Crescent Hill Baptist Church

Advent Meditations - 2003

Journey to Bethlehem

The Worship Committee wishes to express its gratitude to all of our members who have contributed to this year's Advent Book, and also much thanks to Janet Cole for overseeing the book's production.

All Scripture references are to the NRSV, unless otherwise noted.

May this year's readings, as those from earlier years, contribute to your understanding and nourish your spirit as you make your Advent journey in 2003.


Sunday, November 30 - Advent One

Joseph's Dream
Matthew 1:18-25

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.

But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."

All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
"Look, the virgin shall conceive
and bear a son,
and they shall name him
which means, "God is with us."

When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Prayer: Dear God, may we like Joseph prove faithful, even when we see little reason to keep on believing. Help us to see beyond our present darkness by dreaming your dream. Amen.

Monday, December 1 - Advent One

"Grace With Skin On"
Matthew 25:36, 40

Last month at a memorial service I received a powerful reminder of Jesus' teaching about compassion. Ginny LaMay was one of the first persons I met when I joined the sorority alumnae group in 1990. Ginny was always just the slightest bit out of kilter -- either a stray hair or two or a piece of clothing slightly askew -- but she was always there and always made a point to greet and chat with everyone present. For many, many years she was the person who called about upcoming events, and I always looked forward to her calls: "How is Hilary?" or "How's the church?" and so on. She always had a story about one of her children or their families or about what was going on at the ballet or at some other place where she volunteered. She didn't talk much about her problems but was concerned about and interested in everyone else.

At the memorial service each of her five children, as well as all of their spouses and children, spoke eloquently about their remembrances of Ginny. Without exception, they mentioned her vast kindness and compassion for others. A chaplain at the Kentucky Correctional Institute for Women, where Ginny had volunteered the past few years, spoke in her homily of Ginny's interactions with the women she visited. She described the inmates as women who had not received much grace in their lives -- and that Ginny LaMay had been to so many of them "grace with skin on." I think that's what Jesus wanted his disciples to be then, even as he wants us to be today, to every person we meet. Thank you, Ginny.

Prayer: God of love and compassion, help us to live your compassion and be "grace with skin on" to all your children. Amen.

-- Janet Cole

Tuesday, December 2 - Advent One

Christ's Faith in Us
John 1:12

Remember the Mighty Ducks, that hopeless ice hockey team made up of losers (or so they thought)? At first, they don't believe they have a prayer. But then they find a source of hope -- a coach who will not give up on them -- and decide not to give up on themselves. They catch and keep his faith in them, with steadfast minds focused on their task. They trust their coach and learn to trust one another. Is their journey to belief easy going? No way, but when they find that source of hope, there is no stopping them.

There have been many persons who have impacted my journey: parents, teachers, friends. But the person who gave me a vivid image of God's grace was my high school basketball coach, just like the Mighty Ducks. One game in particular I really fouled up. We had our rivals beat. But three mistakes I made with only one second left led to defeat. My coach, in disbelief, was disappointed, probably mad. But after the game, she marched into the locker room and made it clear that mistakes are forgivable, that I was still a part of the team, with potential and contributions to make.

Sounds like the God I know through Jesus Christ. The Gospel teaches forgiveness and potential, offers empowerment, and sticks with me to realize these things. And the Gospel is for you, too. Catch the faith Christ has in you and see what happens to your own faith. The journey to Bethlehem, a journey to belief, is quite a ride. There are excitement, disappointments, wins, losses, moments of despair, and moments of belief that offer hope, peace, and joy.

Prayer: O God, in my journey to Bethlehem through belief, help me be your agent of justice in a world with much reason to doubt. Amen.

-- Anita Roper

Wednesday, December 3 - Advent One

Dean Jean
(Dr. Jean Hendricks was Dean of Arts and Sciences at Mercer University)
Psalm 27:1-2

She moved with poise and dignity,
A person of unquestioned integrity,
Mixed with kindness and charity,
A capable leader in the University.

I heard her words so many times,
I found myself repeating her lines.
Her creative ideas of many kinds
Still linger in people's minds.

"Life's a great journey," she'd often muse.
"Don't judge others till you walk in their shoes."
"Make a difference in life by what you choose."
"Through loving deeds you will never lose."

Then, a sudden stroke laid her low.
The pathway back was painful and slow.
But her indomitable spirit began to show
More like the Dean we used to know.

For years now she has resided there
In a special home of assisted care,
Still eager to serve and comfort and share,
And help others with burdens they bear.

Our lives are changed after being with Jean.
There's no telling how much she will still mean
To all the newcomers who appear on the scene,
Because, you see, she's still our Dean!

Prayer; Dear Father, God, help us to understand your love as never before, and this year may we receive Christ anew into our hearts. Amen.

