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Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

 

December 2–8
December 9–15
December 16–22
December 23–29
December 30–January 6

Sunday, December 2, 2018          

 Today’s Scripture Reading | Luke 21:25–36

Reflection
Have a holly jolly apocalypse? Yikes. This is the season of comfort and joy, merry and bright, isn’t it? Instead we have fear and trembling as we start this season close to the end of the story.

Today we enter the season of Advent. The word advent means “coming.” Advent is the season in the church year when we prepare to receive the promise of Christmas. And here’s the promise of Christmas: God is going to come to earth through human hands and beating hearts to build the kingdom of God. God is going to bring heaven and earth just a bit closer, close enough that the crying will cease, suffering will end, peace and goodwill will reign. So close that you, I, this whole world will be at rest in God.

The promise of Christmas is that even though this world can feel full of pain and fear, terror and heartache, God’s presence remains with us through this all. This has been the hope of God’s people throughout the ages. God is our Emmanuel; God is with us. Raise your heads. Be alert.

Jesus’ words, as daring and as bold as they appear, were words of comfort to those who heard them: those frightening, bold, beautiful glimpses of God coming into the world; comfort and healing balm to those who had long been suffering, to those who cried out for justice and longed for the promises of God.

Yes, Advent is about looking around at the state of the world, at the wars and the violence, the heartache and the headaches, and longing for God to end it all and unveil that new creation. 

But Advent is also about choosing to see God’s near-presence—here, now. It’s about raising our heads, lifting our gaze, and looking around each day, each moment, and keeping alert to the unfolding presence of the holy.

Prayer
Almighty God, who promises that all manner of things will be well: give me strength to raise my head and keep alert, that I may see your unfolding presence and greet with joy and gladness the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer. Amen.

Written by Shawn Fiedler, Ministerial Associate for Worship

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Monday, December 3, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Luke 1:5–13

Reflection
In this text, the angel Gabriel approaches Zechariah, tells him that God has heard his prayers, and that his barren wife, Elizabeth, would birth a son to be named John.

Zechariah had always been a godly man under the reign of Herod, king of Judea. Both Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, lived good lives in God’s sight, but they suffered pain. Elizabeth had been unable to conceive a child, which was considered to be a lack of God’s blessing in Jewish culture at that time. They were getting older.

Then one day Zechariah was burning incense in the temple as part of his priestly duties. The angel Gabriel approached him. Zechariah was startled and gripped with fear. The angel first told him not to be afraid. He then followed with the message of God’s amazing gift: the impending birth of a son. What an astonishing blessing for Zechariah and Elizabeth—and God’s world!

In reading this passage, one could, at first, have doubt or disbelief at the magnitude of this blessing. We might question, “How could God possibly do that?” On the other hand, it helps us to better understand aspects of our faith—living a godly life, perseverance, prayer, God’s power, and believing in and carrying out God’s will.

Few of us have experienced a miracle on the scale of Zechariah and Elizabeth’s miracle, but let’s think of how angels’ messages have come to us in other and, possibly, profound ways. Which of your life experiences have been changed as a result of God’s will being presented to you through today’s angels?

Prayer
Give me strength to believe that by living a godly life, having patience to wait on God, and praying, God’s miracles will come to me through unexpected angels. Amen.

Written by Pamela Block, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Deuteronomy 18:15–18

Reflection
When the Daily Devotions assignment list appeared in my inbox, I sent a note to Pastor Rocky, “You get Mark and I get Deuteronomy?”

I’m not sure I have a favorite book in the Old Testament, but I am sure I have a least favorite—Deuteronomy. It has always seemed to me that this book is reserved for scholars; we lay people aren’t supposed to know its secrets.

There’s no secret in this passage though. Moses tells us we are getting what we asked for: someone we can talk to, who knows what it is to love and suffer and be happy and sad. He’ll be human, a Jew, and a prophet—like Moses. And when he comes, we can trust his words, because he’ll be speaking for God. 

Watch out if you see a prophet coming your way. They’re not foretellers of the future. They are truth-tellers of the present who expose hidden gracelessness. Jesus is God’s truth-teller. He digs into my dry bones and pulls out the person he wants me to be. I want to be that person too. Sometimes. I often hide from the truth—fearing ridicule and silent scorn because my greatest obsession is to be normal and to fit in. 

God’s truth-teller came in the form of a sassy teenager recently: “You think you’re so privileged,” she said when my wrinkled old mouth asked for her seat on the bus. God’s truth-teller told me to love her, to be a Christian, to trust him with her words. 

Prayer
Thank you, God, for sending me your truth-teller, a baby I can cherish, a man I can believe, and a friend I can trust. Expose the flimflam thoughts I tell myself, and give me courage to have a life of truth and grace. Amen.

Written by Regan Burke, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Jeremiah 23:3–4

Reflection
In today’s text we are provided with an image of people from “all countries” being cared for and protected. The text further declares that these people shall no longer live a life of fear, dismay, and lacking, but rather one in which they will be fruitful and prosper. In our current state of affairs, it is hard to read this scripture without thinking about the countless refugees around the world who seek that very same protection but too often find themselves without a shepherd to guide them, a flock in which to make their home.

There are so many people today without a home to return to. Some because of political turmoil, others from natural disasters, and some still from economic oppression. Yet in this scripture we are promised a home within God, one in which we may prosper and be fruitful.

The description of a shepherd and his flock is one often used throughout biblical texts. In order to survive and thrive, the sheep needed to live together. So too must we live together in unison, with people from all countries and walks of life, and provide one another with the same hospitality and protection that God has granted us.

Prayer
O gracious God, we pray that you be with those who have been driven out of their homes and countries. We pray that you help restore peace and order in the war-torn areas of our world and that you help us rebuild in the communities that have been devastated by natural disasters. We thank you for your promise of a home in heaven and Christ and pray that you continue to help guide us to open our own homes and communities to those most in need. Amen.

Written by Stephanie Jenks, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Thursday, December 6, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Jeremiah 31:31–34

Reflection
This memorable passage from the book written by the prophet Jeremiah is regarded by some biblical scholars as the high point of Old Testament scriptures. In addition, at least ten New Testament passages either quote it directly or allude to it, and the verses appear in seven paragraphs in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It’s also a controversial passage, but let’s not dwell on that.

