fallen people of God.

This “God-with-us” is hope in desperate times. The Babe is named as the one with authority to establish justice with righteousness, the one who brings hope. Immanuel grants us freedom from the chains of sin so we might live according to God’s vision for justice. Now, we can breathe in the hope of salvation and breathe out justice into our fallen world.

Gracious God, you have brought hope for the world through Jesus. Remind us of this hope and the freedom it brings for us to serve with your love and bring your justice to the world. Amen.

The Fourth Sunday of Advent

December 18
Stephanie Wilkening

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.” Matthew 1:20-21

Jesus is on the way! How exciting!

But not for Joseph. He learns Mary, his betrothed, is pregnant. He knows the baby is not his, and is certainly feeling betrayal, confusion, and heartache. Just before the angel visits, Joseph has decided to quietly divorce Mary, so as not to bring shame upon her. Joseph truly cares for Mary and his decision is fueled by his love and compassion. Historians tell us that if he had chosen a more public shaming, Mary may have been put to death for adultery.

I shiver to think about it.

Thankfully, the angel comes to put Joseph’s mind at ease. Joseph takes Mary as his wife. Simply put, Mary gives birth to Jesus and Jesus saves us from our sins. Just as the angel said.

Every day I thank God for his love and the love of his only son, Jesus Christ. What a gift he has given to all of us: a love like no other.

As I move about in the world and in my life, I try to live compassionately and love others as God has shown me through Jesus. I feel truly blessed by God in my life, but I see so many who are hungry, poor, and homeless, discriminated against for their color or who they love or where they come from, or who are victims of injustice. It’s heartbreaking.

I believe we are all called to do more to help others, to show compassion, and to show everyone God’s love.

Dear Lord, I pray in thanksgiving for the birth of your son, Jesus Christ, who died to save us from our sins. Your love is the greatest gift of all. I thank you for giving your love to us and pray that we can give it to others through our words and deeds. Amen.


December 17
Dan Lehmann

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we may walk in them.  Ephesians 2:8-10

Most Christians know that Ephesians 2:8-9 captured Martin Luther’s attention and led him to reforms in the church, ultimately resulting in the Reformation. “By grace you are saved” is preached and taught in the Lutheran tradition from the beginning of each person’s faith journey. That’s half the point of this Advent’s devotion theme, “Justified and Just: Saved and Sent by the Coming Christ.”

Paul did not stop at salvation, however. The coming Christ saves us from bondage to sin and death, freeing us to serve “the other.” That’s the exhortation in verse 10. Because we have been saved we are transformed and an outcome of that transformation is good works. Paul goes on in his letter to share how we are to live.

Luther also composed a treatise titled “The Freedom of a Christian.” As Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton of the ELCA puts it, “he offered his most compelling summary of the Christian life: In Christ we are completely free and at the same time completely bound in love and service to our neighbors.”

You see this love and service here at Grace Church in our coat drives, sandwich making, food walks, peace and justice advocacy, benevolences, and on and on. “Christian individuals do not live in themselves but in Christ and their neighbor,” Luther wrote.

Eaton adds that “as in Luther’s day, our faithful response to the uncertainty and death-dealing forces in our world is to proclaim that which is sure and life-giving for all. Freed in Christ, we resist the temptation to turn inward in despair by turning outward in love and service to the world.” With the Christ child’s arrival, we can let our lights shine.

Thank you, generous God, for the gift of grace, the gift of faith, the gift of salvation, and most of all, the gift of Jesus. Amen


December 16
Scott Street

For I, the Lord, love justice,
    I hate robbery and wrongdoing;
I will faithfully give them their recompense,
    and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. Isaiah 61:8

God always does what is right and just and wants us to love justice as well. He expects us to interact with Him and others in a just manner. Through his Son we have been given the perfect example of how to justly respond to whatever we encounter. Our Savior suffered great injustice at the hands of political and religious leaders and even some of those who followed him. Jesus, however, showed mercy and willingness to forgive. Thankfully, when we act unjustly toward others, God hears our prayers of repentance and looks with mercy on us and gives us grace.

Isaiah then provides a specific sin. The verse states the obvious, God “hates robbery” but then says “for burnt offerings.” For example, using the proceeds of a theft to show our love for God just compounds the iniquity. God rejects the donation to a charitable organization that comes from stolen money or the tithe that was made possible by cheating on taxes. Giving such “offerings” makes God an accessory to our theft.

God will identify those activities that we should do in His name. He promises to lead us and help us to serve with sincerity.

We know the promises God made to the Israelites. Believers embrace a covenant from God as well.  Romans 3:23-24 tells us “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

Being eternally grateful for the unmerited favor God shows us allows us to step out confidently in his service. 

Merciful Father, help us to be your servant and to perform works that bring you delight. We pray for the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives that we might bring justice and peace to all. Amen.