Advent Study 2020

Sharing Our Stories: December 24

Writer’s Name: Kristyne Young

Writer’s Ministry: Pastor

Assigned Text: Luke 2:1-7

Word of the Day: Jesus  

It is Christmas Eve! Advent is over! We are no longer waiting and preparing for the coming of Jesus.  He is here! 

6And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. 7She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.

How lucky we are that God decided to step down into our history. God decided to experience, in the flesh, what it was to be human. God decided to take up humanity, humbly, starting out as we all do, as a baby; born as we are all, from a woman. 

Can you imagine Mary, humble, new mommy Mary, holding God incarnate, on that first Christmas? When my Emilee was born it was December 21st and I wanted so badly to take this brand new baby to Christmas Eve services. So I did. I remember sitting with fresh new Emilee in the church, holding this little bundle of love, joy, hope and peace in my arms during the service. My heart was overflowing with feelings for my baby. As I sat holding Emilee, I couldn’t help but think about what it must have been like for Mary to be holding cute newborn baby Jesus. Holding that baby that was going to change the world, that baby that was going to teach us about the character of God, that baby that was going to heal the world, that baby that was going to love us unconditionally, that baby that was going to suffer and die for us, that baby that at that moment was Mary’s baby. That baby on Christmas Eve and for the days and nights that followed was just getting to bask in the love of a mother and a father. That baby who loves us all more than we can even begin to understand, got a chance to just bask in the love of Mary and Joseph. How wonderful that must have felt. Unconditional love! 

Daily Prayer:  Jesus, help us to love you with the deepness and wideness of a mother who had just given birth to her child. Help us to love you with that same passion and strength, that same intensity. Help us love you like that, because we know you love us like that and even more. Amen. 

Advent Study 2020

Sharing Our Stories: December 22

Writer’s Name: David Hurnevich

Writer’s Ministry: Trustee

Assigned Text: John 1:1-8

Word of the Week: Peace

“joyeux Noel!”

As I sat down to write this devotion, I began to research the different aspects of both Christmas and “Peace.” One of the more interesting discoveries that I made is that the Bible does not mention the word Christmas. The phrase Christmas is a word created by mankind to celebrate the birth of Christ.

During the advent season we consistently also hear the word peace. Peace is a word that is consistently utilized throughout this Christmas season and the birth of Christ.

When I combine the two words both Christmas and peace, I am reminded for the most part that mankind including myself has never found much peace during Christmas.

The lack of peace during Christmas can generally begin around Thanksgiving when families and people will begin to contemplate: Christmas dinners, parties, decorations, travel, shopping, cooking, budgets, services, charity, vacations, family, friends, black Friday, online Monday, local shopping Saturday, wrapping presents, opening presents, egg nog, mistletoe,  Christmas trees, nativity scenes, ugly sweaters and all other activities and events that are less than peaceful and certainly may not celebrate the birth of our Savior during this season.

I can remember that during one holiday season I needed to fly home from Detroit to Atlanta. Unfortunately, all of the direct flights were full as were all of the domestic layover flights between these two cities. Out of desperation I flew from Detroit to Paris, and then flew from Paris to Atlanta in order to be home for this holiday. Upon my arrival, our house was full of family and friends and we were able to have a wonderful Christmas experience.

However, in the back of my mind, I can’t imagine that this is what God expects of us in celebrating the birth of our Savior. I know that personally I have spent significantly more time and effort preparing for Christmas without necessarily reflecting upon what the birth of our Savior means to me.

I doubt that one will ever be able to remove oneself from the many activities of this Christmas season. However, I would encourage all of us to take a moment each day during this advent season and reflect upon the true reason that Christmas is significant to our walk as Christians.

Discussion/Reflection Questions:

  1. What is the most stressful aspect of the Christmas holiday and how might you be able to turn that stress into a peaceful experience worthy of Christmas?
  2. Is there a Christmas holiday activity that you might change or eliminate in an effort to spend more time in devotion to the true meaning of Christmas?
  3. In the spirit of this Christmas holiday season what are some of the practices that you might like to continue throughout the entire year.