-- Mary Neal Clarke

Thursday, December 4 - Advent One

Carah Boulding Thomason
Matthew 19:13-15

When I was four, I spent a lot of time with my grandparents, while my parents went to work and my sisters went to school. My grandparents owned the duplex we lived in, only a few feet separating our front doors. But, the dozen or so steps I took each morning from our door to theirs proved to be the beginning of a journey that is not over yet.

My grandmother, Carah Boulding Thomason, took delight in me. I responded by opening up to the particularities of her world: her spotless kitchen, and the smell of yeast rolls she meticulously made from scratch for the holidays; her Tuesday morning clothes-washing routine, with the wringer washer in the basement and the two steel tubs for rinsing (one containing a mysterious substance called "bluing"); the jig-saw puzzles she worked on a card table in her living room after chores were done.

Most of all, I remember playing "Authors" (the one card game allowed in this strict Baptist household), whose purpose was to collect complete suits of the thirteen author cards in the deck. At first, I recognized the cards by the authors' pictures. Eventually, I learned to associate the letters on the cards with the sounds of the authors' names and titles. Whether she meant to or not, my grandmother was teaching me to read.

I was learning something else as well: that what Hawthorne, Dickens, Shakespeare and the others had written was important, that reading and writing are intrinsically significant human activities.

As adults, we tend to forget that the fundamental lessons children need to learn are first learned in play. I value books and reading at 60 years of age because my grandmother played a simple card game with when I was four.

Prayer: Help us to remember that even the seemingly insignificant things we do may have far-reaching consequences.

-- Bill Thomason

Friday, December 5 - Advent One

A Journey Into Joy
John 15:11

My first guide on the journey, Dr. E. C. Stevens, a stern man, had piercing gray eyes that looked right through you if you whispered during his sermon. He would stop, standing there in silence with that look. He taught me that joy is a serious matter.

I was twelve when I first went to Vacation Bible School at Clifton Baptist Church. Because of Dr. Stevens, I memorized my first Psalm. Each day of VBS he explained a passage of scripture and led us in a unison reading, with the goal of helping us memorize the words. The passage for the first day was Psalm 46. Dr. Stevens said, "Tomorrow I will give you a quarter if you can recite this from memory." That evening I read it over and over until I could see the words with my mind's eye. The next morning I was the only child to raise a hand when he asked, "Who has memorized the Psalm?"

Dr. Stevens asked me to recite it. Miraculously the words flowed from my mouth in smooth, unhesitating speech. I could scarcely believe it -- it seemed effortless, and exhilarating! When I finished, my Pastor praised my "hard work" and handed me the quarter. It had not been hard work, but rather the discovery of a new kind of deep joy. That was the real reward.

Once at Youth Fellowship he asked, "What was the most important question in the New Testament?" I blurted out, "Paul's question on the Damascus Road, 'Lord, what will thou have me to do'?" He nodded, saying, "That's right." I relished my triumph.

I later realized Dr. Stevens had lived a life of self-denial and generosity toward others, unheralded, unnoticed, leaving many he taught trying to imitate his quiet, earnest devotion.

Prayer: Father, help us to seek our joy by imitating the Christ we see in others. Amen.

--Dorothy Spurr

Saturday, December 6 - Advent One

Wise Men and King Herod
Matthew 2:1-5, 7-12

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we have observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage." When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet. . . ."

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage."

When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Prayer: May we, like these wise men, search diligently for you, even though our world doesn't want you to be born. Amen.


Sunday, December 7 - Advent Two

The Journey to Egypt and Back
Matthew 2:13-21, 23

Now after [the Wise Men] had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him." Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, "Out of Egypt I have called my son."

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under. . . . Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
"A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children, . . .
because they are no more."

When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child's life are dead." Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. . . . There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, "He will be called a Nazarene."

Prayer: Dear Lord, does being faithful to you always mean a journey through the desert to Egypt? Help us to remember that our stay in Egypt is only temporary and that the Promised Land is our final destination. Amen.

Monday, December 8 - Advent Two

The Potter's House
Jeremiah 18:1-6

". . . the spirit cannot be maintained by separated individuals. . . . The Church, with all its failures, remains our best hope of spiritual vitality. However poor it is, life without it is worse." (Elton Trueblood, The Company of the Committed, p. 2.)

". . . the Church represents not a repository of unchanging truth, but an open-ended search for God's will in our lives. . . ." (Ibid., p. 27)

"We will serve you, we will be with you in the way in which you naturally gather. . . We will love you, we will pray for you, and if by chance you ask the reason for the hope that is in us, . . . you can watch [to] see whether we know anything about the mercy of God." (Elizabeth O'Connor in Call to Commitment, p. 114)

Eugene Phillips, youth director at CHBC when I was in high school, introduced me to the two books quoted above. They in turn introduced me to the Church of the Savior in Washington, D.C., and its experimental outreach mission -- the Potter's House, a coffee house on Columbia Road.

