The voice of one

crying in the

ye the
wilderness the paths of our


make straight in the


way of the



F i rs t S u n d a y, N o v e m b e r 2 9
“… Be on the alert, praying at all times for strength …” efore we get to words of the babe and swaddling clothes, we begin this Advent season with words like helpless and roar and terror and the passing of heaven and earth echoing from this apocalyptic passage. Luke offers not an invitation but a command to pray, and so I do: Holy Jesus, Son of the Most Holy God, We are not worthy to call you Lord. We paint you in pastel robes with a Mona Lisa smile. We cover up the stern words of the Sermon on the Mount with layers of pious decoupage. We imagine that you must forgive us everything and that nothing will be required of us. We make you into our own personal Jesus. Yet you are the Son of Man. You rule over the black holes of space and every mind that thinks “I am.” No secret prison is unknown to you. No smug hacker can hide from your gaze. You gave up paradise for obedience and comfort for a cross. You made forgiveness of sins as real as bread and wine. In your presence, the arrow of time is broken and all is calm. Without you, our being falls away into nothingness. You call us to have eyes to see God in this world and to move our hands to caress the weary, the frightened, and the forgotten in your name. Prayer: Forgive our blindness to the signs of our times. Burn away our sloth. Rouse us from hopelessness. Show us our strength. Open our eyes to welcome you in this season with fear and trembling, with dread and holy awe. For you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, though heaven and earth pass away. Amen. Timothy D. Lincoln Associate Dean for Seminary Effectiveness and Director of the Stitt Library

Luke 21:25-36


n this season of anticipation, we invite

you to explore these Advent reflections

written by students, faculty, and alumni/ae of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. We take seriously our mission to prepare outstanding leaders for Christ’s church, and one of the ways we nurture those leaders is by building a loving community of faith and extending God’s grace to others. Through this collection of meditations and prayers, please join us as we prepare to receive God’s greatest gift— the birth of Jesus Christ. We with to acknowledge with gratitude the gracious assistance of Margaret Talbot (MATS’09) in preparing this booklet. You’ll find an audio version of each devotional at our web site,, beginning on Sunday, November 29.

M o n d a y, N o v e m b e r 3 0

Amos 2:6-16

Tu e s d a y, D e c e m b e r 1

2 Peter 1:12-21


mos doesn’t seem to fit. His writings begin with a searing judgment on the nations surrounding Israel, and then his gaze turns to both Judah and Israel. The reigns of Uzziah in Judah and Jeroboam II in Israel were marked by a period of relative peace and prosperity. Amos tells us, however, that not all is well. His scathing critique includes both the abuse of the poor by the rich and powerful and the liturgical practices in the temple, which he dismisses as mere noise. I remember Advent from two years ago. I was a missionary working in the slums and shantytowns of Buenos Aires, Argentina. The hot summer sun beat down on the metal roofs, making the makeshift homes unbearable during the day; the running of sewer rats on the metal roofs made for a lack of sleep by night. It was seven square blocks of misery. One of hundreds around the city. One of thousands in Argentina. One of millions around the world. During this Advent season, let us reflect on the meaning of Christmas from their perspective. Can we hear the voices of the crucified poor? Is all well? An Argentine priest, Carlos Múgica, wrote “Mass for the Third World.” I’ve translated part of it for you. Let it be our prayer.


Prayer: “Glory to the God that is love and in the land peace to those who struggle for justice! We praise you as we struggle so that our starving children eat. We glorify you as we want to destroy today the instruments of torture. We give you thanks, for there are men who give their lives in the revolution. We give you thanks, Lord, because you are not a spectator God, but rather a God who became human, who suffers along with suffering humanity. We give you thanks, Lord.” Brian Plescher Middler student from Grand Rapids, Michigan

his text comes to us, we who lose our way in the demands of our lives, as a reminder, a call to think again the story of Jesus Christ. There is no suggestion here that we neglect the duties and details of our lives. Instead, we are reminded that in the darkness that haunts our lives, the story of Jesus is and always will be our light. This should be no surprise. That is the point: that we already know this. We simply forget to think it. We forget to remember this light. But how do we remember? How do we find this light? Where is it? What do we need to do? It is striking that the text does not suggest that Jesus is everywhere, that his light shines within us and around us. We cannot, for instance, go to the mount ourselves and witness the transfiguration firsthand. Instead, we have witnesses. We have prophets. We have texts. This text assures us that the witnesses are true, that the apostles really saw the glory of Jesus, that prophets speak not their own mind but, carried by the spirit, speak from God. The light of Jesus and the words of God come to us in the holy texts. We find the light by reading. And reading again. Until the day dawns when Jesus’ light is everywhere, the light comes to us in written words. The morning star rises in our hearts when we read the prophecies and stories of Jesus. The Bible is our memory and our light. Prayer: Gracious God, open our minds and hearts to your word, that as we read the Scriptures, the light will dawn and your truth will hold us forever, through Christ our Lord. Amen. Lewis Donelson Ruth A. Campbell Professor of New Testament Studies

