Silence and Sound Advent Devotional

Faithful readers,

As promised, our contemplative Advent devotional is ready now for download.  Beginning Friday, December 1 through December 25, enjoy a reading and contemplative exercise each day.

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Download Advent Devotaional

Silence & Sound Advent 2017 is our gift to you this Advent season. We hope that through this devotional, you are called to deeper understanding and fuller practice of the faith we share in Christ! We worked together across the world to compile these readings and thoughts as short daily readings with accompanying contemplations or actions you can pick up at any point in the day or integrate into your personal advent practice.”

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“Silence and sound are two vital themes in the Old Testament. Although this pair are often discussed as opposites, we have placed them on a spectrum–silence can sound like many different things. From the beginning, we encounter the silence of the void into which the Creator speaks, a certain silence of good creation at peace as the Creator rests; but also the silence of Adam during the Temptation, the silence of Eve as she gives the serpent too much shrift, the silence of dread that must have filled their ears, knowing the Lord God would show up. Silence gives the foundational mythos of Scripture its cadence, while sound accompanies the interventions of the Creator. God speaks, and the world is created, and so the morning stars sing for joy. Prophets prophesy and kings decree; people cry out in repentance, and then praise.

“All the way through, silence and sound punctuate this holy history of the Old Testament. The silence of pain: from the uncomfortable silence between Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah to the deathly silences Esther endured to save her people. The sound of distress: the sound of Israelites groaning under their slavery, the repentant sound of Nineveh’s decree, and the reluctant sound of Jeremiah’s prophecies. The silence of blessing: from the stupefied silence as his brothers are reconciled to Joseph to the hushed silence as the ark of the covenant is placed in the Temple. The sound of victory: the sound of the Lord God cursing the serpent, the sound of the ram’s horn and warrior’s shout crumbling Jericho, the sound of Isaiah’s response “Here am I.”

“Beyond these guiding narratives, we find silence and sound woven through the lives and the faith of believers throughout history. Silence and sound can be sources of strength when we have trained ourselves to hear them. If we will attune our ears and attend to the message, we will hear the glory of God in the sounds and silences of life. The Advent season is a reminder to us of the power of waiting and listening as well speaking out. May the voice of the Lord guide your lives and faith!”

Writers:

Bethany Stallings
Charlotte Cline-Smith
Meridith Matson
Nathan Bingaman
Scott Matson

Artist:

Ellie Stager
letterandjournal.com

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instead, pray

“Don’t be anxious about things; instead, pray.” Philippians 4:6 (The Voice)

I love trees.  Green, vibrant leaves.  Tall, dark brown trunks.  Nestled in a quiet forest.  This is calm: staring and examining them in stillness.

Growing up in Oregon only fostered my love for trees, and I am still fascinated by the redwoods – the tall, strong redwood trees.  Standing still and ageless, lining the long, winding roads between central Oregon and the coast.  (I confess my obsession with these trees could also be because Return of the Jedi was filmed in Oregon in the redwoods.. I digress.)

When I turned ten we moved into a new house with a backyard full of cherry trees and apple trees.  I dreamed of waking up early and picking fruit each morning – of course this dream quickly dissolved when we discovered birds ate all the cherries, which were only really ripe about two weeks out of the year, and the apples were filled with worms and all sorts of other creatures that shouldn’t be consumed.  The fruit produced by these trees remained uneatable.

Anxiousness often overcomes us and we discover the fruit born of our anxious thoughts are fruits of worry and fear. Thoughts planted in our minds blossom into something – thoughts of lust, fear, greed, pride, and a whole host of other fruits that are more flesh than spirit.

Instead of anxiousness and worry, Paul tells the Philippian believers to instead pray. No formula, no article entitled: “10 Steps to Worry Less.” Just a simple solution: pray. And the fruit of this action?  Peace.  A peace that “(is beyond any and all of our human understanding) will stand watch over your hearts and minds in Jesus, the Anointed One.” Philippians 4:7 (The Voice)

Paul goes on to list what the seeds of our thoughts should be: the seeds to plant that will produce the fruit of peace: “Fill your minds with beauty and truth. Meditate on whatever is lovely, whatever is good, whatever is virtuous and praise worthy. Keep to the script: whatever you learned and received and heard and saw in me – do it- and the peace of God will walk with you.” Philippians 4:8-9.

Seeds of beauty, truth, that which is lovely, good, virtuous and praiseworthy produce those fruits, which ultimately guards us with the peace of God.

Picturing those tall redwoods, or imagining the cherry and apple trees of my childhood, I see wormy apples and cherry pits left behind by the birds.  Uneatable fruit.  But today in my own anxiousness and worry, I pray.  Seeking to plant seeds of truth and goodness, producing not fear or multipied anxiousness, but instead peace.

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Thirty-six percent humidity.

Thirty-six percent humidity: the first signs of Fall.
September 20, 2016, Seoul, South Korea.

Fall in Korea makes me long for home: Oregon. After spending three long years in Texas among the rolling “hills “and brutal, humid summers, I moved to South Korea in July 2015 only to be hit with more humidity.

But come late-September, the humidity subsides and bows its head to cooler temperatures. The fresh crisp air brings with it a million memories of childhoods long past; times and seasons long forgotten and tucked away in the crevices of my mind. Memories of open windows at night, freezing football games huddled under blankets, playing in piles of fresh fallen leaves and watching the miracle of the changing of seasons.

