Posted in Advent, Christian, Christianity, Faith, Sermons, Spirituality

This Was Not The Plan

Luke 1:26-38

Grace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

In March of 2005 I stood in my ex-husband’s office at Arkansas State University staring at the wall. On the wall he had a huge calendar that marked all of the Women’s Soccer important dates and practice itineraries. As I stared at the calendar I had a huge realization wash over me – you see… I had just counted dates and realized that there was a very real chance that I was pregnant. As I stood there staring, he noticed me and asked if I was okay. I looked at him and said “Ummm… we need to make a stop at the store on the way home.”

He stared at me for a minute, then his eyes got wide and he said: “For real???” I replied: “For real.” He then responded: “Oh, poop!” (He didn’t really say poop… I’m sanitizing this story for all of you. I’m sure you can all deduce what was actually said.) The next morning I took a pregnancy test and validated my suspicions. I was pregnant. Oh poop!

This was not the plan. We had only been married for 9 months… the plan was to wait a couple of years. Precautions had been taken. This should not be a thing… however, as Patrick’s ongoing presence testifies – it was most certainly a thing. My emotions ran the gamut… I fluctuated between feeling excited and between a complete state of disbelief.

Again – this was not the plan. I was only 24-years-old… was I ready to be a mother? Would I be good at it?  Well – ready or not… this was my reality. It was happening.

In our Gospel this morning Mary has a similar, yet more extreme, experience. She is visited by the Angel Gabriel. Gabriel greets her as “Favored one and tells her that God is with her.” Mary is originally startled… Old-Wives-Tales of the time stated that visits by angels to women often meant that one’s husband was going to die.  As someone who was formally engaged, if something happened to Joseph at this time, Mary would be considered a widow. So, needless to say, an Angel Visit probably brought on a little anxiety.

We are told that Mary was perplexed by these words and pondered what this greeting might mean. I’m sure she is trying to figure out how “Greetings favored one… God is with you” translates to – Joseph be DEAD.

Gabriel goes on to tell her “Do not be afraid. You have found favor with God.” Well that’s good news… hopefully favor with God means her betrothed is okay.

Then Gabriel goes on to tell her that she will conceive a child and bear a son and will name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, AND his kingdom will have no end.

Holy cow… because if a visit from a celestial being who typically brings messages of life changing doom wasn’t scary enough… now this being is telling her she is going to become pregnant and her child will get a more impressive title than some of the most educated individuals we know today.

Mary is understandably somewhat baffled by this announcement… I mean, it’s kind of a lot to take in… and asks – “How can this be since I am a virgin?” Clearly THIS is not Mary’s life plan! Much like I experienced upon my conception of Patrick… Mary is experiencing some disbelief. I mean… come on. She is a young woman… probably 14ish years old… and a virgin. Unwed motherhood was definitely not on her agenda.  Not to mention – it’s a physical impossibility!!!!

Gabriel tells her that her child will be conceived by the Holy Spirit and will be holy… the son of God. He then goes on to tell her that her cousin, Elizabeth, has also conceived a child. Elizabeth was previously barren and is quite advanced in years so this news would have definitely been surprising and miraculous.

Gabriel tells Mary that NOTHING will be impossible with God. That physical impossibility can and will be overcome.

Mary accepts all of these explanations and shifts from a state of disbelief to a state of acceptance and joy. She says: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Following this as we heard in our psalm, she then sings a song of joy and praise.

Her life plan just got upended. I think that in today’s climate of sexual abuse scandals it is very important to note that Mary consents to this plan. She agrees to it. Many commentarians have pondered the possibility that she was not the first visit Gabriel made. There may have been others before her who said – Yeah… great honor and all God, but NO THANKS! Not my plan.  Regardless of whether or not she was the first who was asked to be the mother of God is really not all that important. What is important is that she accepts this role.

In a very short span of time she shifts from a state of terror, to a state of confusion, to a state of acceptance. From disbelief to joy. Karoline Lewis states: “She makes a radical transformation in only three short verses, from peasant girl to prophet, from Mary to mother of God, from denial to discipleship. In a very real way, this is the appropriate transition from Advent to Christmas. Mary’s story moves us all from who we think we are to what God has called us to be, from observant believer to confessing apostle. Moreover, remarkably, impossibly. Mary’s story demands that we acknowledge the very transformation of God. It is no small journey to go from our comfortable perceptions of God to God in the manger, vulnerable, helpless, dependent. Yet, this is the promise of Christmas.”

Who we think we are – to who God has called us to be.  Who do you think you are? Who is God calling you to be?  I thought I knew who I was. I thought I had my life planned out and in a single moment… that plan changed. I went from being Ariel – newly married woman who was going to get the job and the house and the car all lined up before starting my family to – Ariel – dweller of a crummy one-bedroom-apartment, soon to be mother… too bad all the ducks aren’t in a row. This is happening anyway.