Advent Study 2020

Sharing Our Stories: December 21

Writer’s Name: Kris Schonewolf

Writer’s Ministry:  Prayer

Assigned Text:  Micah 5:2-3

Word of the Week: Peace

Peace.  It can be our Rock, our stronghold. Or it can seem elusive, even ethereal.  Just when we think we have it all together, it can vanish like a wisp of smoke.

It was August 2003 and my baby girl had just had a beautiful fairy-tale church wedding. Then she and her new husband jetted off to Boston for their 2nd year of college.  The world was in order.  Little did I know that on their wedding night her beat her.  And the next day. And the next day. And the next day.  I found out 7 months later about the severe and myriad forms of abuse she had been enduring day after day.  My world, my peace, was shattered.   While we were in the throes of trying to get her back home, my older daughter was raped at knifepoint as she got off work one night.  If there was any peace left, the last strand snapped.  Life became a blur, and I was helpless.  It seemed like nothing I tried to do helped, but often made things worse. 

I had only met Jesus as my Savior, my Rock, just 4 years earlier at age 38.  Just a year earlier I received my calling into ordained ministry and was in school to prepare for my new calling.  When things couldn’t get any worse, Jesus, the Prince of Peace, broke into my broken world with the presence of perfect Shalom.  While peace can be shattered, broken, or temporary, shalom is whole, complete, and permanent, and includes health, safety, and well-being.  

While it was the plan of the enemy to kill, steal and destroy the peace and safety of my daughters, the enemy also had a target on my faith and my calling.  They each had to choose how they would move forward, and I had to choose how I would move forward.  I chose JESUS.  I chose to embrace the Prince of Shalom, who alone could heal my heart.  I chose to forgive the perpetrators, because it’s the only way I could be set free from the horrific events of that year.  

This Advent, and all year long, choose shalom.  Choose forgiveness.  Choose to live under the power and presence of the beautiful Holy Spirit, who indwells you and fills you with resurrection power to defeat anything the enemy hurls against you. 

Daily Prayer:  Papa God, I choose Peace.  Let Your Shalom wash over my mind, my heart, and my circumstances.  Show me to appropriate the resurrection power that you have inside me – to live the victorious and abundant life Jesus has promised.  It’s in His Name I pray.  

Discussion/Reflection Questions:

  1. What is disturbing your peace?  Bring it to Jesus and ask Him to show you how to appropriate His perfect Shalom in your situation.
  2. Who do you need to forgive in order to experience the perfect Shalom of Jesus? 
  3. How can the peace you carry affect the atmosphere of your home? Your church?  Carry the peace of God in a way that shifts the atmosphere and lets people know there is a God.
Advent Study 2020

Sharing Our Stories: December 20

Writer’s Name: Loida Divine

Writer’s Ministry: Pastor

Assigned Text: Isaiah 9:6-7 “For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!”

Word of the Week: Peace

In 1969 a war broke out between Honduras and El Salvador over border disputes. It was labeled “The Soccer War” because coincidentally our soccer teams were playing one another. The people got angry during the game and riots ensued. As a five-year-old I did not know all these details. What I do remember though is that we lived very close to the border with El Salvador. The town leadership asked all men to train for possible enemy attacks and my dad was one of those who attended training. For us children it seemed like an exciting thing until we started seeing the planes coming to bombard our town. When the town alarm would go off, everyone had to run and hide. We had been told exactly where to go (under the stairs) when we heard the alarms. While we never had a bomb hit our yard, a bomb did land about a block away and I saw the big hole where it had fallen. No one had been hurt, but there were a lot of dead chickens, shrapnel and metal around.