We d n e s d a y, D e c e m b e r 2

Psalm 50

Th u rs d a y, D e c e m b e r 3

2 Peter 3:11-18


he sun comes up over the mountain, the beams shine through the tops of the trees, and I feel a rush of expectation. Here they come! The elk are passing through this high desert valley as they do every morning, headed for the lake. They saunter slowly, pausing only to nibble at something on the ground. They lift their heads and look straight at me. Do they know I am watching? How beautiful they are, how graceful, even those with heavy racks! Then, they continue, secure in the knowledge that this place is theirs, this place is their home. It is at times like this that I almost ache with the absolute knowledge of God, our creator, and God’s claim upon us. When I read the Scripture for today, I think of the elk. You and I belong to God just like the elk. We are part of God’s creation. Psalm 50 asks us to make a decision. It is a call. Do we or do we not serve God? Do we or do we not acknowledge God’s sovereign claim upon us? We are called from selfcenteredness to proper relationship with God. We are asked to live our lives consistently with the beliefs we profess. Do we pretend and just go through the right motions, saying the right words, or do we live according to the will of God? In this time of Advent when we examine ourselves, I remember the elk and the absolute knowledge that we, the elk, you and I, belong to God. May we offer thanksgiving and praise for our lives and live in gratitude to God. Prayer: O Holy God, may we discern your will and live the life you intend. Amen. Helen Almanza, PhD (MDiv’04) Associate Pastor, Tarrytown United Methodist Church, Austin, Texas


hese verses from 2 Peter are part of the dailyappointed readings for Advent. This text is normally read on the Friday before the third Sunday of Advent—readings of Isaiah’s blooming desert and Matthew’s John the Baptist. The themes of preparation and waiting are what we live in and move through in this season. But 2 Peter’s waiting has an edge to it. This book, with its apocalyptic attitudes about this world’s corruption and its warnings about the judgment to come, is not sleep-inducing bedtime reading. Instead, these are words that provoke uncertainty, even anxiety, as we read about “[t]he coming day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire” (v. 12). Many of us resist the theology these verses suggest: The world is corrupt and irredeemable; we can only hope for righteousness and peace in the new heavens and the new earth; we must be watchful lest we be carried away in error. The lectionary system sets these verses next to John the Baptist. John the Baptist is also anxiety producing—announcing the Lord’s winnowing fork and the judgment between wheat and chaff. At its heart, though, the announcement is still this: The kingdom of heaven has come near. The kingdom of heaven in the person of Jesus Christ comes to the corruption of this world and redeems. Waiting for the day of God, then, is a way of living now according to the reality that God wills for all creation. Prayer: Stir up the will of all who look to you, Lord God, and strengthen our faith in your coming, that, transformed by grace, we may walk in your way; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. Jennifer Lord Associate Professor of Homiletics

Fr i d a y, D e c e m b e r 4

Amos 5:1-17

S a t u rd a y, D e c e m b e r 5

Jude 17-25


n this season we set aside the grinding normalcy of our lives to muster cheer and warm fellowfeeling through our celebrations, gifts, and religious devotion. Yet even as guests depart, well fed and cheered, we are haunted by a vague, gnawing emptiness. “This year just didn’t feel like Christmas” we confide to our closest friends—feelings made more poignant as we recall Christmases of Dickensian fiction or childhood anticipation of the day. But we are not now Victorians or children, and the symbols and rituals of this season do not touch us the same: They do not rally the same romantic feelings. Today’s readings do nothing to help us reclaim the romance. In fact, this text reads like a funeral dirge. Amos warns that Israel’s military strength will be wrecked and her soldiers slaughtered, and that Yahweh has no interest in her ritual pilgrimages to Bethel, Gilgal, and Beersheba. Israel’s problem was not that she lacked a certain experience or emotion. She was happy with Yahweh, she liked Yahweh. But she no longer saw that her salvation, expected from Yahweh, was thoroughly entwined with her practice of justice as revealed in the covenant and law. The hope of Advent is not for salvation through rituals or feelings, but through One who came among us, living in peace, sharing his goods, and healing in word and deed. To Him Christmas bears witness: An alternative to a society based on violence is made possible by the life, death, resurrection, and teachings of Jesus. In this Way there is Joy indeed. Prayer: Gracious God, as we celebrate your coming, forgive us for piling between us rituals to muster cheer instead of the courage for justice and repentance. By our longing for warm feelings, turn us to the least among us—those broken by war, sickness, and injustice. Move us toward them so that your joy may be complete. Amen. David White C. Ellis and Nancy Gribble Nelson Associate Professor of Christian Education