Life has a funny way of throwing us curveballs… be it impending parenthood, or unexpected relationship changes, or employment transitions, relocations, or even random encounters with strangers that forever change us… we think we know who we are. We think we have life planned out… but we never really do. And in these curveballs we often are reminded of who God is and who God is calling us to be. Like Mary, we are given the opportunity to shift from a seat of observation to a place of engaged disciple.

Kristine Johnson states that: “We are made in God’s image and we are filled with God’s power to act in this world. To welcome that which is of God – love, blessing, dignity, and justice – and to reject whatever is not of God – hunger, fear, injustice, and oppression. Or perhaps even the thought that we are not good enough. God is at work today, all over this world, breaking in to people’s lives and liberating them from whatever it is that is holding them captive.”

Sometimes that which is holding us captive, what keeps us forever trapped in the season of Advent and prevents us from fully transitioning to Christmas, is our own plan and our own ideas of how things can, should, and will progress in our lives. We can focus so hard on our end destination that we miss opportunities and encounters along the way.

We know what happened when Mary let God work in her. Are we letting God do that work in us? Are we willing, like Mary, to be bearers of God in this world?

God’s work in the world depends on our “yes.” Mary bore Jesus, the Savior of the world. And now, we are Christ’s body carrying on his mission. As we transition from Advent to Christmas let us also transition from who we think we are, to who God is truly calling us to be.

Like Mary, we too are engaged disciples, called to share God’s message of peace, love, and reconciliation with a hurting and desperate world. We are called to get out of our own way, forget who we think we are, and live into who God is calling us to be. Even if this calling comes at unexpected times and in unexpected ways. Amen.

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Posted in Advent, Christmas, Devotions, Faith Formation, Youth Ministry

Family Advent Devotion

A few years ago, when I was working full-time as a Youth & Family Minister, I began looking for Advent Resources to share with the families of my congregation.  I found a lot of resources that were okay, but not exactly what I was looAdventking for. I decided to give devotion writing a try and shared what I created with others. So it turns out, apparently I’m decent at it and people enjoy the devotions, because I’ve been asked to keep creating them.

The devotions are based on the weekly readings from the Revised Common Lectionary. There is a devotion for each Sunday and a devotion for each week which can be used once or repeated each day.  Repetition often offers the opportunity for deeper reflection and understanding. We also live very busy lives and for some once a week is the best that can be done.

Feel free to use the devotion this Advent Season with your family and let me know how it goes!!!!


Family Devotional – Year B

Posted in Advent, Christmas, Devotions, Faith Formation, Youth Ministry

Family Devotion – Advent Week #1

Opening Prayer:
Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come. By your merciful protection save us from the threatening dangers of our sins, and enlighten our walk in the way of your salvation. We light one candle and pray for peace and patience as we anticipate the coming of Jesus Christ, born to set us free.  Shine your light upon us with the promise of everlasting life.  In Christ’s name we pray, amen.

Candle Lighting:
Speak these words while lighting the first candle:
O Emmanuel, Jesus Christ, desire of every nation, Savior of all peoples, come and dwell among usAmen.

Highs & Lows:
Share the best and worst parts of your day.

Gospel Reading:
Read Matthew 24: 36-44 OR “Noah’s Ark” in the Spark Story Bible (or a similar story in your favorite story Bible) Families with smaller children – you may want to reference the Matthew 24 passage in regards to not knowing when Christ will return.

Activity:
Create a Bible Verse Advent Chain. (See Appendix A for instructions and templates.) Tear off one link each day and read the Bible verse for the day.

Pray:
Heavenly Father, you provide good and gracious gifts to us as signs of your redeeming love and of your imminent coming. Help us to share these gifts with others and to receive them with a grateful heart.  In Jesus name we pray, amen.

Bless:
Child of God, the time is drawing near, spread peace throughout the world, be patient and wait. 

Posted in Advent, Christmas, Devotions, Faith Formation

Family Devotion – Week #1 Activity

ADVENT CHAIN

Advent Chain

 

Print the list of Bible verses below. Cut out and glue them onto strips of colored paper.  Create an interlocking chain with the Bible verse strips. Make sure the dates are in ascending order. Remove one link each night and read the bible verses listed.

