December 14
Joanna Schubkegel

You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Brothers and sisters, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! James 5:8-9

It too often feels like the oppressors are winning and injustice won’t be punished. There is so much suffering in the world. James is acknowledging the pain the world inflicts on itself but he’s also offering us hope. He encourages us to be patient and strengthen our hearts, because we know that through Christ all will be made right. But what do we do while we wait?  We are not passively waiting while God’s people suffer.  Instead, God calls us to actively work with each other toward a more just world. At a time when it’s easy to feel divided we are warned to not grumble against one another.  Do not fight or blame or point fingers. Instead use the blessing of each other to do more of God’s good work in the world. Find what connects us and, from that common place, we can do even more good in the world.

Dear God, give us strength and patience while we wait.  Help us to continue fighting for what is right in the world and help us to find common ground, so that we may be stronger together. Amen.


December 13

Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord their God,
who made heaven and earth,
    the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith forever;
who executes justice for the oppressed;
    who gives food to the hungry. Psalm 146:5-7

Happy. What exactly does this mean? This concept of happiness has been studied for decades. Is it an economic measure? Psychological, emotional, or even a moral state? Does the accumulation of things make us happy or is it in relationships or careers that we find it? How do we find happiness in a world filled with hunger, poverty, death, disease, oppression, discrimination, corrupt leadership, hate? It seems there is not much to be happy about when we look “out there.”

Just two verses earlier, the psalmist tells us “Do not put your faith in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.” There is not much to be happy about in this world and our leaders will not help us find it. Great. So, where do I find this illusive happiness?

There is only one place. Beyond riots, racism, violence, destructive forces of nature; our happiness come from God. Our God, who provides justice for the oppressed, fills the hungry with good things, opens the eyes of the blind, and keeps the promises made since the beginning of time is our joy, our hope, and our ultimate happiness.

Life is never easy, sin is ever-present. But beyond the ills of the world, God remains faithful in all things. That is where happiness lay, in the arms and at the feet of Jesus.

And this? It makes everything different. We no longer live in fear or dread. There is no need to dwell on the evils around us. We see the hurting and tend to the wounded. We face the hard things of life with grace and hope, knowing that no matter the outcome, God’s hand is upon our lives. It is that relationship that brings joy and through us, God’s will is done. There is no greater happiness.

Gracious God, remind us daily that our happiness can never come from the things of this world, but solely from you. Amen.


December 12
Liz Hansen

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
    and the ears of the deaf shall be opened;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
    and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness
    and streams in the desert.  Isaiah 35:5-6

These verses are full of reversals, seeming impossibilities, and upendings of reality as we thought we knew it. Isaiah gives us images of disabilities healed in miraculous and jubilant fashion. God’s reality flies in the face of our utterly reasonable expectations. These images, however, are deferred or conditional: then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, then the lame shall leap like a deer. These things will not happen unless or until something happens.

So, what is God waiting for? What do these miracles depend on? We are all impatient for restoration or wholeness of some kind. “Then,” Isaiah says. Why not now? What will it take to bring all of this to pass?

Isaiah gives us cause and effect but a little bit backwards. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, for waters shall break forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. What brings about this renewal is water where we never expected to find it.

In the driest, most inhospitable places in our lives, where we need it most and expect it least, God can refresh and sustain us and turn our expectations upside down. There are times, of course, when we might see no sign of these miraculous streams. In the waters of baptism, however, God has claimed us as his own forever and makes us whole. Likewise, Jesus has accomplished each of the miracles in these verses and then some. If the blind can see, the deaf hear, and the lame leap, then why couldn’t the dead rise, the sins of the world be forgiven? These assurances are no guarantee against infirmity, suffering, or the various deserts of our lives, but as we live in faith and hope for the impossibilities that God can and has made real, our words and actions can become just such sources of unexpected joy and healing to others.

Dear Lord, refresh the deserts and wildernesses in our lives and give us hope for your reversal of our expectations. Help us to bring this same hope to others. Amen.

The Third Sunday in Advent

Sunday, December 11
Al Swanson

And they said to him [Jesus], “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John [the Baptist] what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, those with a skin disease are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. Matthew 11:3b-5

John’s question is key to our faith. Jesus could have answered simply, “I am he.” Instead, Jesus uses examples to teach them, and us, to be observant, thoughtful, and introspective. Implicit in his answer, Jesus instructs us to keep an open mind as we observe, think, and consider our lives.

Some questions come to mind: How have we gotten where we are? What pieces of life’s puzzle came together to assist? How or where did we meet the people who turned out to be mentors? What doors of opportunity suddenly appeared and opened?