For me, what’s especially important is that the Lord promises to replace the covenant delivered by Moses in the Ten Commandments with a new prophecy. And through our knowledge of Easter, it seems clear this promised pledge is that delivered by Christ the Messiah through his death and resurrection and conveyed at the Last Supper during the sacrament, when he said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”

Yet what stirs me the most is that the new covenant applies to all people, “from the least of them to the greatest”; that with it the Lord forgives our “wickedness” and no longer evokes our sins; and, especially, that the Lord indelibly puts a “law” in our minds and writes it in our hearts. How exhilarating!

Prayer
Almighty God, thank you for delivering to us this bond with you that conveys genuine spirituality and the absolute forgiveness of our sins. It truly encourages us to know you, O Lord, and embrace your promise of salvation. Amen.

Written by Tim Schellhardt, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Friday, December 7, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Micah 5:2–4

Reflection
“And he shall be the one of peace.”

The word of the Lord came to Micah, and Micah shared his vision. Micah saw a broken and scattered people. He saw Jerusalem reduced to a heap of ruins and God turning his face from his people. How would God’s people recover from disaster? How could we be reconciled to God?

Salvation is coming. A ruler is coming. Security is coming. Micah describes that salvation in humble terms. This ruler isn’t coming from the city of Jerusalem. He is coming from Bethlehem, one of the little clans of Judah. Micah doesn’t describe the triumphant entry of a king. He describes the birth of a little baby. The one who is to rule in Israel isn’t coming to dominate. He will stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord.

Micah and the other prophets make it possible for us to see our salvation when it comes. Our salvation is a tiny, helpless baby born in a little town. Our salvation will bring us together and reconcile us to each other. Our ruler will be like a humble shepherd, feeding and healing and defending us as we surround him on a hillside. The next verse describes the Messiah we are longing for: “and he shall be the one of peace.”

Prayer
Lord, we wait afraid in the cold and dark. We are broken and scattered. We wait for your light in cities, in the countryside, in the little town of Bethlehem. O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel. Gather us in. Amen.

Written by Gretchen Wahl, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Saturday, December 8, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Luke 1:26–38

Reflection
“Do not be afraid,” the angel says to Mary. In this time of darkness, the angel informs Mary that God has chosen her. God has chosen a young woman to do the impossible. She is a virgin, a life unlived—on the precipice of being lived—engaged to an upstanding man, Joseph, and this choice could jeopardize all that she has. Mary could have said no.

“Do not be afraid.” Mary’s acceptance of God’s choice in her is what makes her holy. This belief in this literally inconceivable virgin birth is part of what makes us Christians. We believe the impossible.

The idea that all of us are Godly, all of us are human. We realize that God chose a young woman. God chose to become one of us. God who could choose to be anyone, anything, chose to be like us. To join us humanly and humbly to experience the vulnerabilities of life—to grow up. Mary could have said no.

“Do not be afraid,” the angel tells Mary, “You have found favor with God.” God is growing within you. What if we are Mary? What if this is a parable about how God chooses us to have Christ grow inside all of us?

What if God is one within us, becoming one with us? This year I will be like Mary. I will accept God’s choice in me.

“May everything you have said about me come true” (Luke 1:38). And then the angel left her.

Prayer
Dear God, help me not be afraid. This year I will be like Mary. I will accept your choice in me. Amen.

Written by Jessica Wang, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Sunday, December 9
, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Luke 1:39–55

Reflection
Just before this passage, Mary said yes to the angel Gabriel.

It’s incredible enough that she has. For a moment, though, we don’t know how she feels.

But then she goes to visit Elizabeth and breaks forth in song—a song of praise that promises upheaval and the kingdom of God on earth. No meek young woman, Mary!

There is a hymn that takes this passage as its base, Canticle of the Turning, and there’s a line in there that catches me every time: “Though I am small, my God, my all, you work great things in me.”

We never know when a small action or word may have big impact or who will unexpectedly impact us, or us, them. We need never discount ourselves; we may never discount the impact we might have on another person.

And if we want to get serious about changing the world, we need to look where we have a gap to move into, no matter how small, and then . . . push.

Just as Mary put her body on the line when she said yes, so do we in these moments. Maybe it's about placing our bodies out there in the world, in protest or defense, but even when we don't actually move, we bring our bodies into it. When our chests get tight and our throats close or we feel the need to move just to release the tension gathering up in us, our body is telling us how we feel, how we know we are risking something—and therefore about what is important to us. Can we stop and recognize what our body is saying and then move into what we know—or sometimes just feel—is true?

Once upon a time, a teenage girl said yes with her whole self to something unknown and scary and holy and right and good. And the world changed.

Prayer
Holy Spirit, may I always be open to discerning your movement, in me and in the world, and may I have the strength to follow. Amen.

Written by Anne Ellis, Program Manager for Congregational Life

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Monday, December 10, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Isaiah 9:2, 6–7

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (NRSV)

Reflection
Many of us walk through times of darkness, whether they are caused by emotional turmoil or our physical circumstances or both. These are events that we rarely have control over, and they can lead us to feel great despair. The holidays can be a wonderfully joyful time for many but also a very difficult time for others who are alone or who have lost family members or don’t have a home or food to feed their families, let alone presents to give. When we endure dark times, it can feel as if there is no hope of ever being brought back out into the light.

This passage in Isaiah gives us hope for a future away from the darkness that plagues us. It gives us hope that God will bring us into the light, just as the scripture tells us in verse 2 that the Israelites were brought out of a time of despair and “deep darkness” and into the light.

Isaiah goes on to tell us that there is now the promise of continued peace and justice because of a new ruler named “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” What a powerful description of hope for a new leader and the great things to come.

Just as the Israelites had hope in their new ruler at the time, we too can have hope that our God, our Messiah, will bring us from the darkness into an “endless peace” and a kingdom of justice and righteousness, a hope that we will no longer walk in darkness, but instead walk in the light.

Prayer
God, lead us from the darkness into light; lead us from our anguish into endless peace, from this time forward, forever and ever. Amen.

Written by Shanna Wood, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Isaiah 11:1–9

Reflection
In this world full of harm and destruction, it’s easy to lose hope. News stories about abuses of power make us feel cynical. Reports about domestic violence make us feel numb. Coverage about natural disasters makes us feel fatalistic. Everywhere we turn, on street corners or in grocery store parking lots, there are people asking for help. Too often these pleas are met with indifference and derision.