ust 25 miles from Ft. Defiance, Virginia, where I served in my first pastorate, was the Synod’s conference center, Massanetta Springs. A two-week Bible conference, held there each August, offered great preaching and teaching from the masters of their craft. In 1964, the crowd was overflowing as the great Scot pulpiteer James Stewart began to preach. His text that first night was today’s passage: “To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you without fault.” In that masterful sermon, Stewart stressed that the trumpet note of triumph in the New Testament was never “we are able,” but, always turning from self, the authors proclaim, “He is able”: He is able to “help those being tempted” (Heb 2:18); “save completely” (Heb 7:25); “keep you from failing” (Jude 24); “bring every thing under His control” (Phil 3:21); “guard what has been committed to Him” (II Timothy 1:12); “do immeasurably more than all we ask or think” (Eph 3:20). Advent preparation means recalling that the One whose birth we celebrate is the One who breaks forever our human habit of translating into a vague future tense what He came to offer us now. Advent reminds us that when He comes there is no such thing as irrevocable defeat, no tangle He cannot straighten out, no wounds that do not yield to His healing, no lonely outcast not welcomed, no tongue that does not at last confirm Him “Lord of all.” Thanks be for the Advent reminder that He, born in Bethlehem, is the One who is able. Prayer: Even so come Lord Jesus, in this glad season. Come with your mighty ability, and bring faith for fear, courage for cowardice, strength for weakness, victory for defeat. Burnish our ideals that the fingers of the world have tarnished. And grant us peace and joy in our believing. Amen. Louis Zbinden Trustee Emeritus


S e c o n d S u n d a y, D e c e m b e r 6

Luke 3:1-6

M o n d a y, D e c e m b e r 7

Psalm 145

ost of us focus on the last three verses of this passage from Luke, the message of hope that transforms all flesh and changes the face of the earth. Thanks to Handel, many of us know these words by heart and can even sing them! In comparison to the glorious strains of “Messiah,” the list of rulers and religious figures found in the first three verses seems drab, merely preparatory details for the “real” message of Advent. Yet these details are important: Luke takes time to describe John the Baptist’s context. Luke tells us that attention to people, places, and current events is critical if we are to hear the good news. The word of God does not hover above the ground but sinks an anchor into the earth, claiming that earth as God’s own. The word of God comes to John, the son of Zechariah, at a time when an emperor is reigning over much of the known world, when other political and religious figures are vying for power and influence. Most of the people mentioned in this list are not paragons of faith or virtue: many become implicated in Jesus’ death as recorded later in the gospel. But God’s word comes to contexts like this and to people like these: to contexts like ours, to people like us. In the midst of hopelessness comes the hope of the world. The way has already been prepared. Prayer: Prepare us the way, O Lord, for your coming: out of discord bring harmony; out of war bring peace; out of hatred bring love. Prepare the way so that all may see, taste, and hear your Word. David H. Jensen Professor of Constructive Theology



he Advent season allows us much needed time to prepare our heart and mind for the coming of Jesus into this world. And most of these days are spent either in hearing the texts that foretell of Jesus’ coming or in acknowledging our sins and the reason Jesus had to come. But today’s scripture is a little different. Psalm 145 invites us to meditate on God’s glories and to praise God for all the reasons God is worthy to be praised. It reminds us of God’s eternal nature, of God’s glorious kingdom, and of the wondrous things that God is and does for us. This is a day we can set aside to praise God—to give thanks to God for all that God is, and for all that God has given to us in our lives. We who are finite and mere mortals, we have been created lovingly by this infinite and Holy One, the One who gives every aspect of Godself to us, the God whose Word became flesh. As we prepare our heart and mind this Advent season, let us do so with a repentant heart, yes, but let us also do so joyously, celebrating not our own works, but God’s wonder and God’s holiness. For this is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it! Prayer: Merciful and Gracious God, without you I am nothing. You are slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. For this and all things I give you thanks. Please help me this day to remember your greatness, your love, your Spirit. For you are more than worthy of my praise, and so I praise you, Lord, this and every day. Amen. Carrie Finch (MDiv’09)

Tu e s d a y, D e c e m b e r 8

Amos 7:10-17

We d n e s d a y, D e c e m b e r 9

Revelation 1:17-2:7


his confrontation between Amos, not a professional religious sort but a dresser of sycamore trees, and Amaziah, the priest of King Jeroboam, hardly fits as a text for the Advent season. It’s a hard text because Amos renders a harsh word to and for the king. Why? Because the sanctuary he has built at Bethel, the same place where Jacob had dreamt of a ladder reaching into heaven, had been built to serve the king. Idols and cultic symbols abounded. The king and his priest don’t want to hear this word. They urge Amos to go away. But Amos, who speaks of justice and righteousness (5:24), insists that this is not his word, but God’s word. Wouldn’t it be easier if Amos left well enough alone? Live and let live. What harm is there, letting the king live in his illusory world? Why point out the sharp edges of God’s word? Let’s smooth them out. It would be more comfortable for everyone, right? The harm is that it’s not the truth. And while the truth can be painful, God’s truth, God’s word of judgment, is also a word of grace. When the idols that we build for ourselves are stripped away, when the smoke and mirrors we use to avoid dealing with the truth of our own sinfulness are exposed, we are left empty-handed before the God of truth and grace. And what we find is not a God of wrath shaming us, but a God of grace and forgiveness coming to us, as a babe in a cattle stall. Prayer: Dear God, may this Advent season be one in which we discover, once again, “love so amazing, so divine” that we, freely and joyfully give our all to you whose truth sets us free to serve you and each other. Amen. James Currie (MDiv’79, ThM’89) Associate Dean for the Houston Extension Program


