Week of November 28–December 4, 2016 – The Wilderness of the Heart by Amy L. Mears

Scripture Overview: The Old Testament roots of Advent hope are cast in royal imagery. The psalm marks the king as one whose work is to bring justice to the weak. The new king makes a new world possible. The Gospel reading is both invitation and warning that we must make concrete decisions to reorder our life in ways appropriate to God’s new intention. Characteristically Paul makes the grand, sweeping claim: The new behavior appropriate to God’s new governance is that the strong and the weak, the haves and have-nots, relate to each other in new faithfulness. Advent is spent pondering specific decisions about bringing our daily life into sync with God’s rule.

Questions and Thoughts for Reflection:

· Read Isaiah 11:1–10. When do you allow yourself “fallow” time? How does that time of “resting” nurture your fruitfulness?

· Read Psalm 72:1–7. 18–19. This prayer for the king expresses the qualities that the people desire in a leader. What would you add to the list?

· Read Romans 15:4–13. Paul notes that Christ welcomed you for the glory of God. Consider the last several months: Whom have you welcomed for the glory of God?

· Read Matthew 3:1–12. What is growing in your heart’s wilderness this Advent season?


Week of December 5–11, 2016 – Living Water in the Wilderness by Heather Murray Elkins

Scripture Overview: These readings convey that God’s coming, or the coming of the Messiah, will be profoundly transformative. The promises of messianic possibility work against our exhaustion, our despair, and our sense of being subject to fate. The psalm provides a comprehensive summary of the miracles wrought by God in the past to make new life possible. Jesus’ life and ministry embodied these large expectations of Israel. The prophetic oracle, psalm, and Gospel reading all move toward the practicality of the epistle reading, which demands that we allow this claim of new human possibility to permeate all of life. Our life is directed to the reality of God, the very God whom we discern in our present and to whom we entrust our future.

Questions and Thoughts for Reflection

· Read Isaiah 35:1–10. Where in your life do you feel that you have gone astray? After you realize you are lost, how do you return to the way that is God?

· Read Luke 1:47–55. When have you spoken fearlessly about a situation in your life?

· Read James 5:7–10. For what do you thirst?

· Read Matthew 11:2–11. What characteristics draw you to a spiritual leader?


Week of December 12–18, 2016 – The Shape of Waiting by Mark W. Stamm

Scripture Overview: We are close to the reality of Jesus, in whom we have invested so much of our life and faith. Jesus is larger than life, shattering all the categories of conventional religious recognition. On the one hand, it is asserted that this is the “Son of David,” in continuity with the old dynasty and the old promises. On the other hand, this is one “from the Holy Spirit,” not at all derived from the human dynasty. This twofold way of speaking about Jesus does not reflect vacillation or confusion in the community. Rather, it is an awareness that many things must be said about Jesus, because no single claim says enough.

Questions and Thoughts for Reflection

· Read Isaiah 7:10–16. How and when has God saved you in unexpected ways?

· Read Psalm 80:1–7, 17–19. What grace-filled steps have you taken to bring salvation and restoration to the world?

· Read Romans 1:1–7. Consider adding a chair to your feasting table. Whom will you invite to fill it?

· Read Matthew 1:18–25. When has God meddled in your life? What was the outcome?


Week of December 19–25, 2016 – Sing the New Song: Our God Reigns! by John H. Collett Jr.

Scripture Overview: Ecstasy over the Christmas miracle is the theme that binds this week’s passages together—unrestrained joy over what God has done and over who God is. These texts celebrate a God who reigns in strength. Yet this God is near and immediate, a participant in the human struggle for light and salvation. As worshipers, we join in rejoicing over the coming of the messenger “who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns’” (Isa. 52:7). We also celebrate “the Lord, for he is coming to judge the earth...with righteousness, and ...equity” (Ps. 98:9). Then the note of immediacy is struck by the focus on what God has done just now, in these “last days,” in which “he has spoken to us by a Son” (Heb. 1:2). The One who was present at creation, the eternal Word, “became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14).

Questions and Thoughts for Reflection:

· Read Isaiah 9:2–7. What or who in your life helps you to continue to walk in the world’s darkness?

· Read Psalm 98. How do you discover hope even in the midst of difficult times for the earth? How does this hope allow you to shout for joy and sing the Lord’s song?

· Read Hebrews 1:1–12. Advent reminds us of Jesus bridging the gap between God and humanity. How does this reality change the way you experience the world?

· Read John 1:1–14. Reflect on the incarnation of God in the form of a baby. In what ways does this influence the way you see and understand God’s nature?

Week of December 26–31, 2016 – The Lord Provides by Danny Wright

Scripture Overview: Isaiah 60:1–6 recalls the coming of God into the world as a brilliant light. That light carries with it the power to transform Israel so that those outside Israel are drawn to her light. Ephesians 3:1–12 points out God’s mysterious inclusion of the Gentiles among God’s people. The gift of light carries with it the obligation to accept and proclaim the inclusion of all outsiders. The psalm and Gospel passages draw on imagery of the king and his enthronement. For the psalmist, the king’s power and longevity must serve the purpose of the people’s good. The magi in Matthew are drawn by the light that marks the infant king’s birth and thus begin the process of outsiders who see in the gospel the mystery of salvation.

Questions and Thoughts for Reflection:

· Read Psalm 72:1–7, 10–14. How should we pray for our world’s leaders? What is our responsibility in working for justice and righteousness in our world today?

· Read Isaiah 60:1–6. Where have you seen evidence of God’s presence? How has God used you as a light to dispel darkness?

· Read Matthew 2:1–12. How do you respond when people ask you spiritual questions? In what ways have you sought the Lord and been sensitive to God’s guidance?

· Read Ephesians 3:1–12. How has God blessed you beyond your perceived boundaries?