In this scripture, Isaiah reminds us that God has a different vision for our world. In God’s vision the weak and the strong coexist, everyone is safe, and everyone thrives.

How are we ever going to get to this world? Isaiah says, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse.” So how does this shoot start? I think it begins with our faith. Our faith in God’s promise helps us ward off cynicism. Our faith in God’s love gives us hope that the cycle of violence can be broken. Our faith inspires us to take action. When we act to support God’s vision, we help to tip the world toward this better day. Through our faith and our acts we are the new shoot coming up from the stump.

Prayer
Gracious Father, help me to be the shoot from Jesse’s stump. Fill me with hope, with peace, with joy and love. Give me strength to carry Christ’s light into the world. Amen.

Written by Sarah Younger, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Isaiah 35:1–10

Reflection
The people of God are in a place of wilderness, exile. For the Israelites, wilderness can be a dangerous place, a place of scarcity, a lonely place, a place of uncertainty, a fearful place. However, it is not a place where God is absent. God has come to the wilderness to deliver the people from slavery. God miraculously provided a way to freedom while giving the people food and water along the way.

The prophet promises this exile will not last forever. Although the situation may seem hopeless and desperate, God is already working a way out, a safe way back home. For now, the prophet reminds the people to take heart, you are in this together. Therefore, take care of one another. Lift up the weak. Do not be afraid. Trust God. Remember you are God’s people and God’s covenant with you is still rock solid.

These promises still hold true for us today, for whatever wilderness each of us may be facing. A medical test or diagnosis, an ill family member, a sense of loss, fear of a new beginning—God promises there will be a time when all things are made new and the wilderness, as we know it, is no more. So let us then hold onto one another along the way. Let us be a community that reminds each other of God’s precious promises, made manifest to us in Jesus, our Lord and Savior.

Prayer
Dear God, give me the strength and courage to be an instrument of your love this Advent. Amen.

Written by Ken Nicholson, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Thursday, December 13, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Isaiah 52:7–10

Reflection
How beautiful the mountains are. How beautiful the good news is. How beautiful God’s love is. This is a situation in which the beauty of the message gets credited to the messenger. Even the messenger is so beautiful! Even the messenger’s feet! What a celebration this scripture conveys. Peace, salvation, joy. Singing, redemption, comfort.

I love the image of God rolling up God’s sleeves in order to get the work done of saving the world. God bares God’s holy arm. Salvation throughout the Hebrew scriptures refers to many kinds of wholeness. The people pray to be saved from enemies, saved from war, saved from illness, saved from hunger, saved from injustice. These are all ways that God brings salvation—by bringing peace, joy, song, and comfort. God is a God of justice and a God of love. Eventually all the nations, all the ends of the earth, will see salvation—that is, they will see and know the peace and justice of the God of love.

Prayer
God of glory, God of all possibility, bring your reign to our earth by raining down your healing power, your strength, your vision, your justice, your peace. Help me to roll up my sleeves and work alongside you, bringing a beautiful message of wholeness to everyone I meet. Amen.

Written by Nanette Sawyer, Associate Pastor for Discipleship and Small Group Ministry

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Friday, December 14, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Zephaniah 3:14–18

Reflection
“Rejoice,” says the prophet Zephaniah, “rejoice and be glad!” He goes on to list why God’s people should rejoice: God has taken away their punishment, turned away their enemies, saved them. But the undercurrent of fear is still there. It’s evident in Zephaniah’s strategy of alternating between what God’s people have come from and what they’re experiencing now. His audience is still feeling raw from the events of the recent past, and the prophet is working hard to help them see their new reality. God loves them. God has saved them.

Fast-forward thousands of years to our own time. Every day, it seems, the news headlines blare with another reason for fear: the effects of climate change, election results, political intrigue, the rhetoric from the opposite side of whatever side we’re on. The world around us does not feel safe. Our culture is overwhelmed by fear and anger.

So, in this culture, how do I hold on to what is good? Zephaniah’s sharp contrast between the fear and anger of the culture around us and the reality of God’s unconditional love offers a guide. The practice of joy, of rejoicing in God, offers me a path away from the fear. By consciously focusing on all God has done and is doing, I can better remember that God continues to work in our world, even amidst the headlines.

Prayer
Holy God, in this Advent season, help me not get lost in the headlines. Remind me, again and again, that your love is more powerful and more real than the daily messages of fear and anger in this world. In your name. Amen.

Written by Lisa Stracks, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Saturday, December 15
, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Luke 1:57–66

Reflection
You know the phrase “Make plans, God laughs”? It actually comes from “Mann Tracht, Un Gott Lacht,” which is an old Yiddish adage meaning “Man Plans, and God Laughs.” I have experienced this sentiment too many times already. My most memorable one was that I spent over ten years studying art, entered college as an art major, and three months in I switched my major to political science (and graduated with that degree). Having watched me invest years (and their funds) into my portfolio work, AP art courses, and visiting art colleges, my parents were dumbfounded when I called home one day to say, "Guess what? I changed my major. I want to focus on making society better through policy and civic engagement."

Fourteen years later, I feel like I'm living out this more-true mission that God introduced to me a little later than expected. And even if it was different from my original plan, I'm very glad for it.

The same is true for Luke's Gospel today. Elizabeth bore a son—much later in life than she expected—and then surprised her entire community by not choosing a family name. This is not what the community agreed on, and it was not received with total acceptance. My parents probably felt similarly but wanted to support my decision nonetheless, so they didn't protest.

However, we know who John becomes. His birth is pivotal to the Christian community. John creates a greater impact than anyone ever imagined a small child could. John carries Jesus’ message forth in a way no one anticipated. God knew there were much greater plans for John then just being born to an older family.

Let us remember that no matter what plans we think are ideal or convenient or most logical, God will carry us through life with plans we never dreamed of, and we will be better for it.

Prayer
Loving God, guide us to follow your path with trust and comfort. Let us be led by you to our truest call. Amen.

Written by Jackie Lorens Harris, Director,
Chicago Lights Elam Davies Social Service Center

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Sunday, December 16, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Luke 1:67–75

Reflection
It had been one of the worst summers on record in Chicago. The three days before my daughter was born, the temperature was 95, 98, and 95 degrees. Then, on the night she was born, when I was heading home from the hospital, the skies opened up. Thunder and lightning, and I just stood there in wonder.

