“Advent, like its cousin Lent, is a season for prayer and reformation of our hearts. Since it comes at winter time, fire is a fitting sign to help us celebrate Advent…If Christ is to come more fully into our lives this Christmas, if God is to become really incarnate for us, then fire will have to be present in our prayer. Our worship and devotion will have to stoke the kind of fire in our souls that can truly change our hearts. Ours is a great responsibility not to waste this Advent time.” Edward Hays, A Pilgrim’s Almanac
Scripture & Devotion: Scripture focus: Jeremiah 31:10, 16-17 Hear the word of the Lord, O nations; proclaim it in the distant coastlands: He who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over his flock like a shepherd … This is what the Lord says: “Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded,” declares the Lord. “They will return from the land of the enemy. So there is hope for your future,” declares the Lord. “Your children will return to their own land.” RETURNING TO HOPE When I was growing up, my mother always began decorating for the Christmas season by placing a large glass bowl filled with greenery on the sideboard in the dining room. On top she placed her Bible, open to the second chapter of Luke’s Gospel which contains the most well-known account of the birth of Jesus. It begins, “And it came to pass in those days that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed… And everyone returned to his own town to register.” So many things in the focus passage from the words of the prophet Jeremiah bring to mind this chapter of the Christmas story: Mary and Joseph returning to Bethlehem (Joseph’s ancestral family home); the shepherds watching over their flocks in the surrounding fields later being invited to bear witness to the birth of Jesus who would come to be called “The Good Shepherd”; the assurance that God has the compassion to dry the tears of humankind and the power to offer hope for the future. I write this devotional reflection at a time when hope is most sorely needed. The global COVID pandemic, which has sickened millions and drastically altered our day-to-day lives, continues as an ever-present threat. So many people have lost their livelihoods, and parents have been forced to become home-school teachers of academic subjects with which they have little expertise. Wildfires have ravaged our state to an unprecedented extent, destroying homes and whole towns in addition to many thousands of acres of beautiful forest land. We are still reeling from the effects of social and political unrest that divided our country even before the bitterly contested national election, which continues to dominate the news. Sometimes it feels as though we are indeed living “in the land of the enemy” who would seek to destroy our health, our happiness, our relationships, our country, even our sanity. And yet, the message of scripture is one of encouragement. At its most basic level, the theme of Advent is hope: God is still God, unchanging, everlasting. No matter what happens in our daily lives here on this planet, he still loves us and invites us into relationship with him. It is the very reason he sent us Jesus whose birth the Christmas season celebrates. These next few weeks of expectation and anticipation remind us of our reliance on God’s faithful provision and of his promises never to abandon us. Even if we have strayed in our walk, he wants us to return so that his kingdom will be our eternal home. You may have received cards or seen decorative signs with the observation: All Hearts Come Home at Christmas. Oh, let that be true of each of us! Even if we cannot journey to an earthly home to reunite with loved ones this holiday season, may we experience a rebirth of faith that hope makes possible. May we find ourselves in a place of reassurance that our true home – the one we long to return to – is the one lighted with hope, where God greets us at the door and welcomes us inside. Cindy Graff
Light our hearts with the hope that is found in You.