One of my most vivid memories of the Soccer War was witnessing the Honduran people, in anger, riot against the Salvadorians who lived in our community. They threw rocks at their homes and told them they had to leave. My parents, being pastors in a local church, opened the church as a refuge home for the Salvadorians. The towns’ people did not dare throw rocks at the church. I remember seeing children bleeding and men and women lined up in the hallways of the church and adjacent parsonage as people from the church tended to their wounds and prepared meals for them. It was kind of shocking for me to see this, but at the same time I had compassion especially for the children my own age who were there. Eventually transportation was arranged for them to be taken to El Salvador. War is never pretty, and children often don’t understand what is happening. This incident has remained in my mind. The helplessness of those in danger and the willingness of others to risk their lives to care for them. Even at a young age I could see the difference. Peace treaties were signed, and things went back to normal. The words of Isaiah remind us that real peace would come through a child who would be born in Bethlehem. Today, we are called to place our faith on the birth of that child born 2,000 years ago. The promise still proclaims truth, “His government and its peace will never end.” Today, in a world filled with strife, God offers His peace. Circumstances cannot rob us of the peace given by God. It is real and it is forever! 

Daily Prayer: Lord God, in the midst of this busy life, today I thank you for your peace offered to us. We thank you for the encouraging words of the prophet of Isaiah and we thank you that all your promises come true! Amen!  

Discussion/Reflection Questions:

  1. Do you remember an event that made you feel scared when you were a child? Were there adults there to assure you and bring some peace into your life?
  2. Think about your surroundings, do you have a child that you can encourage? Niece, nephew, grandchild, neighbor, or maybe even someone else’s niece, nephew, grandchild. Write a note and tell them you are praying for them!
Advent Study 2020

Sharing Our Stories: December 18

Writer’s Name:  Mike Herzberg

Writer’s Ministry:  Lay Leader

Assigned Text: Zechariah 9:9-10

Word of the week: Joy

I was about ten years old and most of my friends wanted a new Stingray bicycle with raised handlebars and a long “banana seat”.  I was a nerd! I wanted the newest chemistry experiments Lab! I loved science and was always getting into trouble for the traces of flour or baking soda that I would spill on the kitchen counters. (A half cup could be considered a “trace amount”, right?)

Each year, before Christmas, my brother and I could thumb through the special holiday issue of the J.C. Penny catalogue and circle three things that we just “had to have”.  Normally we would receive one of the toys we had selected along with several other items that our parents had chosen. We did not have a lot of money.  So, I always tried to “increase my odds” by selecting some socks or a pair of pajamas or maybe a new shirt along with the one item I really wanted. My plan seldom worked the way I wanted it to!

This particular year I had, against all rules, circled four items instead of the required three. I chose a pair of pajamas, a pair of socks, a Gilbert Professional Chemistry Experiment lab, and a new game: Mousetrap.  By making those choices I was certain that I would at least receive the new game for Christmas.

Christmas morning finally came, and I could not have been more excited nor filled with more anticipation! My best friend had received Mousetrap for his birthday one month earlier and I loved playing it! My brother and I came into the living room examining the gifts under the tree, each of us searching for our name written on a small tag. I found three: two were “soft” (and you know what that means!). The third one was obviously a box, which rattled! We opened our gifts, and I received my expected new socks; instead of pajamas I found a new sweater. The box I saved for last turned out to be my new Mousetrap game! I was happy, yet disappointed, because I really did love science and thought that my wish might have come true. My father saw the mixed look on both our faces (my brother had wanted a drum set!). He told us to each “check out” our bedrooms. I opened my bedroom door, ran to my bed, and hugged the box that was laying on top.  I can still see the look on my mother and father’s faces when I returned to the living room, eyes filled with tears of joy, carrying my own Gilbert Professional Chemistry Experiment Lab! I can also hear the beat of drums coming from my brother’s room! Joy is what I felt even during many failed experiments!

Daily Prayer: Lord Father, fill our hearts with anticipation of joy as we approach the celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior, your Son, Jesus Christ, Amen.

