Gathering in Bethlehem
2019 Advent Devotional
As we look forward to celebrating the birth of Jesus on Christmas,
we also prepare ourselves spiritually. Advent is a season of
intentional preparation to welcome God’s continual coming into our
lives and into the world. In this 2019 devotional you’ll find a reflection
for each day of the Advent season. Your daily journey will include
devotions from the people of First Presbyterian Church of Wheaton
along with a sprinkling of poems and carols on the theme “Gathering in
In these devotions, you’ll find scattered the poems of Presbyterian poet
Ann Weems. In one, she invites us with these words, “This Advent let’s
go to Bethlehem and see this thing that the Lord has made known to
us.” Indeed, this Advent take time each day to reflect on what it would
have been like to have been part of that gathering in Bethlehem. As in
the words of the carol, in that little town of Bethlehem, “the hopes and
fears of all the years, are met in thee this night,” ponder this Advent
what fears may be before you. Then claim the great hope of Christ, that
through the birth, life, death and resurrection of the one born in Bethle-
hem, we are assured that he is one whose love and light is greater than
any fear. Rejoice in this great joy that has been made known to us!
May this season of Advent be a time of blessing and growth.
Pastor Kellen Smith
Sunday, December 1
In Search of Our Kneeling Places by Ann Weems
In each heart lies a Bethlehem, an inn where we must ultimately
answer whether there is room or not.
When we are Bethlehem-bound we experience our own advent in his.
When we are Bethlehem-bound we can no longer look the other way
conveniently not seeing stars, not hearing angel voices.
We can no longer excuse ourselves by busily tending our sheep or our
This Advent let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that the Lord has
made known to us.
In the midst of shopping sprees let's ponder in our hearts the Gift of
Through the tinsel let's look for the gold of the Christmas Star.
In the excitement and confusion, in the merry chaos let's listen for the
brush of angels' wings.
This Advent, let's go to Bethlehem and find our kneeling places.
From Kneeling in Bethlehem. © 1993 Ann Barr Weems.
Monday, December 2
“Be merciful to those who doubt”
Everywhere you look during Advent the world cries out “Emmanuel!
God is with us!” We march towards December 25 lighting candles, each
one bringing us closer to Jesus, the Advent wreath getting brighter each
week as we experience more and more of the certainty of God With Us.
Except of course when we don’t.
Six years ago I stumbled through the Advent season in a fog of grief
and sorrow. A few weeks before, my dad had unexpectedly died and
suddenly the firm foundation I’d been standing on turned out to be
anything but. Everywhere I turned brought reminders that I was
supposed to be experiencing a season of anticipation and hope
and light. It’s hard to feel any sort of anticipation for God when
you’re unsure of whom He is in the first place. It’s hard to celebrate
Emmanuel when you doubt that God really is with you.
I thought a lot about the Israelites that first Christmas who longed for a
Messiah. Things were dark, the future uncertain and their hearts longed
for light. And it came in the form of a baby. I’m willing to bet that more
than a few were doubting whether or not God knew what He was doing.
More than a few must have been left longing in the face of what was.
And so I am thankful that our faith holds space for those who wrestle
with unbelief. I’m thankful Jude urges his fellow believers to “be
merciful to those who doubt.” Those words are for the ones uncertain
that God really is who He said He was and can do what He promised
He could. The ones who will wake up on Christmas morning still feeling
alone even though Emmanuel, God With Us, has supposedly arrived.
To those of us whose doubts are infinitely greater than any hope or
light or peace the season brings I can only offer this: You are not alone.
I’m holding space and mercy and grace for you, with you.
– Colleen Powell
Tuesday, December 3
A song of ascents. Of David.
1 If the Lord had not been on our side –
let Israel say –
2 if the Lord had not been on our side
when people attacked us,
3 they would have swallowed us alive
when their anger flared against us;
4 the flood would have engulfed us,
the torrent would have swept over us,
5 the raging waters
would have swept us away.
6 Praise be to the Lord,
who has not let us be torn by their teeth.
7 We have escaped like a bird
from the fowler’s snare;
the snare has been broken,
and we have escaped.
8 Our help is in the name of the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
The season of advent is one of anticipation, a waiting in hope. We are
called to keep an ever-watchful eye for the return of our lord and savior.