see it in the tired faces of my students, struggling to finish the semester. I see it in the overworked faces of pastors, trying to survive the extra demands of Advent. I see it in the resigned faces of parishioners, who keep coming to worship—week after week—even when they wonder why. And sometimes I see it in my own face, when I pause long enough before the mirror to examine my soul. We have abandoned that first love we had for Christ. Remember first love? The talking all night, the laughing and crying together, the belief that nothing else matters—and that everything, simultaneously, does—because that which matters most has been taken care of? Somebody knows us completely, and loves us unconditionally. We cannot help but revel in such love. We have abandoned that first love we had for Christ. I guess we all have to grow up, sometime—don’t we? How long can first love last? Isn’t it a mark of maturity to realize that those long, beautiful nights can’t last forever? If we are keeping up with our commitments, what more can be expected? “More,” insists the One who places his right hand on us, who reassuringly touches our faces. “I want more than good works, more than high energy, more than faultless allegiance. I want relationship. I want fellowship. I want you to love me, again.” We have abandoned that first love we had for Christ. But Christ, our Lover, waits for us. Will this be the day we repent, and return? Prayer: Gracious God, restore in us the first love we had for Christ, that our perfect abiding in him might displace even our very best efforts. Guide us into that repentance which brings life. Bless us and keep us, that all our good works might be born of love, and love alone. Amen. Cynthia Rigby The W.C. Brown Professor of Theology

Th u rs d a y, D e c e m b e r 1 0
“He alone is my rock and my salvation...” was in my teens the first time I heard of it. I had been practicing the classical Japanese martial arts since I was five and had been gradually introduced to aspects of Japanese culture: Kendo (fencing), Judo, Karate, Jujutsu, Bonsai. But I had never heard of Suiseki. When I did, I didn’t quite get it. Rocks? Stones? What’s the point? Stones and rocks have been admired and collected by humans since time immemorial. Cultures around the globe have developed unique names, disciplines, and guidelines for their particular art form. In Japan we have “Suiseki,” in China “Scholar’s Rocks,” in Korea “Suseok” or “Gongshi.” The Japanese Suiseki is the delicate and traditional art form that recognizes the complexity of this art—it is a process, a feeling, a relationship between the object and the viewer. Note that the psalmist here does not say, “God is a rock” but rather “He alone is my Rock … My God and my salvation.” This, too, represents a process, a feeling, but more importantly, a relationship between the psalmist and his God. The relationship that concerns us is between the Jesus who came and the Christ who is to come; the Christ whom we await to be born in us (as he was born in history) and in our relationship with others. How do we see our connection with Jesus the Rock who saves us this Advent? Is it a process, a feeling … or is it a relationship? Prayer: Lord we welcome you as the Word of God, the Rock of Ages; help us to welcome you in spirit and in truth, in a loving and faith-filled relationship with you, the Living Christ our Rock, who saves us. Let us never be shaken from that faith which is your gift to us. Rev. Gerald J. Mendoza, OP, DMin candidate from Austin, Texas

Psalm 62

Fr i d a y, D e c e m b e r 1 1

Haggai 1:1-15



s I write this, the news is all about volatile town meetings and a certain representative who called the president a liar. We are, many of us, shocked at the level of incivility in our land. Weighty issues call for calm, reason, and thoughtfulness. Advent stuff. Is not Advent in the spirit of Mary “pondering these things in her heart”? Is not Advent a season of winter hush, of dark waiting into the light and the not-yet alleluias of Christmas? Haggai has not heard that message. He hears, rather, the growl of God: “You people!!” The people have stuffed themselves to surfeit—but not satisfaction. They have busied themselves with their own estates and ignored the House of the Lord. Haggai, and Zerubbabel and Joshua as well, are charged with the pronouncement of the Word of the Lord. This Word is not something to be pondered in the heart. This is the lash of command, the goad to get going; it is divine incivility. Such untoward language occasionally comes from the lips of Jesus. He once called Peter “Satan” and the Pharisees “white-washed tombs” and “brood of vipers.” Not the gentle language expected of a Prince of Peace. Advent is not a season of still-lying Bethlehems and cooing turtledoves. It is the time for building the House of The Lord, a house where all are sheltered and nourished and all are healed. This is no public option. This is the Word-of-The-Lord: “You People!!” God has an advent Word for you. Prayer: O Houseless God, we dread thy word to us as we yearn for thy wordless breath of comfort. Your Prophets repeat demanding words we dull with repetition, and your House of universal welcome lies incomplete, windows empty, doors shut. Open them. Open us. Amen. Whit Bodman Associate Professor of Comparative Religion