Dec. 1st – John 1: 1-5

Dec. 3rd – Isaiah 11: 1-10

Dec. 5th – Luke 1: 5-10

Dec. 9th – Matthew 1: 18-21Dec. 7th – Luke 1: 18-25

Dec. 11th – Luke 1: 39-45

Dec. 13th – Luke 2: 1-5

Dec. 15th – Luke 2: 8-12

Dec. 17th – Luke 2: 15-18

Dec. 19th – Micah 5: 2-5

Dec. 21st – Matthew 2: 3-6

Dec. 23rd – Matthew 2: 9-12

Dec. 2nd – Isaiah 9: 2-7

Dec. 4th-Jeremiah 33: 14-16

Dec. 6th – Luke 1: 11-17

Dec. 8th – Luke 1: 26-38

Dec. 10th – Matthew 1: 18 – 21

Dec. 12th – Luke 1: 46-56

Dec. 14th – Luke 2: 6-7

Dec. 16th – Luke 2: 13-14

Dec. 18th – Luke 2: 19-20

Dec. 20th – Matthew 2: 1-2

Dec. 22nd – Matthew 2: 7-8

Dec. 24th – John 1: 14

Posted in Advent, Christmas, Devotions, Faith Formation, Youth Ministry

Family Devotion – First Sunday in Advent

Opening Prayer:
Gracious God, as our nights grow longer and our days grow short, we look on these earthly signs – light and green branches—and remember God’s promise to our world: Christ, our Light and our Hope, will come bringing peace and spreading love.  We know not when he will come; give us strength to wait and hope, knowing that the time is near.  Keep us alert and vigilant.  In Jesus name we pray, amen.

Listen to the words of the Prophet Isaiah:
In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth instructions and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift ups sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”

Families with small children – Instead of the words above, read “God will Bring Peace” (Pg. 164) in the Spark Story Bible OR in your favorite story Bible.

Candle Lighting:
Speak these words while lighting the first candle:
O God, rejoicing, we remember the promise of your Son.  As the light from this candle, may the blessing of Christ come upon us, brightening our way and guiding us by his truth.  May Christ our Savior bring life into the darkness of our world, and to us, as we wait for his coming.  We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Highs & Lows:
Share the best and worst parts of your day.

Gospel Reading:
Read Matthew 24: 36-44 OR “Noah’s Ark” in the Spark Story Bible (or a similar story in your favorite story Bible) Families with smaller children – you may want to reference the Matthew 24 passage in regards to not knowing when Christ will return.

Discuss:

  • Who knows when Christ will return? Do Angels? Do People? Does Jesus?
  • The Gospel talks about Noah and his family listening and following God’s instructions. Is it sometimes hard to focus and listen to God? Why?
  • How can we prepare ourselves for Christ’s coming?

Pray:
Heavenly Father, we cling to the promise of Christ’s return with joy and anticipation. We know not when that day will be. Guide us as we listen to your call, empower us to share your love with others, and nurture us as we prepare the way for his return.  In Jesus name we pray, Amen.

Bless:
Child of God, the time is drawing near, spread peace throughout the world, be patient and wait. 

Posted in Advent, Christmas, Devotions, Faith Formation, Youth Ministry

Family Advent Devotion Introduction

The following is an introduction to the weekly Family Advent Devotions that I created and will be posting throughout the Advent Season. I hope they are a blessing to you and your family! Feedback is always appreciated!!! 🙂

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ADVENT – WHAT DOES IT MEAN?:

The four weeks before Christmas mark the season of Advent, from a Latin word for “coming” or “arrival.”  We are preparing to celebrate the arrival of God himself, who became man in the form of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  The church has observed a season of preparation before Christmas since the time of Bishop Perpetuus of Tours in 490 C.E.

The themes of Advent include hope, darkness/light, repentance, watchfulness, preparation, expectation of Christ’s birth at Christmas, & the anticipation of his coming again.

The colors of the season is blue or in some instances, purple.  Blue suggests hope.  Purple is an older tradition that represents royalty and the coming of a king.

ADVENT AT HOME:

The month of December is a busy time.  These four weeks are filled with church services, concerts, parties, cleaning, decorating, etc.  It can be exhausting and frustrating, but it’s exciting too!

I encourage you all to spend time as a family, in Advent, reflecting and preparing.  This devotional resource is intended to give you tools to have family devotions around an Advent Wreath. If you don’t have an Advent wreath, 5 pillar candles (one for each week and one for Christmas) will work as well.

Although there is a devotion for each day, don’t worry if you are unable to come together as a family every single day of Advent.  Even once a week is a wonderful recognition of the season and will help prepare your family.  The Sunday devotions are slightly longer so this would be a good option for weekly rather than nightly devotions. The weekly devotion is the same each night. As we steep in the Word, through repetition we often hear new things and the stories are written differently and more deeply on our hearts.

Devotions are one way to reinforce Advent at home.  Some additional ways to incorporate Advent into your home life are:

*        Caring Conversations: While decorating your house and tree, discuss that decorating is part of our preparation and anticipation of Christ’s coming.