It is easy for me to forget why I wait during the advent season as it
comes and goes each year. Especially when it feels as though life has
swallowed me, the flood of everyday activities, the torrent of the year
of work ending, shopping and celebrations having swept over me. The
Psalmist reminds me in Psalm 124, that if not for the Lord, I would only
be a victim of the world. Perhaps the Psalmist had a crystal ball and
watched my life from afar many years ago, only to write this reminder
for me? There are many blessings in this message, one of which is that
I should fear no enemy, for the Lord is on my side. There are too many
times in my life where I felt surrounded on the battlefield of everyday life,
flaming arrows head straight toward me, surely this would be the hour
of my demise. Fear running through me, I frantically look up, seeking
help from any direction to find the Lord’s hand carefully guiding my safe
passage through the world around me as the flaming arrows fade away.
The Lord’s patient protection of our lives is not the only message of joy
given us by the Psalmist in 124. It is the joy I experience in the season
of advent. The reminder of the greatest promise of God’s love for me.
He has promised me an escape, through his mercy, I will be saved and
escape to the paradise of promised joy. It is easy to let life entrap us,
swallow our time, our patience, even drown our acts of love for one
another. Let this advent season be a reminder that your help is in the
Lord and that we are free from the burdens of this world, that we are
promised an escape through His love and mercy. I will challenge myself
to remember to share that joy and HIS promise with others, as I wait in
hope for His return this advent.
– Caleb Wilson
Wednesday, December 4
A Quiet Night In Bethlehem
A quiet night in Bethlehem many years ago
In a torn and tired land a baby king was born
The little babe in swaddling clothes who in a manger lay
Would teach us love and bring us hope born on Christmas Day
A quiet night in Bethlehem the little babe asleep
Angels hovered o'er his head while shepherds watch did keep
Oh Holy Night, oh wondrous star shining overhead
As he sleeps so peacefully in his manger bed
A quiet night in Bethlehem the story lives today
How this babe grew to a man and through him all were saved
Celebrate, oh celebrate, His love we hold within
The son of God the infant king born in Bethlehem
(Barbara Bailey Hutchison) © 1993 Christara Publishing (BMI) CCLI
License No. 1970054
Thursday, December 5
James 4:1-10 MSG
1-2 “Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come
from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about
because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves.
You lust for what you don’t have and are willing to kill to get it. You want
what isn’t yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it.
2-3 You wouldn’t think of just asking God for it, would you? And why
not? Because you know you’d be asking for what you have no right to.
You’re spoiled children, each wanting your own way.
4-6 You’re cheating on God. If all you want is your own way, flirting with
the world every chance you get, you end up enemies of God and his
way. And do you suppose God doesn’t care? The proverb has it that
“he’s a fiercely jealous lover.” And what he gives in love is far better
than anything else you’ll find. It’s common knowledge that “God goes
against the willful proud; God gives grace to the willing humble.”
7-10 So let God work his will in you. Yell a loud no to the Devil and
watch him scamper. Say a quiet yes to God and he’ll be there in no
time. Quit dabbling in sin. Purify your inner life. Quit playing the field.
Hit bottom, and cry your eyes out. The fun and games are over. Get
serious, really serious. Get down on your knees before the Master; it’s
the only way you’ll get on your feet.”
When I read these words from the book of James I feel they address
the internal struggle to be all that God created us to be, in our minds
and in our hearts. Perceptions, material items and prestige are lifted up
in our world, even when they can be damaging.
I have a brother with special needs. His name is James. He was a very
tiny baby and he did not get enough oxygen at birth. He loves to be
with people. He enjoys a good conversation. He loves to travel if only
to be able to say that he has traveled. He is very caring and helpful.
He knows that he has some differences from those around him and he
struggles with this. He wants so badly to be like others. To do things
that everyone else is doing. These are things that he does not have the
ability to do. He wants to drive, surf the internet, be a gourmet cook,
and use the latest iPhone. He tries so hard to do the things that he feels
he is missing out on, sometimes, to his own detriment.
When I see my brother, I see perfection in his imperfections. He has
some very special gifts to give the world around him. He only has the
ability to live in the moment. He does not judge, he accepts all. He
strives to do his best. He loves unconditionally. He has an unwavering
faith in God. He naturally assumes that everyone is good and is
devastated when they are not.
As we go through Advent towards Christmas, we take on what we think
is important. We have lists of things we want, things we have to do,
expectations we feel we have to meet. Just like my brother James, we
strive to do more than we should, sometimes to our own detriment.