S a t u rd a y, D e c e m b e r 1 2

Revelation 3:1-6

Th i rd S u n d a y, D e c e m b e r 1 3
“… with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.”
hat’s so arresting about these words is that Luke chose them to characterize John’s preaching, which went like this: “You brood of vipers! … every tree that does not produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire … His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear the threshing floor … the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” What’s “good” about the “news” that terrible things await those who do not repent? We fail the repentance test repeatedly. It’s like my friend who claims that “It’s easy to quit smoking. I’ve quit a hundred times.” We swear off besetting sin every Lent; by Advent it’s back with a vengeance. John’s message is of judgment. But, as one commentator puts it, “when repentance and forgiveness are available, judgment is good news.” Luke believes in repentance and forgiveness: In story after story Jesus separates the good wheat from the chaff in people’s lives, transforming the undeserving, the wayward, the “lost.” Luke’s Jesus never gives up on sinners, even to the cross. To the thief crucified with him Jesus said, “Today you’ll be with me in paradise.” John preaches of judgment but Luke calls it good news … good because Luke, like many others, experienced in Jesus the power of which John spoke—the power of the “one more powerful” than John. This is the power of grace that separates the wheat from the chaff in each human life. This power transforms and thus redeems. Prayer: Almighty God, you send your Son into a world where the wheat must be winnowed from chaff. Let the fire of your Spirit purge us, so that we may find our peace in you. We pray through the one whose coming is certain, your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. (Book of Common Worship, adapted) K.C. Ptomey, Jr. Zbinden Professor of Pastoral Ministry and Leadership

Luke 3:7-18


wo of the most irritating words in all the English language are: “Wake up!” Just hearing the words brings back memories of my dad’s earlymorning ritual of waking my brother and me for school. On mornings when we were difficult to rouse, and we rolled over and went back to sleep, our drowsy recalcitrance elicited my dad’s fury. Now that I’m a parent of two young children, I commiserate with my dad’s impatience. In Revelation 3:2, the Risen Christ says these exact words to the believers at Sardis: “Wake up!” People who are asleep generally want to remain that way, and trying to stir exhausted, cranky people is unpleasant. The situation at Sardis, however, is even more dire, for what Christ describes is not just spiritual drowsiness but a problem of false veneers and fatal lethargy. “You have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead!” All believers wrestle with the ideal Christian self we want to be and the self we really are. That tension can be so exhausting that we all experience spiritual fatigue and pretense and often do not realize it until something divine intrudes upon our world to wake us up. The Good News of Advent is that God entered human history in the form of a baby—the Christ Child—and there’s nothing in all the world like the arrival of a baby to keep us awake! Prayer: Lord, living the faithful Christian life is exhausting. Forgive us when we doze off now and then, and quicken our ears to your voice that we might remain awake with you. Amen. David Lee Jones Director of the Doctor of Ministry Program


M o n d a y, D e c e m b e r 1 4

Zechariah 1:7-17

Tu e s d a y, D e c e m b e r 1 5

Psalm 33


breeze promising spring softly soughs through green-leaved myrtle branches in cold February moonlight. Among the deep-rooted myrtles, an angel of the Lord watches, listens. It is quiet, in concord with the news of reprieve from conflict and strife, yet the angel knows something is lacking; there is a gap. The exiles felt it, too, for after a lifetime of exile Jerusalem hardly felt like Home. They were home, yet how would they get Home? The angel knows something important is about to happen: the fulfillment of a promise. Like Advent, February is a time of anticipation. In Austin, February brings the end of winter—so too in Jerusalem, where the exiles, including Zechariah, had returned after 70 years. The cold rains and cold winds would soon be ending. In words borne upon the cold wind, the angel asks God to remember. This vision comes to Zechariah because the Lord has remembered: this is the very meaning of the prophet’s name. Zechariah is to proclaim God’s promise of mercy, forgiveness, and restoration: a promise cherished and proclaimed by the church. Far from forgetting, God assures us that He takes a very active interest in us. The measuring line is the sign of God’s plans being put into action. During Advent we remember God’s promise and plans, incarnate in our Lord and Savior.


Prayer: Holy God, you do not forget me, but there have been times this past year when I have neglected, even forgotten, you. By your grace, may this Advent be for me a time of humble, hopeful penitence as well as eager anticipation, so that I may be the better prepared to enter into the joy of the holy mystery of Christ-mass. I ask this in the name of my savior Jesus Christ, who has, and will, come. Amen. Paul Kucera Middler student from Portland, Oregon

ne week from today David and I leave for Spain. For the first time in more than 30 years, I won’t be working Christmas Eve. As a clergy couple, we knew getting married on December 23 guaranteed an annual Clash of Celebrations. With December 24 following so quickly on the heels of the 23rd—every year!—we sometimes missed our anniversary altogether. Eventually we adopted the habit of having dinner on December 22 and a lazy morning on the 23rd and then … BACK TO WORK! All those candles to count, musicians to rehearse, “stables” to make ready for those we know are coming—and particularly for those who have not yet imagined themselves in church. But they will come, modern-day shepherds, to see if it is true. As a pastor, I dearly love Christmas Eve. But this year David and I celebrate 20 years of marriage. As a woman twice divorced before the seventh year, I am reminded as I read Psalm 33 of the misguided intentions and misshapen behaviors that mark us as individuals and as nations. Looking over my shoulder, I see the waters of my own life collected and gathered by God’s (re)creating hand. Refashioned. Repoured. Regifted. I believe one deep power of Advent is the resilient return of hope, year after year. This year, the modern-day shepherds with whom we will flock to Christmas Eve will speak and sing in Spanish. No question we will be singing a new song. Prayer: I thank you for your faithful love upon us, O God, as once again we place all hope in you. This time, this year, may what you are creating in us, Blessed Beloved, hold its shape and shape more firmly Your hold upon our lives. Amen. Bobbi Kaye Jones, MDiv’80 Superintendent of the Austin District of the United Methodist Church