Discussion/Reflection Questions:

  1. When have you experienced unexpected joy?
  2. Does anticipation diminish or increase the level of joy you experience?
  3. How have you experienced joy in your journey to know God?
Advent Study 2020

Sharing Our Stories: December 17

Writer’s Name: David Rowan

Writer’s Ministry : Worship Leader

Assigned Text: Luke 1:57-80

Word of the Week: Joy

Have you ever been invited to do something you really didn’t want to do, but ended up really glad you did it? It could have been something you felt you couldn’t do well; or maybe you thought it would be boring. Whatever the reason for your initial negative feelings, there came a moment when, in doing this thing you doubted or dreaded doing, you realized that you were, somehow, having FUN.

For me, I remember when I first decided to head back to the gym.  I was out of shape. I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror. And the thought of possibly making a fool of myself in front of everyone didn’t exactly bolster my enthusiasm. But I had the motivation to make a change. However, I dreaded one single thing: the treadmill. I hated running. I always have. Even when I did sports in high school or intramural leagues in college, I HATED running.

So when I finally decided to start exercising again, I could see that looming shape of a treadmill like a blight on my otherwise optimistic fitness outlook. When it finally came time to go on my first run, it was just as horrible as I’d always remembered.  My heart pounded uncomfortably. I was drenched in sweat, and I was just plain exhausted.  It just felt gross.

Fast-forward a few months.  I had done my best to be faithful to the process.  Every cardio day I jumped on that treadmill. I gradually and strategically increased my goals to run faster and farther. I pushed myself, even though I had loathed every minute on that treadmill.

One night, something strange happened. I had decided to try something I had never done before: run a continuous 5 miles–no stopping and at a consistent pace.  I’m not sure what possessed me, but there I was, starting the first mile of what was sure to be a hellacious 50 solid minutes of running. But then there came this moment around the middle of mile three. I realized I was happy. I was excited. I was motivated, inspired, and enthused to meet this goal. But more than all of that, I realized I was having fun. I was having fun… on a TREADMILL!

The next 25 minutes passed quickly and when I stepped off the machine, I sauntered over to the stretching area, laid on the ground, took a deep breath, and smiled with joy.

In the passage, we get to witness the moment where Elizabeth and Zechariah name their newborn son. When Zechariah confirms the child’s name will be John (cue eye-roll that they didn’t believe Elizabeth), he’s able to speak again. When Zechariah originally doubted the process, that doubt silenced him.  But in the moment when he finally makes that choice to trust in the plan and see it through, his voice returns and all around them rejoice. For us, when we stick to the process and finally see the results after all that struggle, there is joy.

Daily Prayer: God, give us the motivation and fortitude to see things through, so that on the other side we may find joy in the results.  Help us to trust you and to know that you have our best interest at heart.  May we follow you, even through our doubts, and find joy in fruition on the other side. Amen.

Discussion/Reflection Questions:

  1. What is something you do because you have too, but really dislike doing?
  2. What helps to motivate you to complete that task?
  3. Is there anything you know you should do, but your fears and doubts are holding you back?

Advent Study 2020

Sharing Our Stories: December 16

Writer’s Name: Jill Beck

Writer’s Ministry: Celebrate Recovery Coordinator

Assigned Text: Luke 1:39-56

Word of the Week: Joy

We have been turned upside down this year. For some, joy has been a struggle. We as a body of people have experienced heartache and loss. We have experienced change and struggle. I have wept with those who have lost jobs, loved ones and security. On a daily basis we see through Celebrate Recovery a multitude of folks who have relapsed due to the stress of this pandemic. And yet, even as hard as it is to see through the heart breaking chaos, there have been joys. As the days pass, I can’t help but feel that God is up to what God does! Doing what we least expect. 

In our scripture readings we have experienced the unexpected child that Elizabeth and Zechariah have been longing for. No doubt, a miracle! An unexpected miracle! A fresh wind of joy in a life that was destitute to be barron. And now, another miracle! A lowly teenage girl visited by the Angel Gabriel telling her, a virgin, that she will conceive a son. Oh can you close your eyes and imagine the emotions she was overcome with? Can you picture the mixture of fear and excitement as she realizes she has been chosen by God. A lowly girl who is experiencing shame and guilt at the prospect of being pregnant with a child and yet not married. 