Is this really what God wants this time to be? Maybe this is the time that
we need to follow the words in the above verse instead. “So let God
work his will in you. Yell a loud no to the Devil and watch him scamper.
Say a quiet yes to God and he’ll be there in no time.” Get serious, really
serious. Get down on your knees before the Master; it’s the only way
you’ll get on your feet.”
– Maryanne Kyle-DiPietropaolo
Friday, December 6
As a deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.
Why are you so downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.
“I can’t wait until I’m 13 and a teenager!” “When I’m 16, I’ll be able to
drive. I can’t wait!” “It’ll be great when I’m 18 or 21, or even 30.” But
who ever said, “I’m so excited to be turning 60! I can hardly wait!”
This past year I turned 60. It’s been a year that’s included my mother’s
death and significant vocational and developmental stresses and
challenges. Like the Psalmist, my soul has been downcast and
disturbed. Like the deer, I’ve been so, so thirsty. That deer is panting
because he doesn’t know where he can get his next drink. He’s
desperate. I’ve been desperate too, panting for the comfort and
encouragement that I’ve experienced from God before but has gone
missing at times during this year of turning 60.
But there’s hope. It’s right there. I can put my hope in God. Again, like
the Psalmist, when my soul is downcast, I can remind myself where
there is hope. “Put your hope in God.” Unlike the Psalmist, I haven’t
had people asking me, “Where is your God?” I haven’t had foes
taunting me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?” I have,
however, asked that of myself and have experienced a “downcast soul.”
My soul, however, has found comfort and hope. It’s a hope based on
God’s grace and not on earthly accomplishments or the fantasy of an
But, like the Psalmist, acknowledging or finding hope is not simply a
one-time thing. Two times in Psalm 42 and once more in Psalm 43,
does the Psalmist ask, “Why are you so downcast, O my soul?” Each
time, he reminds himself to put his hope in God.
May this season of Advent serve to remind us of the hope that’s in our
Savior and our God.
– Richard Lauber
Saturday, December 7
28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will
give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am
meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls
I selected this passage for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, it
is a beautiful piece of scripture, whereby we are invited by Christ with
the opportunity to be relieved (i.e., to be given rest) of the burdens, toils
and weariness of sin that one carries around with them and weighs on
their soul. How reassuring and comforting is that? Something for which
we all, and especially I myself, need to be continually reminded.
The other reason why this passage especially resonates with me is that
these are the lyrics from one of the most impactful Take 6 (a stunning
a cappella vocal sextet) songs that I held dear from the time it was
released 30 years ago next year. Whenever I need that reminder
and am seeking inner peace, I turn to this song and its rich message,
communicated in equally rich harmonies.
– Dan Spiegel
Sunday, December 8
O Little Town of Bethlehem
O little town of Bethlehem
how still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight
For Christ is born of Mary
and gathered all above
While mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love
O morning stars together proclaim the holy birth
And praises sing to God the King and Peace to men on earth
How silently, how silently
the wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heaven
No ear may hear His coming,
but in this world of sin
Where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.
1867 w. Phillips Brooks, 1868 m. Lewis H. Redner
Monday, December 9
Galatians 5:22-23 CEB
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,
goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law
against things like this.
The Advent season is such a wonderful time. It’s one of great
expectations. We anticipate with happiness the celebration of the
Nativity of Jesus. But the modern world also brings other expectations
– getting ready for friends and family by baking, decorating, wrapping,
visiting. Our normal routines are deflated in order to add the seasonal
extras. It’s a lot to handle! So, the angst sets in. Will I get it all done?
Can I get it all done? It’s worth stealing time away from the chores of
the day to brew a cup of tea and think of God’s grace. To gaze out the
window at the snow or rain, and maybe muse over the beautiful trees
and fallen leaves. Watch the birds surrounding the birdfeeder and the
squirrels scrounging for seeds on the ground. The natural beauty of
God’s paintbrush brings soothing thoughts. In the flurry of the season I
can go to Galatians 5:22-23 for a bit of grounding of what matters to me.
– Emily Herndon
Tuesday, December 10
Isaiah 40:3-5 MSG
Thunder in the desert! “Prepare for God’s arrival! Make the road
straight and smooth, a highway fit for our God. Fill in the valleys, level
off the hills, Smooth out the ruts, clear out the rocks. Then God’s bright
glory will shine and everyone will see it. Yes. Just as God has said.”
