Week of December 8–14, 2014 – Witnesses to Grace by Paul E. Stroble
Isaiah 61:1–4, 8–11; Psalm 126; 1 Thessalonians 5:16–24; John 1:6–8, 19–28
Scripture Overview: In Isaiah 61, the Anointed One declares a message of liberation. Justice, righteousness, and praise will blossom as new shoots of growth in the garden of the Lord. Psalm 126 remembers a time in the past when God’s mercy broke forth in an unparalleled manner. The character of the community and of the individual members will be transformed. The First Thessalonians text voices a yearning for the “coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,” yet the promise of the Second Advent has kindled great hope and gladness in the heart of the Christian community. The reading from the Gospel of John also raises the issue of the mood of expectancy that characterizes the period of time between promise and fulfillment.
Selected Questions and Thoughts for Reflection:
Read Isaiah 61:1–4, 8–11. What does God promise for the returning exiles? What are the short-and long-range blessings? How does Christ extend and fulfill those blessings?
Read 1 Thessalonians 5:16–24. In this passage, what are the characteristics of Christ-followers? What does it mean to be “entirely sanctified”?

Week of December 15–21, 2014 – Living on the Edge of Promises by John Indermark2
Samuel 7:1–11, 16; Luke 1:46b–55; Romans 16:25–27; Luke 1:26–38
Scripture Overview: Second Samuel 7 extols Yahweh’s choice of the family of David as the extraordinary vehicle for divine salvation. God now plans to do a new and unparalleled thing in the life of humankind. Mary’s song of wonder from Luke 1 serves as the psalm lection. It centers on her realization that human life will now never be the same. In the epistle reading, Paul rejoices that by the power of God the times are what they are. In the Gospel text, Gabriel announces to Mary that she will bear the “Son of God.” Overwhelmed by both the holiness and the enormity of the moment, Mary nonetheless consents to the will of God as brought by God’s messenger.
Selected Questions and Thoughts for Reflection:
Read 2 Samuel 7:1–11, 16. What presumptions of things you may want to “do for God” need to be tempered or transformed by what God seeks to do for or through you?
Read Luke 1:26–38. In what areas of life do you most need to hear and take to heart the angel’s encouragement not to be afraid and “nothing will be impossible with God”? What might “let it be with me according to your word” open you and your congregation to this Advent and Christmas?

Week of December 22–28, 2014 – Where Heaven and Earth Meet by Jan L. Richardson
Isaiah 9:2–7; Psalm 148; Titus 2:11–14; Luke 2:1–20
Scripture Overview: This week’s passages not only announce the coming of the King but also project the nature of the divine rule. The Gospel lesson is the engaging story from Luke 2:1–20. In Isaiah 9:2–7, the new king is welcomed with all the trumpetry surrounding an important royal birth or coronation, but the text then points to the ascendancy of “justice” and “righteousness.” Psalm 96 echoes that expectation, even as it looks beyond any human king to the rule of King Yahweh. Luke jolts us by its juxtaposition of the figures of King Jesus, wrapped in bands of cloth, and the Emperor Augustus, ordering the census of the people. Titus 2:11–14 celebrates not only the King who has come but him who will come again. The texts urge their readers to celebrate the coming of the King and the dawning of the kingdom, as well as to prepare for the return of One whose rule is both “already” and “not yet.”
Selected Questions and Thoughts for Reflection:
Read Isaiah 9:2–7. What word of hope and freedom does God need to speak to you?
Read Luke 2:1–20. What will you treasure in your heart from this season of Advent and Christmas?

Week of December 29–31, 2014 – What God Imagines by Carolyn Whitney-Brown
Jeremiah 31:7–14; Psalm 147:7–14; John 1:1–18
Scripture Overview: This week’s readings invoke praise and thanksgiving to God for God’s outrageous generosity in the gift of Jesus Christ. The readings all contrast that generosity with the situation of humanity apart from God’s intervention. Jeremiah 31:7–14 portrays for us a people in exile, a people for whom despair and grief seem to be the only option. The apparent eternity of winter’s grasp dominates Psalm 147:12–20, with its picture of God sending “snow like wool” and “frost like ashes.” Common to both of these texts is not only the assertion of human helplessness and hopelessness apart from God, but also the proclamation that God has already invaded the world and caused a new world to come into being.
Selected Questions and Thoughts for Reflection:
Read Jeremiah 31:7–14. If you could imagine a great “homecoming” of people, what would it look like? Who would be there? What would they be doing?
Read Psalm 147:7–14. Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving. What aspects of God’s creation most delight you?

Week of January 1–4, 2015 – What God Imagines by Carolyn Whitney-Brown
Psalm 8; Ecclesiastes 3:1–13
Scripture Overview: I want to propose a challenge for the New Year: Memorize Psalm 8 and Ecclesiastes 3:1–13. Psalm 8 offers a perspective both calming and energizing, especially in these pre-Epiphany days. As Christmas lights disappear from homes and businesses, the psalm speaks of a different kind of epiphany. Consider the creation around you, the amazing perfection of each exquisite, interconnected piece. Deeper than our wisdom is the mystery of God the Creator. In this new year, take a moment to let your heart breathe.

And we humans—where do we fit into this abundance and beauty? The psalmist suggests that we notice all that God has put under our feet. We read Psalm 8 not as an invitation to trample or dominate but to locate ourselves in God’s creation, marveling at all that sustains, nourishes, and delights us.

But how do we live rightly in God’s creation? As we walk gently and attentively on this earth, we can pray using the words of Ecclesiastes 3:1–13. There is a time for everything. What are we called to now in 2015? These words help us understand: The common experiences of our human lives have not changed. We still must ask God’s help to discern our own times, the challenges of our lives, and our historical moment.

God, throughout this year of 2015, open our hearts to walk on this earth as you desire, to see our lives from your perspective, and to know how to live in these times. Amen.