Mary runs to her relative Elizabeth to share the news! But, before she can share, the Holy Spirit has been at work. The child within Elizabeth, John, has leapt for joy at the presence of the Christ child that Mary is carrying. Elizabeth addresses Mary as, “The mother of my Lord,” and Mary is pronounced, “Blessed.” 

There is an awakening that quickly turns to hope and joy. A gift not only of an unborn child in the midst of chaos for this young girl, but she understands that this is an overturning of social judgement. There is joy in the air even if only within her heart. 

In the midst of what has seemed hopeless and joyless in this season, in the midst of pain and chaos, there is joy. God has made a way! Families have found their way back to the table for meals. Congregations have found ways to serve in safe and healthy ways. There is laughter and joyful sounds of loved ones. We must trust and have a joyful heart knowing that despite what the world has thrown at us, there is one who is coming that we can trust has come to restore.

Prayer: Lord, help us to have eyes to see the unexpected sources of joy this season. It has been a hard year for so many and we sit in anticipation of something new. We ask that you use us in in unexpected ways to bring joy to others as they may be experiencing heartache and loss. Lord, use us to help light the way for others. Amen

Reflection/discussion questions:

  1. How have you made a way this year for happiness?
  2. What is an unexpected place that you have found joy this year?

Advent Study 2020

Sharing Our Stories: December 15

Writer’s Name:  Shirley Cromwell

Writer’s Position:  At-large member of Lead Team

Assigned Text: Isaiah 12:2-6

Word of the Week: Joy

I vividly remember on my first trip to Kenya experiencing the joyful dancing and singing done by the people in the local church. Growing up Methodist, I had never witnessed such a boisterous celebration in church. The people within the walls of that little stick church with a dirt floor were suffering from extreme poverty, hunger and HIV-Aids. I wondered what made them so joyful that even in the midst of such terrible circumstances, they wanted to dance, sing and make bird calls in church that day.

I have learned since then that there is a big difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is conditional and comes and goes. Joy is an inner contentment. It’s what happens deep inside your spirit and soul.

In preparing to write this devotion, it surprised me to find out that joy is a big topic in the Bible. Take Jacob for example. He was running for his life. He had no money and no prospects for a job until Laban offered him one. He served Laban for seven years without payment for the love of Rachel.

Joseph suffered betrayal and enslavement and certainly would not have succeeded in these circumstances if he had not known God had another plan for his life–even when everything pointed the other way.

Ruth was the daughter-in-law of the Jewish widow Naomi.  They both were in a terrible circumstance, since their husbands had died and they were destitute, without a man or family to take care of them. Naomi had decided to return to Judah and urged Ruth to go back to her family. But Ruth had found joy in the God of Naomi! She chose to continue on with Naomi and her God rather than go back to the idols of her culture.

Paul had circumstances throughout his ministry that were some of the worst any man has ever had to endure. Yet it was in prison that he wrote Philippians, sometimes referred to as the “Book of Joy.”

The one thing they all had in common is that they had deep awareness that whatever their circumstances, God was with them.  They all found joy in that realization. Simply put, God wants His children to be joy-filled. Just as a father wants his baby to laugh with glee, God longs for us to experience a deeply rooted joy.

In Jesus’s final prayer (John 17:13), He prayed that His disciples would experience the full measure of His joy – NOW! He really does not want us to wait for heaven to find joy.

He wants us to have joy in the middle of a pandemic, hurricanes, political discord, and racial tension.

You see, now I realize that my Kenyan brothers and sisters had found the Joy of Jesus that fills us to overflowing, so that we can dance and sing and proclaim His victory over life’s worst circumstances.

