Advent Devotional Week 4: The Candle of Love

Art for Week 4

Fog and Rust

Original Song by Steve Dagley

Fog and Rust:

I was burning through a fever
I couldn’t tell day from night
As I fumbled through that dimness
I felt I’d been living this way for most
Most of my life

I was scrolling through the news feed
Trying to push my life away
Seeing stories of your children
Caught in war around the world
And I’m in my bed

Hearing talk of love and wisdom
Hearts and minds burning up
I sit and wonder if anything could
Cut through apathy and rust
But I’m in your hands

So as your word comes to life
May our eyes recognize you
A world of darkness split by light
Chase the shadows out of my mind
‘Cause I’ve been vacant and I’ve been blind
I’ve been sleeping in for such a long time
Living water, flood my life
Fill me up

They were going about their business
When you found them at their boats
I sometimes wonder if they were satisfied
Or if they longed for something more
Before you filled their nets

I never understood how they could walk away
Abandon everything they had
But in the fog and rust surrounded by all this stuff
I think I know what they heard when you said
‘Come and see’

Artist’s Statement: This song is called “Fog and Rust” and it reflects on Jesus’s love through his offer of life and renewal: looking to his promise to provide (and be) living water and bread of life when we feel burned out on our own motivation or weary and even apathetic. “If you knew the gift of God, you would ask and he would give you living water… whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst… the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” I reflected on the state of the people Jesus met, wondering how filled and satisfied they felt before taking Jesus’ invitation in faith. And I pray that as we see God’s love coming to live in the advent, I would recognize the Spirit in my life and be filled with his living water.

Devotionals for Week 4

Monday December 19 | The Way of Love | John 4:1-42

Laura Range

She was–both literally and metaphorically–from a different tribe than Jesus. She drew her water at noon, when the heat of the day was at its worst, driving others away and thus slightly cooling the heat of social exclusion. Her life—down to the very rhythms of her day—was ordered by a lack of belonging. She was the portrait of someone a Jewish rabbi might understandably avoid: a Samaritan, a woman, likely very poor and desperate, living with a man who was not her husband.

And yet, Jesus saw her and loved her. He eschewed many social norms, stepped into her reality, and turned it on its head. He saw her not as someone to be avoided, but someone who could receive living water and go on to demonstrate to the community who had rejected her what it meant to walk in the way of Jesus.

This isn’t the only time that Jesus offered unexpected love and belonging. Jesus saw in Matthew not a corrupt, exploitative traitor but a disciple. Jesus saw in Zaccheus not a money-grubber but a generous man. Jesus saw in Mary Magdalene not a demoniac, but a witness to the resurrection. Again and again, Jesus chose the way of love. He found people in the place of their rejection and sin and loved and called them into a new way of being. Around his table they celebrated a new community—people healed and restored to each other: Jews and Gentiles, men and women, political enemies, those considered righteous and those considered sinners. Their new community became the primary witness to Jesus.

Writing about the rise of tribalism in our culture, Amy Chua says, “Humans are tribal. We need to belong to groups. We crave bonds and attachments, which is why we love clubs, teams, fraternities, family….but the tribal instinct is not just an instinct to belong. It is also an instinct to exclude.” This instinct to exclude has been heightened in our culture. Tribes often don’t simply disagree with one another, they demonize one another. Tribes often define themselves in part by whom they reject.

So what does it look like for us to follow a savior who loves and engages those we might normally reject? What does it look like for us to walk in the way of love as Jesus did? What can we learn from his transformative encounter with the woman at the well?

  • He closed the proximity gap. Jesus sat by the well at noon. He initiated a conversation with someone unexpected, her difference and vulnerability fully apparent. We can’t love people that we don’t know, and often have to be intentional about connecting with people who otherwise experience exclusion and those outside of our tribe.
  • He saw who she could be. He looked at the Samaritan woman through a lens of love and hope instead of stereotypes, pessimism, and foregone conclusions. Love calls us to see the image of God in one another and recognize what the transformative power of the gospel could mean in their lives.
  • He called her into a new way of being. Jesus “told her everything she ever did” in a way that resulted in her restoration, not judgment and shame. Belonging to one another means loving each other into a new way of being–one that draws on deep relationships to heal wounds and generate new life.
  • He chose her as a witness. Jesus chose her to become a witness to what a restored community looks like not despite but because of her alienation. The isolated woman at the well was transformed into the first witness to her entire community.
The community Jesus left behind—a community that began with people like the woman at the well, Matthew, Mary, and Zaccheus—was the primary witness to Jesus’ life and ministry. Sarah’s Advent 2022 sculpture captures the beauty of this. Think about the relationships you have to God’s family, especially to your primary church community. What do those relationships communicate to the world that Jesus is about?

Wednesday December 21 | The Way of Love | John 16:7

Sarah Leong Rumeau

Is anyone coming to help?

When things seem like they aren’t how they should be, do you ever wonder if there is someone coming to help?

For many, broken times are filled with deep longings for someone to come help,
make it better,
be bigger than the darkness or simply
remind us we are not alone.