Maybe that’s a little of what Zechariah was feeling. The months of silence are finally broken, and all he can say is that this child, John, has come into the world in an auspicious moment of wonder.

And while Zechariah was praising God in his joy, other parents were also welcoming children with (one presumes) their own, similar happiness. And those children would be slaughtered by Herod.

Buzzkill, I know.

That rain, that sudden storm—it’s not always a joyful thing. The world can be a pretty cruel place for kids. In poverty, in immigrant caravans, in refugee camps, in leaky boats on an unforgiving sea—joy and wonder can be in pretty short supply a lot of the time.

That ability to stand in that moment of wonder, to feel it wash over me—that’s a privilege.

Zechariah recognizes this. He is, in this passage, profoundly grateful to God. Grateful for his child, grateful for his voice, and grateful for the chance to give back. He thanks God for giving him the chance to do something, to serve God “without fear, in holiness and righteousness.”

In the face of what we see, is our pity righteous, is our sympathy holy? Maybe it’s righteous to offer thoughts and prayers, but holiness and righteousness are qualities of action and without holy and righteous action we can’t presume to be living up to our part in Zechariah’s prayer.

It begins with empathy—the knowledge that we are that desperate, bereaved parent; that that child, lost or in danger, is our child. When we get to that point, if we get to that point, then maybe we have a chance to have the world we claim to want.

Prayer
Lord, in this time of year, we are waiting. While we are waiting, remind us that the work before us does not cease, that the world is waiting for a rebirth of joy, a rebirth of hope, and a rebirth of wonder. Help us work to bend the arc toward justice. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

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Monday, December 17, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Luke 3:1–6     

Reflection
John’s proclamation of a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” prior to the establishment of the Christian church is intriguing. After all, baptism is the sacrament through which people become Christian, so it doesn’t seem to make sense to be talking about baptism prior to Jesus’ death and resurrection. What could John have meant?

As it turns out, Christianity doesn’t have exclusive rights to the word baptism, which can more broadly mean “an experience through which one is purified, sanctified, or initiated.” If I read this as John telling people to get purified and prepare for the coming of God’s Son, it makes more sense.

I sometimes find myself disappointed that baptism is something we only get to do once; there is something powerful in making a public declaration of faith. Fortunately, I’ve found other ways to rededicate my life to God and affirm my faith, like becoming a godmother and being ordained as a deacon. And if I push myself further, it’s really more about me living out my baptism than trying to recreate it. I have an opportunity every day to affirm my faith through the choices I make about things, like how to spend my time and money, how I provide love and support, and how I speak up for those without a voice.

When have you had meaningful opportunities to live out your baptism? What special opportunities do you have to do that during this season of Advent?

Prayer
God of peace, our world is woefully unprepared for the coming of your Son. Our valleys are low, our mountains are high, our paths are crooked, and we are plagued by division and violence. Help us to seek and find ways to affirm our faith and live out our baptism so that we can bring your kingdom closer to earth. Amen.

Written by Nicole Spirgen, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | John 1:19–28

Reflection
This passage is rich in Old Testament reference and, as such, bridges Old and New Testament. John the Baptist is an extraordinary character. He isn’t a model of religious convention. John stands apart from the religious leaders of his time. He is pivotal. John is a disruptor.

In this passage, John’s responses to the repeated questioning from religious leaders, “Who are you?” make clear he knows who he is and who Jesus is. In this instance, John isn’t the loud and brazen John the Baptist. In this instance, I imagine him quietly, humbly, and firmly deflecting the focus from himself and going about the business of baptizing. In a couple of ways, this passage seems spot on for Advent reflection and prayer: moving from old to new; working on purpose with a focus on Jesus.

Advent has become increasingly significant to me over the years. In these weeks before Christmas, I ready my home and prepare my soul. I am more intentional in worship, more consistent in prayer. Advent stirs anticipation and hope for me. Small kindnesses seed love, and small acts of giving spark joy. In coming together with others, in furthering hospitality and greater community, I gain a sense of belonging, peace, and real possibility. In this momentum of Advent, I gain a sense of my part, who I am and who Jesus is.

Prayer
May I hear the voice of John the Baptist. May I hear the voice in the wilderness, the voice speaking quietly and before all others that the truth of our existence is you, God, and you come to us. Emmanuel. Amen.

Written by Laura Sterkel, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Zechariah 2:10–11

Reflection
I don’t know about you, but doesn’t the idea of a modern prophet of hope like Zechariah sound like a great idea about now? Imagine a daily podcast or blog by Zechariah written to all of us who fight worry, sadness, and discouragement with the continued spate of bad news.

I can hear it now: “Sing and rejoice, O daughter Chicago, O daughter America, O daughter of all lands, for lo, I will come and dwell in your midst, says the Lord.”

I believe that, like today, humanity has long hoped and prayed for a kinder, peaceful world in which they and their loved ones could safely live and flourish.

But what happens when over time this sense of hope grows dim? We tire of waiting for something or someone to change. We get in the habit of settling and become complacent with the bad news. It’s easy to get cynical and discouraged and forget our memories that were filled with awe and wonder of wonderful things to come.

 If Zechariah’s role was to encourage the overwhelmed and discouraged Israelites returning from exile to be comforted and hopeful in their ability to rebuild their city, what is stopping us from being a modern-day Zechariah by rekindling our hopes, beginning with Advent?

The hope that comes to us from Advent is a hope that is beyond all other hopes. It isn’t just an anticipation of something to come but perhaps a deep concern about the gap between our sweet memories and longings and our hopes of today.

This Advent hope is the essential truth and expectation that God is working in our lives now, in our present moment. It is a promise to hold on to that what we hope for in God’s name is obtainable. It is a time to remember that the salvation God promised has already come, and it is good that we live in the hope of that salvation.

Prayer
Holy Creator, do not let us settle for just the way things are but rather remind us how we must live in Advent hope each day, breathing in the awe and wonder of your promise of salvation. Amen.

Written by Cris Ohr, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Thursday, December 20
, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Mark 1:1–8

Reflection
At this point in December it can be easy to be sick of Christmas. Radio stations have been playing holiday music since the beginning of November. Stores have been decorated, homes have been festooned, and many an egg nog latte has been drunk over the last six weeks.