Bwana Asifiwe!  (“Praise God” in Swahili)

Prayer: Dear God, please instill in us the attitude of joy, no matter what our circumstances. Thank you for those that have gone before us and show us in your Word that joy can be real! We ask in your son’s precious name, Amen.

Reflection/discussion questions:

  1. On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate your joy factor?
  2. What might you do today to experience more joy?
  3. What does your attitude communicate about your faith?
Advent Study 2020

Sharing Our Stories: December 14

Writer’s Name:  Linda Stubits

Writer’s Position:  Finance Coordinator

Assigned Text:  Psalm 96

Word of the Week: Joy

When I was about 5 years old, my father’s business burned down.  My parents sat my three sisters and me down and explained that there were going to have to be some changes in our household.  They said there would be no Christmas presents that year.  In addition, my mother was going to have to go back to work as a school teacher until they got back on their feet. 

Needless to say, we were crushed.  No Christmas presents!!! The four of us moped around for weeks. Christmas morning came and, lo and behold, there was a brand-new record player for my youngest sister and me. 

About a year later, Teresa noticed that the cover of the record player was peeling, so we pulled it back and, to our astonishment, there was my older sister’s Howdy Doody Record Player.  My parents had covered it with contact paper and given it to Teresa and me for Christmas. We did not know what to do or say, so we went to Mom.  She sat us down and explained that she and my two older sisters wanted us to have something to open Christmas morning, so they gave us their record player. They had all worked on covering it to make it look new. 

As the four of us sat down last year after Mom passed away to write her eulogy, we asked each other what was one of our most memorable events.  Teresa and I both blurted out, “the record player.”  As I look back, I now realize how much it meant to my parents and two older sisters to make sure we had something for Christmas, even if it meant giving up something of their own.  This selfless act to make my sister and me happy was just another way of strengthening our family bond.

Daily Prayer: Lord Father, please give us strength and guidance to extend Joy to those in need. Amen 

Discussion/Reflections Questions:

  1. To what extent would you go to make someone happy?
  2. How does bringing joy to someone make you feel?
Advent Study 2020

Sharing Our Stories: December 23

Writer’s Name: Stan Hoover

Writer’s Ministry:  Leadership Development Team Chair

Assigned Text:  John 1:9-18

Word of the Week: Peace

The flocks of migrating red-winged blackbirds are now gone. A gaggle of geese angles across the sky. Hundreds of black walnuts have been gathered, laboriously hulled and are now drying in the sun. A final harvesting of vegetables from the ample garden are complete. The last of fallen leaves are now removed from the yard, and a light new snow is silently covering the ground.

Fond memories of the tranquil sights and sounds of my childhood in a home set on the side of a wooded hill in northern Indiana are always with me. Even now those thoughts help me fall asleep at night. The humble house on a few acres along a gravel road had been constructed on hewn logs, and there I learned to work alongside my dad in remodeling the old place into a refuge of delight and comfort. Mom taught me about wildlife, trees, and gardening.

For me, the early 1960s granted fulfillment and opportunity. Though my parents surely were aware from the daily news of a Cold War, nuclear threat, racial struggles, and political conflict, I was safe and at peace.

Angels declared to shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” Jesus is the answer to troubled hearts. He gives us hope in the face of bad news. Faith in Jesus saves us and grants us peace. The God of Peace transcends all our understanding and anxieties.

Peace and contentment do not come without effort, work, and sacrifice. It is not a promise of luxury and isolation from a world of conflict. God is not passive. “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” Romans 6:20. David said, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”

God’s peace grants us opportunity to live and work with courage in this troubled world and through our labor bring goodwill to people around us. Unrest may be everywhere, but our hearts can rejoice in peace through Jesus.

Daily Prayer: Dear God of Peace, thank you for the calmness in my heart as my faith remains in you. Amen.

Discussion/Reflection Questions:

  1. What images of peace come to mind?
  2. What events or efforts generated that peace?
  3. List the concerns or fears you are facing now.
  4. What steps in faith with the Lord can you take to bring peace?