Change and movement in life are the heart of all things beautiful.
Beauty is a thing of wonder to behold yet mysteriously veiled.
The changing of seasons ushers in this reminder.

We grieve and mourn for the past with any change, yet look forward in hopeful expectation, knowing the simple truth: we are not alone.
As we journey on this road of life woven with tears of joy and sorrow, we know we are not aimless wanderers. We journey alongside a Love that will one day make all things new.

Fall reminds the heart that things will not always stay as they are now, Love is making all things new.

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146,000 silent nights

Malachi 3:1  “’I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,’ says the LORD Almighty.”

These were last words God spoke.  For 400 years.

The people waited.
And they kept waiting.
400 years passed;
God was silent.
146,000 silent nights.
But all the people were watching and waiting,
and watching some more.

They were not fighting each other.
They were not worshipping other gods…
for the first time in a LONG time.

They knew God was with them as they watched and waited,
but, the promise…
from the prophet Isaiah:
For unto us a son is born
Unto us a son is given
The peace, justice, righteousness…
they knew these were coming.
They knew HE was coming.

But, do you think the people wanted to give up?
Did they get tired of waiting?
Did they think God’s promises weren’t going to come to be?

Maybe.

But the next time God spoke, it wasn’t through a judge, king or prophet.
It was in the cry of a Baby.
God would break the silent nights, with a not so silent night,
through the screaming cry of a baby.
The Son of God,
Emmanuel,
GOD WITH US.

Two people waited expectantly day and night in the temple worshipping God, waiting for the Messiah, or the Christ.

Luke 2:25-32  “There was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, looking forward to Israel’s consolation, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he saw the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, he entered the temple complex. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform for Him what was customary under the law, Simeon took Him up in his arms, praised God, and said:
‘Now, Master, You can dismiss Your slave in peace, as You promised.
For my eyes have seen Your salvation. You have prepared it in the presence of all peoples— a light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory to Your people Israel.'”

Luke 2:36-38  “There was also a prophetess, Anna […] . She was well along in years, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and was a widow for 84 years. She did not leave the temple complex, serving God night and day with fasting and prayers. At that very moment, she came up and began to thank God and to speak about Him to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”

Simeon and Anna both were waiting,
and after waiting so long, they finally gazed into the eyes of God-
a baby.

Someone asked me last week – why do we celebrate Jesus coming at Christmas time so much? What’s so special about it?

Jesus was and still is the hope of all mankind.
Jesus was and is God – who came to earth to live as one of us,
to share in our sufferings, our struggles,
to live as we live,
and years later – this baby, now a man
would die on a cross and rise again
because of one reason:

LOVE.

God’s love for us – you and I and this entire world
is so big that he didn’t leave us alone,
He didn’t leave us to walk this life alone
He came to be with us,
He came to rescue us.

And that indeed is good news,
the good news of love
that was worth waiting for all those years.

Love.

 

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from death to life

Let-Go

Letting go.
Letting things die
so i can live..
so I can really live, again.

There is life, even in death
because some things need to die, so other things can live
like dreams

But why do we keep praying for clarity?
We are never promised clarity
But … but
we can walk by faith, and not by sight
we can choose trust instead of the questions

And somehow in the mess
there is beauty
in the ashes
and in the end
we may experience a joy that only comes from Him in the midst of the
madness, chaos, confusion and doubt..

and a seed of joy is planted
growing bit by bit
sprouting into a tree.  A tree of life.  Again.

So… what do you want to do with that?

What do you want to do with that degree?
Is this [job] what you were hoping to do as a career?
How long are you planning to stay?

The questions we ask people about life, whether it be careers, marriage, children, hobbies, etc… often are the wrong questions to ask.  During day one of orientation for my Master’s degree at Dallas Theological Seminary I was asked numerous times, “What degree program are you in?” closely followed by the question, “Oh, great, so what do you hope to do with that?”  Or, “What kind of ministry are you planning to serve in after you finish?”

So many of our questions are leading questions.  We intend to lead people to a specific type of answer.  An answer that belongs in a neatly organized box.  And not only that, but these questions do not focus on the heart of who the person we are conversing with, rather, we are forcing people to answer in a particular way so that we can categorize them.

Since my move here to Seoul, I have been asked too many times, “Oh, so is this job what you were wanting to do when you attended seminary?”

Um, no.  It isn’t.  Wasn’t.

I had no clue I would be here.
I have no clue how long I will be here.
I have no clue where I will go next.

God only knows.

And that’s the thing about all our grand plans: they aren’t ours.  We can plan all day until our faces are blue and our fingers are bleeding with callouses: we cannot know the future.

Proverbs rightly reminds us: “A person plans his course, but the Lord directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9, NET)

loss

The more days I travel as a pilgrim on this earth, the more I am convinced of this truth: to live is to lose.  As young children, somehow we think we can grasp and hold onto the things of this life, but to me now as an adult, loss seems to mark my journey more than gains.

Yet.

Yet.

The only loss we will not have as followers of Christ is just that: Himself.

The time we spend earning more material possessions or working hard to maintain our neat squares of grass called “yards”… less time we have to spend with the One who will carry our souls into eternity.  Where yes, we will spend the rest of time, until there is no more time.  Forever.  With Him.

God.  The triune God.  Father, Son and Spirit.

The more time we spend on this earth being quiet before Him, and allowing those “things of earth” to grow “strangely dim”… He will become more beautiful to us.

He will become that which we desire most in this life.

And that my friends, is GAIN.

“Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Ps. 34:4)

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:33)

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