“John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

What a relief.

Into our world of excess comes austerity. Tinsel meets camel’s hair. Self-satisfaction runs smack into humility.

Late in this third week of Advent, we welcome John, weird and wild, who redirects our attention and, hopefully, stops us short. In Mark’s Gospel there’s no time for backstory or froufrou. The news is urgent. Mark’s insistence on our readiness, and the way he tells the story, makes that clear. In this Gospel’s opening, suddenly John is just there, in the desert, a place of harshness and danger. And people come to him, even though it’s a place where there’s nothing to decorate or festoon. Even though it’s a place where they can’t hide from anything, even their sins. Even though he tells them things they don’t understand.

In the midst of the frenzy, let’s join them for a moment. Let’s listen for the voice of the one crying out and wonder about the One who is coming.

Prayer
God of the desert, who sent John to get our attention, interrupt us. Quiet our hearts and focus our gaze, so that we may see what is about to unfold. In the name of the One who is coming and is with us now. Amen.

Written by Susan Quaintance, Director, Center for Life and Learning

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Friday, December 21, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | John 1:1–5

Reflection
As I write this I’ve just returned from a week in Paris, where my husband and I spent much time in various churches, some of them built almost one thousand years ago. Each one of those churches told the story of our Christian faith. The recounting of the story, most often with stained glass, always started with the beginning of time and the story of creation and continued through the birth of Jesus and the works of the apostles. The story never stopped there but continued, pointing to the end of time and the final revelation. In unique and particular ways, each one of those churches may as well have been proclaiming what the first verse of this text proclaims: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” God exists in and through time. God has existed from the beginning of time until the end of time. God existed before time began. God will exist when time is no more.

In all of those churches, stained glass told the story. If the sun was shining, depending on the time of day, those stories told through stained glass were easier to discern. The light shining through illuminated them. The windows could be dazzling. On other days, when it was cloudy or close to dusk, it was hard to see what the panels of stained glass were trying to say. But nevertheless, you knew the story was there, illumined or not. The story existed seen or unseen. “The light shines in the darkness (no matter what the conditions are in the world) and the darkness did not overcome it.

Prayer
Light of the World, thank you for your imprint on this world and on my life. Thank you for the expanse of time and the power of knowing you have existed in the beginning and will continue to exist forever. Thank you for the story which is The Story of All Stories. And thank you for people who have told the story, with glass and with stone, with toil and with love, with wonder and with awe. Amen.

Written by Judith L. Watt, Associate Pastor for Pastoral Care

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Saturday, December 22, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | John 1:6–9

Reflection
In the chancel of the Fourth Presbyterian Church sanctuary there is a beautiful stained-glass window above the organ console, the Great West Window. At the bottom of the center panel is a depiction of John the Baptist pointing upward toward Christ. That particular panel has special significance for me each time I sit directly below it to play the organ. It is a reminder to me that my role as a musician is to lead other people in glorifying and worshiping God. Like John the Baptist, I too am pointing toward Christ.

Being a musician has been the primary way I have lived my call as a Christian, but over time I have extended that calling into all facets of my life, not just when I am making music in the Sanctuary but when I am taking care of my family, talking with strangers, or reading newspaper accounts of people far away. We are each called to point to Christ with all our being, with all our life energy, in every moment. At times it may seem easy, but at others it can be very challenging. It takes a great deal of effort to truly point to Christ, yet the rewards of living out this calling become more apparent with every passing day.

Prayer
O Christ, help me focus on you, believe in you, and point to you with my words, my actions, and my life, so that others may know your love, your joy, and your peace. Amen.

Written by John W. W. Sherer, Organist and Director of Music

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Sunday, December 23, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | 1 Timothy 1:15–17

Reflection
Although this is a short passage, it comes from a larger context.  The author has much gratitude toward Jesus for transforming him from being a violent persecutor to becoming a changed man. We may or not relate to this, but I bet we all have reasons why we turn to Jesus in our life.

My faith journey has continually been “getting to know Jesus again for the first time,” to borrow a phrase from a Marcus Borg book. But as much as that personal connection with Jesus is important and its impact transformative, we practice in a tradition that values a communal relationship with Christ too.

When I think about Jesus entering the world to save sinners, I remember how he didn’t just speak to individuals but to people who had roles in particular religious and state offices, how he healed and connected with outcasts, women, children, the sick. I remember how he died a brutal death in a way that targeted political criminals. So my relationship with Jesus Christ is not just about how I’m working to follow God’s way. I’m orienting my life towards a world that is transformative for everyone, where everyone’s dignity and worth is restored and valued.

In Advent, we’re invited to wait for Jesus again and long for this world for which he lived, died, and rose. You and so many others are reading this now. You are not alone in your faith journey and longings. May we hold our faith community together in this holy Advent season.

Prayer
God, we pray for all of us who are reading this devotion today. Be with us in our faith journey as we wait for Jesus’ birth again and long for the transformation you bring. Amen.

Written by Abbi Heimach-Snipes, Pastoral Resident

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Monday, December 24
, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Matthew 1:18–25

Reflection
I continue to be both surprised and grateful for the courage of Joseph and Mary. Though Matthew does not narrate her visitation, Mary apparently said “Here I am” to the angel visiting her with the head-spinning news of the baby. I still pray for even a quarter of the courage young Mary showed when she decided to trust God’s plan to smuggle goodness into the world through her womb.

But Joseph also had courage. Matthew’s words show us a bit more of his struggle. He was not quite so sure about this news Mary brought. She was pregnant. They were not married. That would not be OK with their families. Yet he must have loved her, because he decided to be quiet about it all and see if they could each move on with their lives, separately. The angel, though, was not going to let him off of the hook. The angel must have thought Joseph, like Mary, had what it took. And the angel was right. Like Mary, Joseph would also lean into the angel’s promise of “be not afraid” and say yes. By his willingness to stay in the covenant with Mary, he, too, was saying “Here I am.”

I am struck by how here, even in the very beginning of Jesus’ story, God wanted to do this work in community. Yes, it was the community of a family at first, but God could have chosen to do it differently, even in the beginning. Yet our triune God, who has relationships at God’s very core, made the intentional decision to not go about God’s work of salvation alone, and over time, we would all be drawn into it, as a community, as a family, one “Here I am” at a time.