Prepare the way of the Lord! We hear this theme echo throughout
the sacred music of the season, but I think it’s safe to say that most
of us spend more time preparing for the frenzy of holiday visitors and
celebrations than actually preparing the way of the Lord. What does
that phrase even mean? The way we typically hear this Bible passage
from Isaiah is, “Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and
hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough
places a plain.” To me, that conveys that someone else is doing the
lifting, lowering, leveling and sanding of that “way”, so I have no
responsibility in those preparations. At one level, that is true. God is the
master landscaper, and we have great hope that God is now working
on the rough places in the world and in our lives, and when God’s plan
is complete, nothing will be left crooked. But on another level, we are
also responsible to take action. I like the way The Message version
shifts the ownership of preparation to us, and gives us a few hints for
ways to prepare.
Take a moment to read the passage above again, and reflect on these
questions to help with your preparations for God’s arrival:
Where in your life or heart, are you on a crooked road/a
highway not fit for God?
Are there mountains of ego or valleys of shame that need
God’s smoothing touch?
What are the ruts you have fallen into, that are not life-giving?
What rocks have you stumbled over, that are keeping you from
being close to God?
Lord, as we survey the landscape of our hearts this Advent, help our
hearts to be leveled by your divine grace, so we can draw closer to you.
While we remember and celebrate your past arrival as a human among
us, we also long for your return, so that all things will be made new.
Please help us to have patience, faith and hope as we prepare our
hearts for your arrival. Amen.
– Nancy Goodwin
Wednesday, December 11
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.
ADVENT – The coming or arrival of something awaited or momentous.
What could be more momentous than the birth of Jesus? Mary awaits
the birth and knows from the angel’s message that this child will be
special, he will be called the Son of God.
As we prepare for that birth we need to see the significance of that
day and the special gift that we have received. This gift is the means
by which we relate to God through His Son. He is the way we learn to
live as followers of Christ. We find comfort, security and peace knowing
Him. He is the way to forgiveness.
If we contemplate the incredible significance of Jesus’ birth, all earthly
gifts pale in comparison. Life leads us from desiring material things to
seeking that which is eternal. This gift that we have received changes
everything and all God asks us to do is open our hands and accept His
Jesus the Christ is that something momentous.
– Agnes Kenton
Thursday, December 12
Mary, Nazareth Girl by Ann Weems
Mary, Nazareth girl:
What did you know of ethereal beings
With messages from God? What did you know of men
When you found yourself with child? What did you know of babies,
You, barely out of childhood yourself?
God-chosen girl: What did you know of God
That brought you to this
stable blessed among women? Could it be that you had been ready
waiting, listening for the footsteps of an angel? Could it be there are
messages for us If we have the faith to listen?
From Kneeling in Bethlehem. © 1993 Ann Barr Weems.
Friday, December 13
Ruth 1:6-18 NRSV
6 Then she started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country
of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the LORD had
considered his people and given them food. 7 So she set out from the
place where she had been living, she and her two daughters-in-law,
and they went on their way to go back to the land of Judah. 8 But
Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back each of you to your
mother’s house. May the LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt
with the dead and with me. 9 The LORD grant that you may find
security, each of you in the house of your husband.” Then she kissed
them, and they wept aloud. 10 They said to her, “No, we will return with
you to your people.” 11 But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters, why
will you go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb that they may
become your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters, go your way, for
I am too old to have a husband. Even if I thought there was hope for
me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, 13 would
you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from
marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for
you, because the hand of the LORD has turned against me.” 14 Then
they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung
15 So she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people
and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16 But Ruth said,
“Do not press me to leave you
or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God.
17 Where you die, I will die—
there will I be buried.
May the LORD do thus and so to me,
and more as well,
if even death parts me from you!”
18 When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said
no more to her.
Every time I read this passage it brings me to tears. The love between
mother-in-law and daughter-in-law is portrayed as such a sacrificial
love. Naomi knows that if her daughters-in-law stay with her their future
would be grim. No money, no men, and no children, together they
would live a life of poverty. And no children to carry on their family name
or even a glimpse of their family history would mean they would soon
be forgotten once they died.
Being a mother of three sons and no daughters this passage always
gave me hope that someday I would receive daughter’s love and
devotion like that of Naomi and Ruth when my sons got married. In my
mind I feel so blessed to have sons. When my son Noah got married,
I really was so happy to have Cruz become part of our family. The love
she and my son shared brought me joy and happiness. I could only
hope that I could be a mother-in-law like Naomi whose daughters-in-law
loved so much they didn’t want to leave her even after their husbands,
Naomi’s sons, had died. Being kind, caring and showing no judgment
in the way my sons and their wives live their life. Only giving my advice
when it is asked for and giving of myself unconditionally are actions of
love that I wish to gift my children. Much like I feel our Lord does for
us throughout our lives and because of this I will follow the Lord all the
days of my life.
