Advent Devotional: Fourth Week of Advent (Dec. 22-25)


Sunday, December 22

Gathering the straw of peace

With just days to go until Christmas, how much straw have you filled Jesus’ manger with?

Where did you bring joy to someone? How did this joy brighten the world?

There is still more straw to add to the manger — the straw of peace. And so, on this last Sunday of Advent, ask yourself, and your family and friends, about what ways peace can be brought into your community.

Monday, December 23

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. — Matthew 5:9

If ever the world needed peacemakers, surely it is now. Yet how can we be peacemakers in the world if we are not at peace with ourselves, with God and with others?

Grace has to go all the way down into the very marrow of our bones, into us at the cellular level, to that place where we forgive ourselves and where we are intent on loving our enemies. If it doesn’t, then we’ll likely focus on those who are against us; we won’t “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.” Might that be why the Lord prayed: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”? And might “working out” mean that we live in nonviolent ways in all areas of our lives — in our thoughts, conversations, discussions about politics, work relationships and when dealing with challenging people and situations? To have peace, and to make peace, we must have active compassion for friend and foe, know ourselves and walk humbly with God.

Straw for the manger: Practice being an active listener. Sit down with a friend or a member of your community in your workplace, classroom or home, and listen attentively. Resist the temptation to turn the conversation toward you or attempt to persuade the person to agree with your position. In this way, we will work toward genuine peace.

God, work in us to become better listeners, to be compassionate with others by listening to their stories, their grievances and their concerns without imposing upon them our own stories, concerns and complaints. In this way, may we be peacemakers in the world we live in. Amen.

Christmas Eve — Tuesday, December 24

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. — Isaiah 9:6

I stood on the hilltop overlooking Bethlehem where the shepherds once stood watching their flocks at night. There were cave-like depressions in the stony ground where the shepherds were said to have camped at night. I imagined a host of angels proclaiming to them — the lowliest of men in that age — the good news of the Savior being born. How the stars must have swirled! How the silence must have been shattered with the heavenly proclamation, breaking the sound barrier between heaven and earth forever!

What could they bring but themselves and their flock to the stable? They went, down the hillside, to the place where they found the Lamb of God asleep in a manger. Around him were the beasts of burden who worked the fields and the other creatures of Eden. There was nothing more to do than to kneel before the King of Kings, the vulnerable child, the Christ, the One who came to save humanity, the Word made flesh.

The greatest act of kindness we can do for others is also the greatest act we can do for ourselves: to kneel before the Savior, going awestruck throughout our days and to shepherding the sheep.

Straw for the manger: There is still time to add straw to the manger. Find time this day to give hope to the hopeless and love to the loveless. Bring joy to those who mourn. Bring peace to a place of chaos. Let the question in Matthew 25 whisper to you, “Lord, when did I see you … ?” Now open your eyes and truly see the many ways you can share the gift of Jesus with all.

Our Lord and our God, on this holiest of nights, let us come to you as children ourselves, full of wonder and awe. We kneel humbly before you. Let us behold the mystery of love, as we live out our love for you by feeding the hungry, giving drink to all who thirst, clothing the naked and freeing those in prison. Amen.

Christmas Day — Wednesday, December 25

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.” — Luke 2:10

One Christmas morning years ago when my children were young, we woke up before dawn and hurried downstairs to see all of the gifts shimmering under the tree. We started with the stockings that hung on the fireplace, as was our tradition. Three were stuffed to overflowing. Mine was empty; my husband didn’t think to fill it. Utter horror contorted my daughters’ faces. They never forgot that Christmas when I was forgotten — the one who had been busy for weeks doing all of the baking, cooking, decorating, shopping, planning, wrapping and sending Christmas cards.

It’s Christmas Day. Whom have we forgotten? Whom have we refused to see, to acknowledge and to serve, not just during Advent, but in the comings and goings of our everyday life? Which child lays his head against the hard earth, with no crib for a bed? Which mother rejoices over the birth of her son or daughter with no way to protect or care for him or her? Who is cold against the night?

What straw we bring to the Christ child we bring to the world. If we live our faith out loud with deliberate, full-throttle love and compassion, then Christ will be born in us anew and into the world afresh. God never forgets any of us.

Jesus, you are the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all Creation. May we see you in all that is visible, in all people and throughout the earth, and forget no one or anything you have made. Amen.

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