While there is redemptive beauty in the here and now, in Genesis 3, we see the impact of humanity’s choice in the garden, facing pain, sadness and loneliness. While advent can be filled with exciting wonder, sometimes this time of year also echoes points of pain like these. In these moments we might notice a particular longing for someone to come be with us, to make it better than we are currently experiencing.

In John 16 we see some of the final words Jesus will speak to his disciples before his death. On the eve of his suffering he levels with them that his time with them is short. It’s a conversation likely filled with anxiety, grief, confusion and hopelessness for Jesus’ friends; they are facing the opposite of their longing to have someone bigger and stronger present with them.
During this time, we could wonder if the disciples felt love as Jesus peeled himself away. These verses demonstrate how the disciples too were living in this confusing paradigm that wasn’t the original design.

But here in true God-like fashion, we see Jesus is not limited to human capacity. In this instance, because he loves us, Jesus goes all out. In his wisdom, he bucks everyone’s perception of love, stares at the disciples’ distraught, confused and possibly tearful eyes – and does what is actually the most loving.
“But I tell you the truth; It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you: but if I go, I will send him to you.” (Jn 16:7).
When we are going through challenges or traumas, our perspective often narrows and we are blinded from creative options to make things better. We are handcuffed by how our experiences have previously played out.

We can wonder if the disciples are experiencing this same limiting. In the moments Jesus was speaking about his leaving, maybe they were in such panic, they too had lost their creative problem solving. In their pain, perhaps all they could see was abandonment instead of a promise that the Spirit was indeed coming to save them in a lovingly different way that was on the grandest of scales.
This advent season we celebrate God’s promise to answer his people’s longings by coming to help us. In Jesus’ words in 16:7, we see that this promise is bigger, stronger and more capable than the disciples imagined. Here Jesus refuses to leave them in their limited capacity. Instead he lovingly sends his Spirit to dwell within them. The Lord knew, this was how he could answer their deepest longing for someone to be infinitely available to them in order to handle what they could not.

Therefore, when we are in the depths of “things are not how they are supposed to be,” we can remember the Lord agrees. He agrees so much that he risked the disciples feeling unloved by leaving them in bodily form. He knew he was doing this so he could send his own Spirit who walks every step and breathes every breath internally with us even now.
As you ponder advent, at times you might curiously ask:

Lord, do you love me?

Can you help me see that you work beyond what I might think is loving?

Do you still promise to always come save me?

The advent and coming of Christ answers these questions as emphatically confirmed. Even in disorienting times, may this answer of “Yes, I am not only coming to help, I’m here within you,” fill our hearts and souls. May it lead to deep-seeded, shalom-like peace that even in our strong-weakness we believe he really will – always be the one to come to save us.

Friday December 23 | The Way of Love | Mark 5:21-43

Bobby Warrenburg

Mark drops in on a day with Jesus. Hold tight—it is a full day. Jesus has just freed a demoniac, decimated a herd of pigs, and been asked to leave town. Crossing the lake, he hardly steps ashore when a crowd gathers, “pressing around him.” Before he can finish with one desperate person, another approaches. The plight of the people is palpable. Jesus’ compassion is deep. Mark starts with one story, inserts a completely different one, and then wraps up the first story. Scholars note that the interrupted narrative serves not simply to transmit the feeling of being with Jesus, but it serves a literary purpose as well.

The two stories share a common truth about Jesus and the human condition. As Jessi’s narrative poignantly describes, both the woman and the girl are sick and out of options. Both are waiting for a miracle. Both are called “daughter.” And both are ultimately restored to health. The surprising detail of the two woven stories sits at the center. Jesus interrupts the forward motion. He delays. He asks a crowd of people, “Who touched me?” He draws the woman out in front of everyone and insists on a personal encounter. Don’t forget: Jesus was going somewhere. A young girl’s life is on the line. Her father is a pillar in the community. Why stop the caravan after the healing has taken place? “Let’s move on!” seems to be what the disciples are thinking. Jesus understands that the physical condition that dominated this woman’s life needs fuller healing. He stops the caravan to call her “daughter.” He affirms the confident persistence that compelled her to seek healing. In fact, faith is highlighted in both accounts: “Daughter, your faith has made you well” and “Do not fear, only believe.”

Circumstances will change. Suffering will come around again. At times it may feel as if our prayers fall flat. But Jesus gives what cannot be taken away—himself. Amid a day filled with urgency, Jesus offers both the woman and Jairus’ family the lasting gift of himself. The woman probably got sick again, as everyone eventually does. No doubt Jairus’ family faced another crisis. What Jesus gave them was deeper wellbeing: “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” Jesus demonstrates the way of love as he invites them into patience, mystery, faith, hope.

Faced with uncertainty, we often try to control people or circumstances, or wallow in despair. Can you see the uncomfortable circumstances you are facing as an invitation to draw closer to Jesus? As we saw in this passage, Jesus’ aim is not simply to rearrange events or to “fix it,” but to grow people. Just as we can draw near to Jesus in the midst of hard circumstances, we can also draw near to others as they experience their own challenges. When we can’t bend reality to make it more palatable for our loved ones, we can embrace the way of love by offering a presence that’s willing to go on the journey together.

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