Prayer
Incarnate God, I pray for even an ounce of the courage Mary and Joseph possessed. I pray that when I feel your holy nudge in my own life, I, too, will say “Here I am.” Thank you for our large family of faith called Fourth Presbyterian Church and for never letting us off the hook of faithfulness either. Because of what you did both in the manger and on the cross, we trust you are indeed with us, forever. Amen.

Written by Shannon J. Kershner, Pastor

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Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Luke 2:1–20

Reflection
Why were the shepherds the first to hear? Why in the world were the weather-beaten, out-on-the-margins shepherds the ones whose eyes were opened, and whose hearts were shown the light, the flurry, the immense arrival of grace?

I think we all have shepherds in us. We try to keep those in our charge safe. We will go to great ends to be sure that everyone we attend to is satisfied. We make a fire, harboring the lost, the fearful, the sad. And the flickering fire’s light reminds us that our shepherd self will not stumble off the path. It reminds us that ours is the shepherd life, wondering what this is all coming to, out in the field, watching.

Perhaps God Almighty, flinger of stars and hound of heaven, was lonely that night when the baby arrived. Perhaps the maker of heaven and earth was bursting at the seams with such joy, such excitement, such absolutely astonishing news that, of course, it was the shepherds who would be first in line. The shepherds were watching their flocks. They were paying attention to the night, to the sky. And the ruckus, the flurry, the sheer spectacle of it all anticipated another angel, another day, years later, when the angel brought news of resurrection joy. And it was the shepherd in Mary who ran to tell her brothers the good news. It was the shepherd in the other women who could not contain the joy. And it is the shepherd in us, the slow of foot, the rough and tumble, the hyper-responsible, the tenderhearted, that catches a glimpse of the light, the astonishing joy, the undoing of our fear. And we run to the manger as if our life depends on it. And it does.

Prayer
Glad and gracious God, let us go with haste to Bethlehem to see the thing that has been told to us. And may our rough-and-tumble lives, the homely hearts that beat within us, be ready to be astonished by a night sky that lights up and quenches our fear. In the name of the Child, we pray. Amen.

Written by Lucy Forster-Smith,
Senior Associate Pastor for Leadership Development and Adult Education

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Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Colossians 1:11–15, 19

Reflection
The day after the birth of Christ, Christians are faced with the formidable question “now what?” In our house, the days between Christmas and New Year’s Day are some of the quietest and most peaceful days of the year. We rarely travel, because we treasure that quiet week at home, made possible by the fact that seemingly everyone except us is on vacation somewhere. In those quiet days spent lazing around the house, lighting fires, taking naps, watching movies—and suddenly free from the stressful and distracting demands of the holiday—it is easier for me to contemplate the significance and implications of the Christmas miracle and the gift of God’s love made flesh in Jesus.

The people of the church of Colossae, to whom Paul was writing, faced a similarly daunting question: “Christ has died; Christ has risen; now what?” The church was dealing with internal problems at the time believed to have been brought on by false teachings. In Colossians, Paul reminds me of a good basketball coach preaching the fundamentals to a struggling team. Paul’s letter is focused on the basics of Christian faith. He tells the Colossians that God has rescued them from the power of darkness and transferred them into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom they have redemption and the forgiveness of sins. He urges them to endure everything with patience and joyfully give thanks.

Prayer
Dear God, help us quiet the holiday noise, return to the “fundamentals” of our faith, and joyfully give thanks for the miracle of Christmas and God’s Word made flesh. Amen.

Written by John Shonkwiler, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Thursday, December 27, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Philippians 4:4–7

Reflection
Is there anything more gentle than a newborn? The soft skin; the cooing and gurgles; the delicacy of little fingers and toes; and, of course, the utter vulnerability. All of these combine to create in us a fullness and an unconditional love that we feel as we hold the baby. New life, filled with possibility and hope. But there is also some anxiety too. What will life bring to this child? Life is complex and messy.

Paul’s life was complex and messy for sure. He wrote this letter in a time of great anxiety, while he was imprisoned. Yet even in that most difficult time, he was able to write of rejoicing and living gently because of his trust that God was always with him. “The Lord is near.” Near not physically, but within and around us always; our guardian and our strength through all the complexity and messiness of life.

When we are most overwhelmed by daily life, stressed out by fear-mongering and violence, afraid of and for the future of our planet, we have a guardian. “The Lord is near.” New life has come to us in the flesh of an infant, love embodied. Even in our darkest moments, even with all of our doubt and fear, we need not worry.

The infant resting in those meager circumstances in Bethlehem is our new beginning. Paul’s message to us in this season is to hold the newborn Christ in our arms, live into his promise, embrace his guardianship, and feel the fullness of unconditional love. In other words, “Rejoice in the Lord always.”

Prayer
Lord, I lift up my anxieties and my hopes in gratitude for your watchfulness and care. Let me feel your nearness each day. Hear my prayer that I may live into the promise of the child of Bethlehem. Amen.

Written by Ken Ohr, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Friday, December 28, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | 2 Corinthians 5:17–21

Reflection
This scripture is all about reconciliation—restoring a good relationship with God. With Christ as our Savior, we become a new creation; a new life begins to form within us. Like the scripture states, “Everything old has passed away, everything has become new.” As we know, this is a process. It takes time, but know that God is working in us. God is taking what is broken in us and mending it for his glory!

Jesus, who knew no sin, took the world of sin upon himself when he died upon the cross. “But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (Colossians 1:22).

Therefore, we are called to be ambassadors of Christ. We should share the good news of Christ where ever we go—in our communities, our workplaces, and our churches.

Prayer
Our Creator, thank you for restoring my right relationship with you. Let people see your light in me as I proclaim your good news to them. Hallelujah. Amen.

Written by Arlene Raine, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Saturday, December 29, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Titus 3:4–7

Reflection
Here we are a few days after Christmas with this letter from Paul, which seems to express the entire gospel in a few concise sentences, reminding us that it all started with God’s “kindness and love.” In recent years I’ve pursued an interest in Buddhist philosophy and mindfulness practice. “Loving-kindness” is one of the catch-phrases that comes up time and again in the writings on those subjects. Developing compassion for others by practicing loving-kindness is at the root of that philosophy. Here we find the source of loving-kindness in God, reminding us that we can’t earn God’s grace; all we can do is accept it. 