When I look back at my life, I am often amazed at how circumstances came together – in my professional careers and in my personal life. Twists and turns I could not have imagined have placed me where I am. If I had tried to write a script for my life, the story would not have been as interesting or wonderful as my life has turned out. The script would probably have been pretty boring. I could not have imagined the breadth of experiences or opportunities that I have had and that have shaped me. I did not accomplish those things on my own.

As I look back, I believe through my faith in God, that Jesus was watching over me, leading me, and providing and opening opportunities for me. The Lord’s script of my life was far better than anything I could have ever imagined.

Lord, bless us with the humility to recognize that we cannot accomplish things on our own. Keep us aware of the world around us. Strengthen our faith that you are always with us. Amen.


December 9
Paulette Reddel

But now, apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed and is attested by the Law and the Prophets, the righteousness of God through the faith of Jesus Christ for all who believe. 
Romans 3:21-22b

The apostle Paul was a tireless crusader for the Gospel. He wanted God’s redemption story to be told! God’s gift of love so freely given! For you! For me!

Paul was absolutely certain of his message to the early Christians. He reminds me of an itinerant firebrand preacher setting up a large tent each night in different locales, welcoming sinners near and far. “God loves you! Christ died for you! You are saved!”

He wrote to the Christians in Rome, “You, my friends, are part of this story! We have all been rescued, Jew and Gentile! The Law can no longer separate us. God’s love has broken the bonds of sin. We are powerless, unable to rise above it all alone. Through Christ we are made new. God’s liberating act of grace has released us!” 

Today, a life of faith emboldens us to live faithfully in our communities. We open our arms to welcome those less fortunate and those in desperate need of kindness. We seek ways to share God’s message of “good news.” As we form new relationships, we need not point fingers, clutter our conversations with judgments, or isolate groups by closing doors and building walls. The law weighs us down. Thankfully, Christ has shown us a better way!

The season of Advent begins. In the midst of darkness we seek light. As sinners we are promised hope – a Messiah. In faith we live as forgiven children of God.

Dear God, thank you for your gift of life. Keep me strong in my faith in the midst of distractions during this busy season.  Amen


December 9
Lance Wilkening

He has told you, O mortal, what is good,
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice and to love kindness
    and to walk humbly with your God?  Micah 6:8

In the book of Micah, God condemns the people of Israel for breaking the covenant God made with them when God led them out of Egypt. The rulers of Israel have become corrupt; they “abhor justice and pervert all equity….”

“Its rulers give judgment for a bribe
its priests teach for a price;
its prophets give oracles for money.”

After God makes his case against Israel, the people ask if God will be pleased “with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?”

But God has no need for ostentatious sacrifices. Those sacrifices are an attempt by the people to demonstrate their righteousness. Instead, God requires the people to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.

When we walk humbly with God, we make God the center of our lives. God walks beside us, sometimes carrying us, but always with us. It is only when we start to live for ourselves, putting ourselves before others, that we begin to feel the absence of God. God is still there, but our own willfulness and pride blind us to God’s presence.

For us, God made the ultimate sacrifice, Jesus, given unto death for the redemption of our sins. In return we are called to live for others, to look beyond ourselves and give out of the abundance we have been given.

In this Advent season of preparation for the birth of Jesus, we remember that the Son of God was born into humility, laid in a manger, raised, and nurtured by a poor but blessed woman. He lived his life reaching out to the poor and the outcast, rebuking the rich and the powerful, and giving comfort to the sick and the oppressed. Let us live to follow Christ’s example in our dealings with others, and to strive to do justice in an unjust world.

Gracious God, teach us to walk humbly with you. Guide our actions so that they may benefit others and be a reflection of your justice. Amen.


December 8
Mike Gillespie

Mighty King, lover of justice,
    you have established equity;
you have executed justice
    and righteousness in Jacob. Psalm 99:4

Psalm 99:4 begins by asserting “The King (the Lord) is mighty,” meaning all powerful. That the Lord “loves justice,” meaning equitable and loving treatment on our part with our fellow human beings and with everything on our beautiful planet.

The psalm continues by saying “In Jacob you (the Lord) have done what is just and right.”  I believe that this means that despite Jacob’s cunning and his deceitful treatment of his brother Esau, stealing Esau’s birthright and their father’s deathbed blessing promised to Esau the Lord let Jacob know “I am with you” at which time Jacob vowed to “return all things to God.” Four powerful, thought-provoking words: “I am with you.”