– Lisa Blake
Saturday, December 14
Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in
the LORD their God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all
that is in them; who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the
oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners
free; the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those
who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous. The LORD
watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but
the way of the wicked he brings to ruin. The LORD will reign forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the LORD!
Upon planning for Lessons and Carols this year, I was immensely
struck by the text written by Shirley Elena Murray, “Away and in
danger, no hope of a bed, the refugee children, no tears left to shed”.
The first time I heard this text, set to the familiar tune of Away in a
Manger, I was left speechless, even a little frightened. It was as if
someone had just taken all the fuzzy feelings I associated with
Christmas carols and shattered them. But isn’t that how it feels for
those with “no hope of a bed”? This lead me to question the miracle
of the birth of Jesus. Was Mary only filled with fuzzy feelings, or was
there also fear, terror, and confusion around her refugee child born in a
foreign land. I really wanted Lessons and Carols this year to focus on
Jesus - the refugee, the outcast, the least of these. The final text of text
of I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day speaks of “peace on earth,
good-will to all”. How often in our society do we look around to find that
this statement isn’t true. Wars, gun violence, mistreatment of refugees,
systematic racism, hatred towards the LGBTQ community, rampant
poverty - the list goes on and on and I’m often overwhelmed. I think
about the family whose loved one was brutally murdered in a mass
shooting. My heart breaks thinking about them gathering for Christmas
without that loved one for the first time. For many, the Christmas
season bears very little Love, Hope, Joy and Peace. But where we fail
- where our society fails – God’s peace endures. This Psalm speaks
of the God who executes justice for the oppressed, gives food to the
hungry, watches over the strangers – the refugees. We see a God that
loved us so much that he gave his only son that we might continually
have peace on earth, good-will for all! And that peace was found in a
lowly manger, running from persecution, judgment, and danger -– the
peace that passes all understanding. That peace has to be alive in the
most destitute places of our world, right? The closing of Murray’s text
says “...in touching, in healing your fear and your pain with dreams for
your future when peace comes again.” I want you to think of the peace
that was embodied in the birth of Jesus. Now, think about those who
may be around you who so desperately need peace. How can you
spread peace on earth, good-will to all this Christmas?
God our Father, giver of daily bread
Bless the hands of those in need
Cover the heads of those in danger
God our Mother, lead us into peace
Draw close those who are searching for love
Comfort all those who are grieving
Jesus, brother, guide our very step
Deliver us and help us show embodied solidarity
Jesus, savior, rescue us from ourselves
Bring us to a place were we continually fight for peace
Peace on earth, good-will to all
– Kedrick Armstrong
Sunday, December 15
Mary Did You Know?
Mary did you know
that your baby boy will one day walk on water?
Mary did you know
that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know
that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you've delivered,
will soon deliver you.
Mary did you know
that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know
that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know
that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby,
you have kissed the face of God.
The blind will see,
the deaf will hear,
the dead will live again.
The lame will leap,
the dumb will speak, the praises of the lamb.
Mary did you know
that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know
that your baby boy will one day rule the nations?
Did you know
that your baby boy
Is heaven's perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you're holding
Is the great I Am.
Copyright: © 1991, 1993 Word Music, LLC (a div. of Word Music
Group, LLC) and Rufus Music (admin. by Gaither Copyright
Management) CCLI License No. 1970054
Monday, December 16
1 John 4:16-18 NLT
God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.
And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be
afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence
because we live like Jesus here in this world. Such love has no fear,
because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of
punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his
FEAR NOT. It’s a Christmas-oriented message that goes back to
words spoken by angels to Joseph, Mary, and the shepherds. Beyond
Christmas, it was a consistent word preached by Jesus to his followers:
Fear is a debilitating emotion with anxiety that robs us of a Spirit-filled,
flourishing life. We fear all kinds of things: failure, rejection, weakness,
the future, or even death.
God knows our need and he has provided an antidote to fear. That
solution is “perfect love.” Human fear is dispelled as we embrace the
love of God.
