December 5
Heidi Hamernick

The wolf shall live with the lamb;
    the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
the calf and the lion will feed together,
    and a little child shall lead them. Isaiah 11:6

At its essence, Isaiah 11:6 demonstrates how opposing forces may work together toward a common goal. As a psychologist, I draw upon this fundamental lesson daily when having to support the many children, adolescents, and adults who bring their myriad of perspectives, cultures, parenting styles, and political and religious beliefs to each session in our work together. Oftentimes, these varied perspectives differ dramatically from my own. Nevertheless, I take it as a fundamental imperative to listen to their side of the story – how they perceive the world and their specific circumstances.

As a psychologist you are trained to listen to the underlying messages that your clients share with you. There is no room to let your personal judgments, opinions, or life events cloud your understanding of another’s experiences and feelings. While it is important to acknowledge your own personal beliefs and perceptions, your focus is on the needs and concerns of others. The desire to “teach” or “preach” something as basic as the “golden rule” is often tempting, yet the best approach is to simply listen. It is this empathy and willingness to listen that lays the foundation for understanding and acceptance.

Isaiah’s words have many applications, not least of which is our current political culture writ large. It seems almost impossible that our politicians and their supporters would unite under one common goal, one in which we strive collaboratively for the betterment of the country. Indeed, it may feel easier to throw up our hands and resign ourselves to this situation. Yet Isaiah’s words offer us hope and direction. He shows us that even perceived enemies can live together peacefully through understanding, respect, and “knowledge of the Lord.”

I call on you, dear Jesus. Please help to guide me to listen to and to understand the needs, feelings, and experiences of others. Allow me to be open, to hear, and to empathize with others, especially those that may see things very differently from my own perspective. Teach me, dear Jesus, so that through this work we can learn to create a more peaceful, accepting, and loving world. Amen.

The Second Sunday in Advent

December 4
Linda Street

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?  Therefore, bear fruit worthy of repentance.” Matthew 3:7-8

In preceding verses, we find John the Baptist in the process of baptizing repentant Jews as part of a traditional cleansing ritual. In doing so, he is preparing his people for the arrival of Christ who will also require an acknowledgment of sin and repentance. Strolling onto the scene are the Pharisees and Sadducees. These two groups could not have been more different in their beliefs – but they both see the risk of a captivating new set of religious paradigms: Love and Forgiveness. They have come to check out the competition.

At this point three things happen. John calls them a brood of vipers, he implies that they will be included in the coming wrath of God and then this final imperative: “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” 

These are the words that still ring true for us today. As Christians we are often reminded to bear fruit according to our gifts. This is not a difficult thing for most of us.  But the “in keeping with repentance” part is more of a challenge. As we bear fruit – helping others, giving generously, clothing, and feeding the poor, welcoming the homeless, and more – John reminds us it is only by keeping our own unworthiness as part of the equation that we can serve others bearing fruit in keeping with our repentance. We are humbled by reflecting on our own sin, repentance, forgiveness. We find joy in complete justification – being found righteous in the sight of God.  Now we are ready to do good – to bear fruit with our eyes focused on the God who forgives, redeems, and justifies. 

Forgiving God, we are thankful for the continuous forgiveness you offer. Remind us to humbly help others in light of our own shortcomings. Help us to reflect spiritual joy as we live out the promise of the justified. Amen.


December 3
Katharine Roller

Yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law
but through the faith of Jesus Christ. 

And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus,
so that we might be justified by the faith of Christ 
and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law. 

But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not!  Galatians 2:16-17

The first verse of this passage is very familiar to me. The second, less so. Together, they make me think about being a Christian in the world: specifically, the knowledge that my actions reflect on Jesus Christ, and on my siblings in Christ.

It is a daunting thought! And arrogant, perhaps. How could the actions of one person reflect on the entire body of Christian people, much less on the Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth? And yet, you may meet people who have never interacted with a person who self-identifies as a Christian—or, more likely (and more sadly) have never had a positive interaction with people who call themselves Christian. If the people you meet each day, friends and loved ones and total strangers, knew nothing about Jesus Christ except that someone like you believed in and followed Him, would that change how you treated them? How so?

This is a tricky road to walk. Too easily, we can get caught up in putting on a Christian appearance, hiding our sins instead of facing them. Such attempts to paper over sins can beget even graver ones.

And they are unnecessary. Galatians 2:17 says it: the fact that we are sinners does not make Christ a minister of sin. To the contrary, by acknowledging our sins with humility, facing them with courage, and working to heal the damage of sin writ large in the world, we show the true power of God’s gifts. Such works do not save us. But through them, we can reflect some small fraction of the light that God shines upon us. In this Advent season and always, let us shine.

Lord, help me live in such a way that those You place in my path will see Your light through me. Amen.


December 2
Jeff Cribbs

But let justice roll down like water
    and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.   Amos 5:24

Around 750 BCE, the prophet Amos delivered his message to the people of Israel.  Amos was uncompromising in his message that God would soon come to judge people for their sins. Therefore, it was not sufficient to confine religious observance to ritual and worship without compassion for others.   

This verse is one of Martin Luther King’s most quoted, appearing in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail in 1963 and five months later in his “I Have a Dream” speech.  It is no surprise how these words confront indifference to racism and discrimination. The words are universal and transparent and reflect the profound ethical nature of God. We are called to seek justice and be righteous.  

How do these words relate to our daily life in this suffering world? 

First, we can do more than passively lament injustice. Biblical justice is not impartial but focuses on helping the helpless and the oppressed. Giving our time, talent, and resources to serve those in need is central to our faith. There are many opportunities to engage at Grace Church and the wider Christian community. 

Second, being righteous is how we relate to and treat others. It is a high calling to love and respect others, particularly in this time of stark divisions. The word righteous is distinctly different from “being right” and requires humility. 

We are in Advent and a season of hope. The words of Amos demanding justice and fairness are not all that different from Jesus’s words in Matthew 22:37-40 telling us to love God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. 

Good and gracious God, we have fallen short in this unjust world.  We seek your help to live our lives according to your will.  Help us have compassion, mercy, and grace for others so they may know your love.  Open our eyes to injustice and help us work for the helpless and needy.  In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.


December 1
Gwen Gotsch

Give justice to the weak and the orphan;
    maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
    deliver them from the hand of the wicked. Psalm 82:3-4


Give, maintain, rescue, deliver — these imperative verbs are the first things I noticed in these verses from Psalm 82. Imperative verbs are commands or directions, and the subject of the verbs — who should do these things — is implied: it’s you, the person being spoken to.

Children hear lots of imperatives: wake up, do your homework, practice your piano lesson. The authority of parents and teachers stands behind these directives, and these adults also help children fulfill them.

Who is issuing the commands in Psalm 82? No surprise, it’s God, who has ultimate authority to judge the earth, “for all the nations belong to you!” (v. 8).

So where does God’s authority come from? And how and where do I recognize God’s authority? I know from catechism lessons that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, present everywhere. But how does God’s awesome and overwhelming power connect me to caring for the weak and the needy?

I feel God’s pull on my heart and my actions most when I consider God as Creator, the One who spoke into being a world where all can flourish. That world is broken by human willfulness, but God’s love for me makes me want to respond wholeheartedly to the command to give justice and to care for the weak and needy. God has given me an example to follow in Jesus, who entered human brokenness in order to restore the relationship between creatures and Creator. And God’s daily grace brings me joy, humility and wisdom as I strive to be part of the redemption of all creation.

Creating and redeeming God, help me live for others every day, bringing your love to all. Amen.