We d n e s d a y, D e c e m b e r 1 6

Revelation 4:1-8

Th u rs d a y, D e c e m b e r 1 7

Zechariah 4:1-14


o see and hear this text with understanding we are going to need some help. A portal to heaven, swung open by divine initiative, a trumpet announcing end-time finality: Come hither! Behold what divine necessity requires! Mortals don’t see and hear with understanding here without the Spirit’s help. Transported vision—like when we utter “I couldn’t believe my eyes!”—beholds a scene that in Exodus 33:20 meant certain death: the Almighty enthroned in majesty! The brilliance overpowers description; it’s like looking directly into the sun; next comes the fate of blindness, no? No. The eyes survive to see with understanding survival’s purpose: This place is full of destiny’s hour—the very origins and meaning of “Thy will be done,” where past, present, and future are one. The four living creatures—in and all around the throne—are representations intended to inspire theological reflection, not just pictorial representations like those captured by the imaginative artistry of computerized graphics programmers: They are “similar” to a lion, “like” an ox, a face “resembling”a human, “comparable” to an eagle in flight ... all having six wings and being full of eyes all around and within. So they move freely in every direction and see from any side and into every situation and heart. They are the very will of God in action throughout history! God’s will in manifestation declares: God is “holy, holy, holy.” And it lives to sing: God alone is Lord, the Almighty, the One who was, is being, and is the coming One. By the Spirit’s help we, too, join the chorus of this grand confession, especially in the Advent Season. Prayer: O God seated in glory and splendor, help us through your Spirit to add our voices to the confession of your solitary Lordship in a world of competing masters. Holy is your name. Amen. John Alsup The First Presbyterian Church Shreveport D. Thomason Professor of New Testament Studies


hat do you see?” the Interpreting Angel asks. “Do you not know?” The question in today’s passage echoes again: “Do you not know?” The dialogue between this angel who speaks and Zechariah the visionary passes from one to the other, and the temptation as reader is to break in and respond in frustration: “No! I Don’t Know! Help me to know! Help me to see!” Surely it’s possible this angel is taunting Zechariah, taunting us. Or maybe he’s being playful? The “angelic tutor” provides an answer of sorts. As if knowing the seven lamps are the eyes of the Lord and the olive trees are the anointed ones is sufficient. “Ah! Now we get it! Now we know!” But how ironic that we are here, standing in the light of the Lampstand, speaking with God’s messenger, and yet we’re still “in the dark.” Did Jesus model his parables on this very text? We find comfort in knowing, and power in knowing. When we “get it,” we are in control of it—whoever or whatever “it” is—and we are satisfied with our ability to make meaning. But it seems good and necessary now to speak of the breadth and depth of knowing—the myriad Godgiven ways and levels for “knowing” others, God, all of creation. There is no “knowing” that stands still, that can’t go deeper, that can’t be experienced anew in different times and places. The babe of last year has left the manger. May our eyes and minds be opened to a fresh greeting of God in the world. Prayer: Loving, Knowing God, free us from the burden of needing to know; show us how to appreciate the discomfort and dis-satisfaction of uncertainty; open us to the possibilities of what we might see when we hesitate in this season to know the story before it unfolds. Amen. Margaret Talbot, MATS’09 Austin, Texas

Fr i d a y, D e c e m b e r 1 8

Genesis 3:8-15

S a t u rd a y, D e c e m b e r 1 9
“Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice with all your heart, O Jerusalem!”

Zephaniah 3:14-20


od went walking in the garden in the cool of the evening. The man and the woman hid, because they had done the one thing God told them not to do. When God confronted them, they responded in a way familiar to any parent: she talked me into it; the snake convinced me to do it; it’s not my fault. Thus the ancient storyteller deftly summarizes humanity’s relationship with God. The rest of the biblical record merely provides the details. Emily Dickinson’s poem, “Tell all the Truth, but Tell It Slant,” teaches how poetry and myth speak truth in a way we can endure. There is infinite truth in this poetic story from Genesis—the truth that God has always sought a relationship with us, even as we have disobeyed God and failed to trust God’s love for us. Yet God has never given up on us. Like a mother who will not abandon her nursing child or the father who runs to welcome the prodigal home, God is always ready to love us and to forgive us. We wait once again for the birth of the child, for the incarnation. We need this time of Advent every year to prepare our hearts, because sin, our failure to trust the God who loves us enough to die for us, is always with us. O Come, O Come Emmanuel. Prayer: Loving and merciful God, open our minds and our hearts to see you walking beside us each day. Teach us again to trust you with all that we have and all that we are. For you are all we have in this life and all we need. We pray in the name of your son, Jesus the Christ. Amen. Donna Bowling, MATS’03 Temple, Texas