Dallas Willard in Renovation of the Heart describes the four dimensions
of perfect love: God’s love for us; our love for God; our love for others;
and others’ love for us. There it is – the love of God in vertical and
No room for fear. In that little town of Bethlehem, the innkeeper said,
“NO ROOM,” no room for another guest. The Inn was fully occupied.
When our lives are filled with the love of God, there’s no room for
anything else. Most importantly, there’s no room for fear.
– Pastor Steve Kellough
Tuesday, December 17
I lift up my eyes to the hills
from whence will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper,
the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time on and forevermore.
This Psalm has always given me great comfort and peace. It starts in
a place where the psalmist is looking down or feeling down and is
physically down in a valley surrounded by hills. For help the psalmist
looks up, to the hills and to a place where connection can be made to
the Lord. When we are in a valley, pulled down by loss, depression,
grief, pain or suffering of any kind, we often move inwards becoming
consumed by the feelings that are weighing us down. To look up is to
move outside of ourselves to seek something beyond our pain. It is
only when we look up that we can ask the Lord for help. Often, finding
solace in nature also helps to move us out of pain and suffering. To
look to the hills or a forest or a running river can reaffirm our place in
the universe and allow us to realize that we are part of something much
larger… the Lord who made heaven and earth, the Lord who neither
slumbers nor sleeps. Once we have looked up and asked for help,
the psalmist reassures us that the Lord is our keeper. The psalmist
continues to use metaphors of creation, like the sun and the moon, to
remind us that we are part of the Lord’s creation and he will keep our
life no matter what is happening to us in the moment. And then the
psalmist gives us our greatest comfort that the Lord will keep our
coming and going for all time. Thus we can remember always that
when we fall into the valley, we have only to look to the hills to find
– Chandra Gravit
Wednesday, December 18
John 1:1-5 NIV
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the
Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all
things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light
shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
One of the things I love about this time of year are the lights. Well, not
the all-out Griswold style displays from Christmas Vacation. I prefer
something simpler – a string of plain white lights in the trees outside or
the icicle lights hanging from the gutters. The lights for me symbolize
hope in a world that can be very dark.
We can take hope in the fact that God came to us in the world. He
was born a baby to an unmarried couple, traveling far from home with
no place to stay. Not exactly what one expects of the Messiah. God
doesn’t always do things the way we think he will or should. But God
has a plan. He knows our struggles, our pain, our weakness. Jesus, the
light of the world, walked with us on earth. God walks with us in our life.
He may not answer in the way we expect, but we can keep hope in the
fact that He is always there with us.
– Andy Leonard
Thursday, December 19
Getting to the Front of the Stable by Ann Weems
Who put Joseph in the back of the stable? Who dressed him in brown,
put a staff in his hand, and told him to stand in the back of the creche,
background for the magnificent light of the Madonna?
God-chosen, this man Joseph was faithful in spite of the
Nazareth, in spite of the danger from Herod. This man, Joseph, listened
to angels and it was he who named the Child Emmanuel. Is this a man
to be stuck for centuries in the back of the stable?
Actually, Joseph probably stood in the doorway guarding the mother
and child or greeting shepherds and kings. When he wasn't in the
doorway, he was probably urging Mary to get some rest, gently
covering her with his cloak, assuring her that he would watch the
Child. Actually, he probably picked the Child up in his arms and walked
him in the night, patting him lovingly until he closed his eyes.
This Christmas, let us give thanks to God for this man of
into whose care God placed the Christ Child. As a gesture of gratitude,
let's put Joseph in the front of the stable where he can guard and greet
and cast an occasional glance at this Child who brought us life.
From Kneeling in Bethlehem. © 1993 Ann Barr Weems.
Friday, December 20
Isaiah 9:6 CEB
A child is born to us, a son is given to us,
and authority will be on his shoulders.
He will be named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
I find it ironic that Advent is the period of waiting. That implies there is
much time spent pensively contemplating, with wonder, and in pleasant
anticipation. When I was a child, those things were probably true. But
as I have gotten older, I find the Christmas season starting earlier,
spinning faster, and requiring more from me each year. It is anything but
a season of joyful anticipation or childlike wonder. The Christmas season
can be the exact opposite. Beautiful decorations look gaudy to me when
they go up at Halloween. Sales and coupons start sooner so the gift
giving chaos takes on frenzied panic even at once-sacred Thanksgiving.
I find that the only thing I am waiting for is for it all to be over.