*        Service:  Find time to serve others and discuss Christ’s service to us. (Ring bells for Salvation Army; volunteer at a food bank or soup kitchen; donate old toys to Goodwill or a Domestic Violence Shelter.)

*        Rituals & Traditions: We all have rituals and traditions surrounding the season. (Baking goodies; decorating; Christmas Caroling; etc…)  Keep doing what you have always done!  Discuss WHY you do it… where it came from… who started it.

THE ORIGINS OF THE ADVENT WREATH:

The origins of the Advent wreath are found in the folk practices of the pre-Christian Germanic peoples who, during the cold December darkness of Eastern Europe, gathered wreaths of evergreen and lighted fires as signs of hope in a coming spring and renewed light.

Christians kept these popular traditions alive, and by the 16th century Catholics and Protestants throughout Germany used these symbols to celebrate their Advent hope in Christ, the everlasting Light. From Germany, the use of the Advent wreath spread to other parts of the Christian world.

Traditionally, the wreath is made of four candles in a circle of evergreens. Three candles are violet or blue and the fourth is rose or purple, but four white candles or four violet candles can also be used. Each day at home, the candles are lighted, perhaps before the evening meal– one candle the first week, and then another each succeeding week until December 25th.

Better late than never… here are the final text messages for Advent 2012. They weren’t posted each day due to my falling ill with the mnemonic plague! (Okay, bad cold followed by stomach virus, but still, felt like I was dying!!!)

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Third Saturday in Advent:

“In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest, & shall be raised up above the hills.”
-Micah 4:1

Forth Sunday in Advent:

“But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule Israel.”
-Micah 5:2

Christmas Eve:

“For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders…”
-Isaiah 9:6a

“He is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
-Isaiah 9:6b

“His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom.”
-Isaiah 9:7a

“He will establish & uphold it with justice & with righteousness from this time onward & forevermore.”
Isaiah 9:7b

Final Advent Text Messages

Posted in Advent, Christmas, Faith Formation

Christmas Day Devotion for Families with School Age Children & Youth

AdventCHRISTMAS DAY:

 Candle Lighting:

Speak these words while lighting the first candle:
O Wisdom, holy Word of God, Jesus Christ, all things are in your hands, come and show us the way to salvation.

Opening Prayer:

Gracious God, as we gaze upon this light, we are reminded that you sent your son on this day to bring light to all peoples.  You are the light in the darkness. The beauty of these lighted candles surrounded by greens reminds us that there is always light to be found in darkness. Christ our light and our hope, has come.  Let our lights shine bright, always in honor of you. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.

Listen to the words of the Prophet Isaiah:

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”  Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices, together they sing for joy; for in plain sight they see the return of the Lord to Zion.  Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem; for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.  The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.

Share:

Your High’s & Low’s for the day.

Read:

John 1: 1-14

Talk:

How the bible passage relates to our High’s & Lo’s

Pray:  Heavenly Father, you came into the world, were made man in flesh and bones.  You lived among us and showed us your glory full of grace and truth.  Today we celebrate your birth and rejoice in your coming.  We look forward to your return with grateful anticipation. Protect us, guide us, give us patience, and hope. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.

Bless:  Child of God, Christ is with us, proclaim his birth and spread his word!

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From Advent Devotions for Families with School Age Children & Youth by Ariel Williams
Copyright 2012 All Rights Reserved

Posted in Advent, Christmas, Faith Formation

Christmas Day Devotion for Families with Small Children

CHRISTMAS DAY:Advent

Candle Lighting:

Speak these words while lighting the first candle:
O Wisdom, holy Word of God, Jesus Christ, all things are in your hands, come and show us the way to salvation.

 Opening Prayer: (Pray – Peat/Repeat Style)

Gracious God, as we look at our Advent wreath, we that you sent Jesus to bring light to the world. Jesus, our light and our hope, has come.  Let our lights shine bright through the night and day. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.

Share:

What’s something that happened today that made you happy?  What’s something that happened today that made you sad?

Read:

Wise Men – Pg. 218 from the Spark Story Bible (Or similar story from your favorite Story Bible)

Talk:

  • What’s something you thought was interesting in the story?
  • What is your favorite gift that you received today?
  • What is the favorite gift that you GAVE?
  • How can we help share the gift of Jesus with other people?

Pray:  (Pray – Peat/Repeat Style)

Heavenly Father, today we celebrate Jesus’ birth and rejoice in his coming.  Thank you for the gifts of love, peace, and service. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.

Bless:  Child of God, Christ is with us, proclaim his birth and spread his word!

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From Advent Devotions for Families with Small Children by Ariel Williams
Copyright 2012 All Rights Reserved