Jacob, having become changed and renewed, went on to become the Biblical Patriarch of the Israelites. Like Jacob I believe our fundamental mission in life is to strive to get close to God. How do we do that?  By also striving to do what is just and right.

Blessings and opportunities have been bestowed upon me beyond counting. Loving family, health, encouragement, and good examples on how best to live from my elders, teachers, and acquaintances. Life challenges have also come my way. Disappointments, loss, failure, and shortcomings on my part. But through it all in my mind and heart I have lived knowing God’s words: “I am with you.”

So how can I not help but live a life trying my best to live as I have come to know God directs? So, in turn I must also try to be another good example, to give encouragement and give support to others as I am able. To attend and to stay involved at church.

Lord, help me try to be grateful for all you have graciously given me in this wonderful life. Help me continue to strive to live as I have come to know you and to discern your directions for me. Grant me the strength and the wisdom to continue to love and to serve like Christ.  Amen.


December 7
Esther Armstrong

Welcome one another, therefore,
just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
Romans 15:7

When we were new to Oak Park a man came by one summer day as we worked in our yard. He offered to help us out as he could use some work. This started a year’s long relationship with Carl, an unhoused gentleman, down on his luck, who’d made some poor choices in life for which he was now paying the consequences. Carl was a hard worker. Every few weeks he’d come by to ask if he could mow or rake our yard, shovel snow in the winter, or offer any other help. We came to enjoy his company. Once while eating a meal in our dining room, he noticed our piano and asked if he could play. Turns out, Carl was an organist at his church and at one point had been ordained as a minister. He invited us to hear him guest preach and play.

So, one summer Sunday, our family headed to Chicago’s west side to Carl’s church. With a little bit of awkwardness, uncertain of what we would find, we entered the back doors, hoping to sneak into the back pew and blend in. Well, there was no chance of that. As soon as we walked in, several parishioners immediately ushered us to the front of the church, practically hugging us the whole way down the aisle. The joy with which they welcomed us was something I had never experienced at church before. They wanted to know all about us, about the kids, and were genuine in asking how they could pray for us. It was an amazing experience that we will never forget. We participated in the service, listened to Carl’s sermon and organ music, and joined in the joyful dancing and celebration of music.

I think about that Sunday all the time. How welcoming am I in my home and church life? Do I make an effort to reach out to anyone I meet, with loving arms, like those dear sisters and brothers did for us? As much as I wanted to say yes to those questions, I knew the answer was too often “no”. Paul put it simply. “Welcome one another as Christ welcomed you”. It can be a challenging command, that I hope to obey better and more fully.

Lord, forgive me when I fail to be as welcoming as you ask me to be. Help me to extend your welcome to all with whom I encounter, without condition. Amen.


December 6
Paul Eichwedel

May he judge your people with righteousness
    and your poor with justice. Psalm 72:2

We entered the small waiting area at the Chicago Police Department (CPD) Headquarters and took our seats.  I was there to comply with the Murder Registry law. I had asked Pastor Lueking to join me, wearing his clerical collar. He understood – without explanation – my reason for the request.  He was there to enhance my prospects for receiving just treatment.

While we waited, a CPD officer announced that proof of address was required. One man stated that since his release from prison he was homeless. “That’s your problem,” barked the officer, but before he left, Pastor Lueking became that man’s advocate, questioning why the registration could not occur and the verification be done later. In fact, that’s precisely how the law is written.

The officer was taken aback by Pastor Lueking’s intervention, but noticed his age, race, and clerical collar, and knew he couldn’t ignore or dismiss him.

He told the man to go to a Chicago shelter and return with an address. Pastor Lueking asked which shelter and how the man could go and return that day, via public transportation, with no cash. His question went unanswered as we were called in to register. I received just treatment that day, thanks to Pastor Lueking. And, I think, the other man at least left that day feeling that someone valued him enough to stand up for him. 

That’s how I’ve experienced justice over the years; not from the systems designed and empowered to provide it, but from God’s servants in this world; frequently from unexpected sources like the juror who expressed her concern for my safety; fellow prisoners who stood up against those who would harm me. 

Over the years, I’ve often observed: “The world crucified Christ! Why should I expect better treatment.”  In Jesus, who experienced the ultimate injustice, I find not just sympathy for the injustices I have experienced, but empathy. That has motivated me to help others achieve whatever measure of justice we could extract from society. In my view, that’s what Jesus’ sacrifice is all about.

Dear Lord, open our eyes to the many forms of injustice in this world, help us to overcome apathy, and show us how we can play a role in bring justice to those who so desperately need it. In Jesus name, amen.


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.