can’t imagine this season without the sounds of singing, shouting, and rejoicing emanating from the community of faith. Especially now, as we approach the darkest days of the year, as the winter solstice approaches, I need to hear the shouts of the People of God and sing the songs of rejoicing that well up from the Children of God, to overcome the tendency to despair. As the days shorten and the nights lengthen, I could easily find myself overwhelmed by the “dark night of the soul.” As the celebration of commercial excess prevalent in shopping malls creeps ever closer, I could find myself muttering “bah, humbug.” As the radio plays sappy secular songs of sentimentality almost ceaselessly, I could find myself wondering if there is anything worth celebrating during Advent. But even in those days, when it seems darkest, as if God has forgotten us and we have wandered far from the heart of grace, the prophet’s clarion call echoes a note of hope and joy: “The Lord is in your midst! The Lord … will rejoice over you with gladness. The Lord … will renew you in love and exult over you with loud singing!” This is not some sentimental love, nor some gentle presence. This active presence is the One who, while dealing with oppressors, saving the lame, and gathering the outcast, exults in song over us. We are invited to join in, shouting and singing: We are home! Prayer: God who comes, let me notice your presence in the midst of those around me—in the hurried steps of those rushing by, the hushed melodies of those singing gently, the heartfelt voices of those shouting for joy. As you gather the outcast in grace, bring me home once more to your blessed presence. Amen. Jack Barden, MDiv’88 Vice President for Admissions

Fo u r t h S u n d a y, D e c e m b e r 2 0

Luke 1:39-45 (46-55)

M o n d a y, D e c e m b e r 2 1
ou’re putting God in a box.” We’ve all heard these words before. The more mystical types among us are bold to admonish us when they notice us drawing too stark a line between those attributes we want to classify as godly and those we want to classify as ungodly. They remind us that God can be both merciful and just, our partner and our sovereign, a very present help and all-knowing, without being inconsistent. This passage from 2 Samuel describes both a nomadic God who is comfortable journeying with God’s people through the wilderness and a God who desires to “settle down” through the establishment of a royal house that will stand forever. The lineage of Christ, we are told, is traced through David’s royal bloodline, his House, as it were. During this time of expectation for the one who will come and “dwell among us,” let us not forget that our God is still a God who likes to be on the move. Our God is a living God who “occupies” and moves in a broad space, so to speak; God is not a lifeless lump whose attributes can be confined in a box. And this one who comes, whom we confess is both fully human and fully divine, reminds us that speaking of God in the first place obliges us to embrace paradox.

2 Samuel 7:1-17

ary and Elizabeth are both central characters in the Christmas story. But their importance rests not so much on what they did as what they bore. They were vessels through which God’s work entered the world. Elizabeth’s child, John, would be the one to prepare the way for the Lord. Mary’s child, Jesus, would be the savior of all. Neither John nor Jesus would descend from the sky or spring fully grown from the sea. Both would come into the world the way all people come into the world: through the womb of another. Both would be infants, then children, then adolescents, before they would reach adulthood and begin their work. Both would need parents to bear them, birth them, teach them, guide them, and love them. It might be that our service as Christians depends more on what we bear than on what we do. Our service to God might consist in making room within ourselves to carry and nourish that which God is bringing into the world. This means that we must cultivate a certain emptiness within ourselves—an emptiness that is our preparation to be at the Lord’s service, to be able to say, “Let it be with me according to your word.” Mary sang, “He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” If we come before God empty, God will fill us. If we come before God full—of ourselves, of our possessions, of our self-importance—God will empty us. Mary and Elizabeth chose the better part. Prayer: God with whom nothing is impossible, empty us so that you can fill us. In your service, allow us to say, “according to YOUR word, and not our own,” so that your work of salvation, and within it our salvation, may be accomplished. Amen. David Johnson Director, Program of Formation in Ministry



Prayer: Holy God, we pray that you will continue to move and shake us. Transform us through your living Spirit while assuring us of the permanence of your reign through the lordship of Jesus Christ. Amen. Kaci Porter President of the Student Body and Senior student from Tyler, Texas

Tu e s d a y, D e c e m b e r 2 2
“…you are a letter of Christ … written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (Gal 3:3)

Galatians 3:1-14

We d n e s d a y, D e c e m b e r 2 3

Jeremiah 31:10-14



raduation from seminary was an awesome moment, made all the more awesome because as a member of the seminary choir I sang my love of Christ on that day. Music has always been my medium for praise and worship, and the seminary choir was a close group of musicians. These are the words of Thomas à Kempis that we sang that morning: Write your blessed name, O Lord, upon my heart, there to remain so indelibly engraved that no prosperity, that no adversity shall ever, ever move me from your love. Be for me a strong tower of defense, a comforter in tribulation, a delive’rer in distress, and a faithful Guide to the courts of heav’n through the many temptations and dangers of this life. In this time of waiting, as we draw close to the manger, my heart is more open to this name … this Christ who writes upon my heart his message of love and peace. As we form a circle of love around the Christ child, may we sing of his love and ours with the voices of angels. Prayer: Gracious Creator, Patient Savior, Loving Spirit: Write your blessed name upon my heart. Recreate me during this season of love to be your servant in this world. And give me the grace to answer the need for love in others with the love I have found in you. AMEN! Patti Herndon, MDiv’93 President of The Austin Seminary Association and Pastor, First United Methodist Church, Mathis, Texas