I am especially drawn to the metaphor that the Holy Spirit comes to us like water, washing over us, poured out generously by God through Jesus. I picture a flood of water rushing through a crowded city filling all the gutters and cracks in the pavement, going everywhere, flooding the streets and sidewalks, touching everything and everyone. Like God’s unconditional love, there is nowhere we can go to hide from it. Wherever we go in life, God will find us and be there with us.

Prayer
Dear God, help us to accept your grace and to see and treat others with the love and kindness that you have poured down on us. Amen.

Written by John Shorney, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Sunday, December 30, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Psalm 138

Reflection
Have you ever taken comfort in knowing someone else was there for you? Maybe it was a family member—a parent, sibling, aunt, grandfather, cousin—or perhaps a teacher, manager, pastor, coworker, mentor, roommate, neighbor, or classmate. That person made you feel loved. They affirmed that your life mattered.

Knowing you have a place in the world can make all the difference. It can grow a quiet confidence from within. I like to think of God as forever in our corner, cheering us on, especially when life gets hard. As Psalm 138 shows, we all “walk in the midst of trouble.” To live life is to walk in difficulty, doubt, and darkness. Fortunately we have the light of God’s love: “The Lord will vindicate me; your love, Lord, endures forever.” Indeed God’s love is inextinguishable and everlasting.

What an amazing affirmation. Psalm 138 reminds us to not only believe in this good news, but also to allow God’s love to embolden us. To embolden is “to give someone the courage or confidence to do something.” By this definition, God can, and does, “greatly embolden” each of us. I like to think Jesus came into our lives to remind us to be bold. Jesus himself lived an emboldened life. He took bold actions in the face of danger and uncertainty. Jesus, I believe, was the originator of Martin Luther King Jr.’s principled belief in the “fierce urgency of now.”

As the end of the year approaches, how might we be bold or bolder? May we enter the new year heartened by God’s love, emboldened and ready to act.

Prayer
Loving God, we praise you and your unfailing love. Embolden us. Grant us courage to meet each day, and one another, with openness, kindness, patience, grace, and forgiveness. Amen.

Written by Jonathan Kent, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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Monday, December 31, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Ecclesiastes 3:1–13

Reflection
While serving as a mission volunteer in Niger, I first learned the art of baking bread from a Nigerien chef. As we were baking sweet rolls, I kept opening the oven door as they were baking. Convinced by the smell and hungry, I thought they were ready. But the chef got so frustrated with my haste, he decided to teach me a lesson. “Go ahead,” he said, “take out the rolls and try one.” On the surface one appeared done, but as my knife cut through its browned crust, past soft, flaky layers, it landed on a clump of raw dough. “See, it’s not time yet!” my friend said with a laugh.

Timing is not only an important factor in cooking, but for all aspects of our lives. In this iconic passage from Ecclesiastes, the author Qoholet ruminates over time. The poetry in these verses provides us a snapshot of the inevitable seasons in human affairs. Life and death, reaping and sowing, war and peace, action and reaction—all of these relate to essential stages of our individual lives as we change and mature. These same seasons are at work in our communal life. Neighborhoods and nations experience cycles of productivity, conflict, and health. Amid these fluctuations, it is easy to feel powerless or even anxious as we ponder what season is right around the corner. But these words of scripture encourage us to slow down and experience time as a gift of God to be treasured.

The kind of time described in Ecclesiastes is called kairos in Greek, and it describes an opportune moment often infused with sacred meaning. This season of Christmas compels us to consider how a transcendent God has brought the extraordinary hope of Christ Jesus into the ordinary rhythms of human life and society. These are moments that humans cannot necessarily control but to which we can respond with attentiveness and faithfulness. In this season, in the year ahead, what is the Spirit nudging us to attend to or cherish in our lives and communities?

Prayer
Eternal God, thank you for the gift of Christ Jesus, who dwells with us through the rhythms of life. Give us a special awareness of this present moment, so that we might live more meaningfully in the time you have given us. Amen.

Written by Joseph L. Morrow, Minister for Evangelism

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Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | Isaiah 43:16–21

Reflection
At some point or another we all feel haunted by our past. Whether we spoke an unkind word to a family member or friend, committed a selfish act that caused another pain, refused to confront injustices when we witnessed them, or simply moved after God commanded us to be still, we all have former things that fill us with guilt and shame. Sadly, we often allow our past to hinder us from being in the presence of God and receiving God’s blessings.

This passage from Isaiah reminds us that the darkness of our past will never separate us from God’s unconditional love. We must remember to trust God. Behold, all things are new, and the past has departed with the shadow of yesterday. God is calling each of us to a season of restoration. In this season, God’s promise is to make us whole again. Though thorns of our past may leave their marks, God’s grace is sufficient.

We are God’s chosen people made in God’s image. When God asks, “Do you not perceive it?” it is a question of faith. A question that illuminates our spiritual sight to know that God will guide us on this Christian pilgrimage and that the place God leads us to will be better than any request we asked of God. As you walk into this new year, do so with joy and expectation that God is about to do a miracle!

Prayer
“If anyone be in Christ, they are a new creature.” God, as we step into this new year, transform us into better Christians, parents, children, partners, and friends. Allow us to embrace what is to come, knowing it will be better than before. Give us new insight as we stand on your promise of restoration, trusting you all the way. Amen.

Written by Jasclyn Coney, Youth Discipleship Coordinator

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Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | Luke 2:21–40

Reflection
People can say some awkwardly personal things to expectant parents or parents of newborns. The weekend I candidated to be the pastor of a church in California in 2008, my wife, Meredith, was about five months pregnant with our daughter, Laura. During a cookies-and-coffee reception in the linoleum-floored fellowship hall after worship, as we greeted church members one by one, a delightfully cheery congregant shook my and Meredith’s hands, looked at Meredith’s midsection, and declared to us, “God has never blessed me with children of my own, but I love children.” Then she asked, “Can I speak to the baby?”

Meredith politely answered, “Sure.” To both our surprise, the woman then knelt in front of Meredith and cradled her stomach in two hands as she chirped a greeting to our unborn child. “Hello baby! How are you? We can’t wait to meet you!”

It was awkward.