Yet in the midst of my pandemonium, probably during the Lessons
and Carols service, I WILL experience joyful anticipation and childlike
wonder in the retelling of the story of Jesus’ birth. There are angels with
strange messages, shepherds both awe-struck and scared, and wise
men bearing gifts from far-away places. A baby born in a barn in a no
name town and a king trembling because of it. I will be struck by Luke
2:19 “But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her
heart.” Her world was spinning pretty fast on that first Christmas, too,
yet she managed to see the wonder in it and appreciate the epic story,
likely without even fully comprehending it. Maybe Mary, too, wondered
when all the chaos would end.
This Christmas season I will look harder to see Isaiah’s prophesy in
chapter 9 verse 6 that “he is named…Prince of Peace.” I will treasure
the words of this special story and ponder them in my busy heart. I will
wait for His peace to arrive.
– Lisa Vliek
Saturday, December 21
This is the Day that the Lord has made, let us Rejoice and be glad in it!
Mark and I start EVERY.SINGLE.DAY. with these words from Psalm
118. It’s the perfect way for us to center ourselves for the day, set our
path straight for whatever lies ahead and to remind us who is in charge
of our lives. We hold hands, look directly at one another, and pray those
words into each other every morning.
Many years ago, during an anniversary celebration of First Pres
Wheaton, two long-time members of our church; Harold and Sandy
Crittenden, spoke during a service about how they started each day
with this reminder to each other. Mark and I loved the Crittenden’s and
also loved the meaning and foundation of starting our days this way.
Most people who know us, know that this is ‘our thing’. Our daughters
have grown from eye-rolling at us as adolescents to joining us if they
are at our home in the morning. We also engage any overnight guests
to join us in this prayer of Faithfulness.
This focused reminder, every morning, centers me and reminds me that
God is in control; not me, not my job, not my anxiety or my worries. It
frees me to remember to celebrate Jesus and all he has done for me
rather than focus on all the ‘what ifs’ that are out of my control. It also
reminds me of the gift God gave me in Jesus that I am forgiven and
the slate is made clean each and every day for me. I am so grateful for
these wonderful words that focus my energy and thoughts, daily, on the
way to make my path straight.
First Presbyterian Church of Wheaton has been a blessing to me and
my family for two decades. Those words spoken by a dear couple so
many years ago have really made a genuine impact on my life. Yet
another reason I am so grateful for the FPCW community of Believers.
– Robbie Spehr
Sunday, December 22
Once In Royal David’s City
Once in royal David's city, stood a lowly cattle shed, where a mother
laid her baby in a manger for His bed: Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ her little child.
He came down to earth from heaven, who is God and Lord of all,
And His shelter was a stable,
and His cradle was a stall;
With the poor and meek and lowly, lived on earth our Savior holy.
For He is our child-hood's pattern, day by day like us He grew,
He was little, weak, and helpless, tears and smiles like us He knew,
And He feeleth for our sadness, and He shareth in our gladness.
And our eyes at last shall see Him, through His own redeeming love;
For that child so dear and gentle, is our Lord in heaven above,
And He leads His children on, to the place where He is gone.
Lyrics by Cecil Frances Alexander
Monday, December 23
Matthew 2:10-11 CEB
10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. 11 They entered
the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their
knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and
presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
God put a spectacular star up in the sky to help guide the wise men so
they could find Jesus and meet him. That bright light brought them such
joy as they followed it! When they found Jesus they fell to their knees to
worship and praise Him.
God sent Jesus to be a light to shine upon us! To help guide us and
teach us about God’s unending love for us and bring us peace.
Now we can look for a “star” to guide us in our own life and be ready to
follow where He leads us! So let’s do as the wise men did and follow
that spectacular star and worship and praise Him as He leads us along
a path of hope, joy, peace and love in our lives.
– Lynn Nuzzo
Tuesday, December 24
Had We Been There by Ann Weems
Into the stable they straggled, poor and dirty, hardly suitably dressed for
Had we been Joseph, we would have feared robbery.
Had we been Mary, we would have feared germs around our newborn.
Had we been God, these are not ones we would have chosen to first
come and see the child.
After all, they showed a certain carelessness about the rules of the
And yet, God-chosen, they came to kneel and worship Him whom we
would later call the Good Shepherd.
Perhaps we could brush up on our humbleness.
From Kneeling in Bethlehem. © 1993 Ann Barr Weems.
FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
715 North Carlton Avenue, Wheaton, IL 60187
Email: [email protected]