hristmas was lame at my house. One year instead of the Walkman I wanted, I got a Bible. I was the youngest in a large family, so by the time I came along, my parents had opted to simplify things, and my older siblings were busy attending to their own children. One night just before Christmas, my brother and I lay sprawled in the darkened living room staring at the lights on the tree, wallowing in self-pity until late in the night. It was great. It became a tradition. I lost my brother in 2001, but I still keep the practice of stealing off on a night just before Christmas to huddle in the dark and lose myself in the tiny tree lights. It feels deliciously rebellious to give in to sadness when the world keeps insisting I be merry. It seems necessary, too. “He who scattered Israel will gather him and will keep him as a shepherd a flock,” says Jeremiah. What a wonder that we who live in Christian community and have so many material things can still feel lost and long for a shepherd. It is a gift. Only here, alone and unfulfilled, are we open to the hope of the promise. Only here do we eagerly wait for the singing on the height of Zion, for the dance and the merriment and the joy and the fatness. Only here can we truly prepare for Christmas.

Prayer: Shepherd of my soul, source of joy, I long for you as a deer longs for water. Have mercy on your thirsty children, God. Gather us together and lead us to living water so that we might know you and be satisfied. Come, Holy Spirit. Come, Messiah. Come, Eternal God. Stella Burkhalter Senior student from Austin, Texas

Christmas Eve, December 24

Luke 2:1-14

C h r i s t m a s D a y, D e c e m b e r 2 5

Luke 2:1-17


n Christmas Eve in our home, traditions are observed. Family and friends gather for a meal, the centerpiece a steaming platter of tamales. A Festival of Lessons and Carols from King’s College, Cambridge, provides the sound track. We exchange ONE gift. And we go to church. For me Christmas begins at that moment when one fearless child steps forward from the choir to sing the first verse of “Once in Royal David’s City” and I am reminded again with what grace God dispels the naïve skepticism of the worldly wise. As candles flicker and music rises, my thoughts turn to Thomas Hardy’s poem, “The Oxen,” recalling the legend that when Christ was born even the oxen in the manger kneeled in adoration. How often have I made the drive downtown late on Christmas Eve amid the warm glow of family and friends while second-guessing my own expectations, as though I were one of the old doubters sitting by Hardy’s hearthside unable to believe? How often have I been surprised at the stirrings of faith in my heart as the simple story is sung and I witness again the power of God’s Word to rekindle the imagination without which belief is impossible? So once again, as Hardy says, “If someone said on Christmas Eve, ‘Come; see the oxen kneel,’ I should go with him in the gloom, hoping it might be so.” “Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass” (Luke 2:15).


Prayer: God, immortal and invisible, because we wish to see your face and live, we come again to this manger where you have made yourself known in our frail human flesh. We believe. Help, Thou, our unbelief. Amen. Michael Jinkins (DMin’83) Academic Dean and Professor of Pastoral Theology

oon enough, when the presents are open and the coffee-cake is consumed, you will probably sit down in a favorite chair with the newspaper. Beyond the soft headlines that acknowledge the spirit of this season, you will probably read forecasts of Christmas’ impact upon the economy, or the latest nuclear anxiety out of Iran, or some forecast of the most important stories of 2009. So it goes with today’s news, every day’s news. And so we often conclude that the only news worth knowing is the news that arrives with great fanfare and attention. But sometimes significant news arrives without fanfare. Sometimes significant news—even significant news from God—arrives modestly, almost invisibly, while the headlines of the day are given over to the decrees of Caesar. “In those days,” writes Luke, “a decree went out from Caesar Augustus” and it made headlines everywhere. As far as the Roman empire was concerned, after all, Caesar was the most powerful man on earth. He was guaranteed such power by legions placed strategically throughout the world, a vast network of roads, and the touch of Rome even in the backwashes of his empire. So, even there, in the boondocks Palestinian village of Bethlehem, when Caesar decreed “that all the world should be enrolled,” it was front-page news. No one—not even the shepherds in this beloved Christmas text, or the astronomers who later appeared—had any way of gauging the relative importance of the trumpeted decree of Caesar as over against the quiet unfolding of God’s presence into the world that we now celebrate as the hinge of history. But that’s the way it often is, even with

today’s news. Today, it is still the case that Caesar moves in the arenas of visible power; while, more often that not, God’s decrees flow beneath the surface of things, somewhere among the sub-currents of life, working their ways with us in relative obscurity. Though we sometimes look for God’s ways amidst a screaming headline or a thunderous voice or some other spectacular thing, more often than not God comes to us and works with us incognito: in a place, for example, like a feeding trough in a forgotten stable in a boondocks village. If we look for God’s coming to us only amid the trappings and fanfare of the highly-touted, we might miss God’s advent before our very eyes. For the truth of the Gospel is that something like that Bethlehem coming is still stealing across the canvas of our lives—toward us. And if we know the difference between apparent importance and real significance, if we know to look beyond the headlines for the signs of God elsewhere; then maybe you and I can live at the very heart of God’s presence in our midst! Prayer: Thank you, O Mighty One, for coming to us in an unspectacular baby, and for growing up in our midst and for our sakes, as the Lord of life. Amen. Ted Wardlaw President, Austin Seminary


hank you for making this journey with us. We hope that you have indeed pre-

pared the way of the Lord in your life as you’ve read or listened to these devotionals and prayers, and this Advent season was a meaningful one for

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