I wonder if the way Meredith and I looked at each other then was anything like the way Joseph and Mary look as the old codger Simeon cradles their eight-day-old in his arms and begins singing about “a light for revelation to the Gentiles.” And I wonder how Mary’s face registers his warning about what this child is destined for and the sword that will pierce Mary’s soul. I wonder because Luke doesn’t say. That seems like the kind of thing a person would respond to.

The new life coming into the world in this child interacts awkwardly, uncomfortably, with our conventions and expectations, as it is bound always to do.

Prayer
God of Simeon and Anna, of Joseph and Mary, help us to follow this child, that we may see more than we’ve looked for in this season and beyond it. Amen.

Written by Rocky Supinger, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry

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Thursday, January 3, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | Galatians 4:4–7

Reflection
Although we are still waiting for the dawning of Epiphany, the light shining forth from that tiny manger in Bethlehem has already begun to challenge the order of the day. In this passage from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, we see Paul laying out the case for why Jesus’ arrival has fundamentally changed the relationship between God and humanity. The Law, Paul argues, was vital for a time, but in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection we have been “adopted” as God’s children and given the gift of the Spirit into our hearts. We cannot earn this gift; it comes through our faith in Jesus Christ.

This is a difficult concept to wrap our minds around in our world of quid pro quo­. Even around the generosity of gift-giving during the holidays, or in our hosting of family or friends, there is an unspoken understanding that we will, at varying points of time, play the role of giver and receiver of those gifts and hospitality. When was the last time that you truly received something unconditionally? For many of us, it’s hard to remember. Yet Paul lifts up this promise as a reminder that through Jesus’ arrival, everything has changed. We cannot earn our salvation through the Law but are instead heirs through our faith. We follow Christ then not to earn God’s favor or promise but through gratitude for all that God has already done for us.

Prayer
Emmanuel—God with us—in this Christmas season, my heart is filled with gratitude for the unconditional relationship and promise that you have given us in Jesus. May that promise guide me in this year ahead, that I might reflect your light and love always. Amen.

Written by Matt Helms, Associate Pastor for Children and Family Ministry

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Friday, January 4, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | Hebrews 1:1–4

Reflection
The opening of the book of Hebrews tells us of how Jesus Christ fulfills the promises and prophecies found throughout the Old Testament. If we think back to passages that we’ve studied in the Old Testament, we can find that God sent messages to people in a variety of ways. From visions to dreams to a burning bush, God was actively communicating with God’s people.

Every Sunday, our Sunday school classes watch a short, cartoon-like video about the Bible lesson of the day. Often times God is depicted as a huge hand that comes down from the sky, points to the person that God is talking to, and then points to what God wants the person to do. Sometimes the hand even picks the person up and places them in a different spot! When I see this, I always chuckle and think to myself how wonderful it would be if God just plucked me up and put me where I ought to be.

It can be a challenge to hear God’s voice, especially during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. As we have entered into a new year, I challenge us all to build in some time each day to listen and hear where God is calling us.

Prayer
Loving God, I know I don’t always take time to listen, but I long to hear your voice. As life begins to calm down after a bustling Christmas season, help me to slow down and make time to listen to you. Amen.

Written by Briana Belding-Peck, Family Ministry Coordinator

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Saturday, January 5, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | Psalm 146

The exuberance of the psalmist makes me wonder if I take the magnificence of my God for granted. The psalmist exclaims that our God is “forever” faithful and executes justice for all those who are oppressed. God is a helpful presence regardless of the nature of our need or hardship.

Maybe you’ve never really been hungry or starving, but most of us know what it is like to have psychological and spiritual hunger that prevents us from thriving. Sooner or later we will all know what it is like to lose a loved one. We all have blind spots in our lives where we need help seeing. Who of us has not been burdened and “bowed down” by life or been imprisoned and “held captive” by physical, psychological or spiritual shackles. We have all felt like “strangers” in big or small ways and have needed help, support, and companionship.

How amazing that God’s very nature means we never have to feel alone in time of need. God is there and has us covered!

And it’s not all about us is it? We are extensions of God’s love and presence. Think of all those who are hungry; imprisoned physically, psychologically, or spiritually; blind and need help seeing; in need of someone to provide justice for them; are burdened and weighed down by their life; are being made to feel like strangers because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, class, religious beliefs, and more. So rejoice that God will be ever present for you, and be aware of how you might be God’s intended instrument for others to experience God’s amazing love and presence in their lives!

Prayer
Dear God, thank you for your steadfast faithfulness, love, and presence in our lives. Keep us alert to how our actions and choices can help others experience your presence and love in their lives. Amen.

Written by Thomas Schemper, Director of the Replogle Center
for Counseling and Well-Being

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Sunday, January 6, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | Matthew 2:1–12

Reflection
“Go and search carefully for the child.” I’d like to believe there was a better road map than a star and more information provided about the intended location. Nonetheless, even with better information this must have seemed like an impossible task for the magi. Yet the magi left on their journey of discovery with, perhaps, little idea where it would take them or what they would find. Only the hope of a positive end. 

My father finds himself on a journey battling cancer for the second time. The initial shock was painful and frightening. My mother cried, my sisters cried, and, of course, I cried. The most difficult moment was seeing my father consider forgoing treatment. I’m sure that brief moment was a mix of fear of failure, fear of unnecessary pain, and in his words “not wanting to be a burden to his family.”

None of us knows what this journey will entail or how exactly it will end. However, I’m extremely grateful for my family (and my in-laws!) all agreeing that we would navigate this journey together. People have taken time off from work, sent gifts, and sacrificed to support my father during this difficult time. While on this journey, I believe we have regained a familial intimacy that had dissipated due to time and distance. We’ve had direct and frank conversations about our feelings and the future and shared in a way that wasn’t previously required.

While successful surgery and ongoing chemotherapy provide a positive prognosis, we know that nothing is promised. We can only hope and pray for a positive end. We will continue to rely on our faith, each other, and our friends no matter where this journey takes us.

Prayer
Almighty God, please grant us discernment to navigate life’s journeys. We do not know when they will begin or what they will require of us. And we do not know what we may encounter or learn along the way. We certainly do not know how the journey will end. However, we do know that you will always be by our side, helping us each step of the way. In your name we pray. Amen.

Written by Cornell Wilson, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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