Years later, during a sojourn through a spiritual desert, I happened to be in D.C. on temporary active duty with the Navy and wondered if the Potter's House still existed. On a weekend pass, like the wise men of old, I sought out and found it. I sat in awe as I sipped my Mocha Java and "pondered in my heart" that it was still vibrant as ever.

This was to be my Bethlehem, where Carolyn and I returned five years later as intern members. In the lives of the people of the Potter's House and the words of authors from the shelves of the Potter's House bookstore, I found renewed hope and meaning for the years ahead.

Prayer: May Crescent Hill point to spiritual stars that help others find Bethlehem and the child who leads to God. Amen.

-- John Arnett

Tuesday, December 9 - Advent Two

Betty Taylor Cook
Proverbs 31:26, 28

Sprawling on our black and white checkered kitchen floor, the freckle-faced redheaded toddler called her name. "Mo?" And there she was, standing over me with that gentle, encouraging smile. My first memory, richly evocative, without other detail.

For the next fifty years she was available -- receptive to a disappointing school report, or the joy of my meeting a President, or an ophthalmologist's treatment of my vision threatened by hemorrhaging blood vessels. She did not exhort me to join her at church. She never assumed that Kathy or I would have her over for meals or holiday celebrations. Betty Taylor Cook was a mother who led her five sons by example, if we paid attention. Her strength held our family together through the years Dad's work kept him generally on the road.

Her life was one of love and service, as a nurturant mother, loving wife, energetic widow, friendly receptionist, involved grandmother, enthusiastic Cardinal fan, wise teacher, heartfelt leader of her church. I understand that she cared for others at Crescent Hill with the love so familiar to her family.

When Mother struggled with illness and still later with cancer, her patience and steadfast faith enabled her to seek treatment, without sacrificing the quality of her life, through the spring and summer of 2000. She did not fear death.

Yes, Mother to me -- Betty to you -- was a woman who lived and loved in the way of Jesus.

Prayer: Dear Father, we give you thanks for all those who have led us by nurturing example. They are our saints. Amen.

-- David Cook

Wednesday, December 10 - Advent Two

Mona Perry and John Long
1 Timothy 4:12a

Mona Perry was the pastor's secretary at Trinity Baptist Church, Oklahoma City, where I grew up. John Long worked for Globe Life Insurance. Both volunteered with our youth group -- their sponsorship of our programs a good cover for some of their dates. When I turned 16, Mona and John gave me a hardback copy of Mere Christianity and, then, for Christmas The Screwtape Letters.

I don't know why they thought I might be interested in these books. But they must have known something, because I couldn't put either book down. For the first time in my life, I was being exposed to something other than the naive, provincial theology I had grown up with. For the first time in my life, I was encountering a faith which included intellectual content and logical argumentation. For the first time in my life, I began to understand why doctrine matters.

Reading these two books as an adolescent (confused about religion and -- to speak honestly-- not getting much help from my church) resolved many of the questions I had about believing in Jesus Christ. These books freed me to begin actually trying to practice my faith. I can see now that Lewis often oversimplified his arguments. But at 16, I didn't need nuanced complexity.

Reading Lewis did something else as well: it set standards worth emulating. I wanted to understand and express the Christian faith in the same clear and compelling way Lewis had. My decision to come to seminary is ultimately rooted in these two books, because theological education would give me the knowledge and skills to do that.

John and Mona, wherever you are: Thanks for taking me seriously and seeing something in me that I didn't see myself.

Prayer: We give you thanks, O God, for giving us minds to know you. Help us never to sell ourselves short in seeking to understand our faith. Amen.

-- Bill Thomason

Thursday, December 11 - Advent Two

Jerry Lang
John 8:32

One of the persons I met on my "Journey to Bethlehem" was Jerry Lang. He was building superintendent of the church in which I grew up in Miami, Florida. Jerry and his wife, Dorothea, were close friends of my parents. They told me he had studied to become a priest, I think in New York City. Late in his studies, shortly before he was to take orders, an incident occurred that caused him to doubt his commitment to becoming a priest. I am not exactly sure what the incident was but it made him change his mind.

While Jerry changed his mind about the Catholic Church, he had not changed his mind about his faith in Christ. He continued his study of the Bible, on his own, to try to find a church that fit his definition of a New Testament church. He decided the Baptist church was the one. I don't remember why he came to Miami, but I benefited from it. During my late teenage years and my twenties, we had many conversations on the nature of God and Jesus. He guided me in my decision to pursue a theological education. Jerry always sought the truth and tried to live by it.

A parallel "Journey to Bethlehem" is the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Zechariah was struck dumb when he doubted the birth of John the Baptist to Elizabeth. When he confirmed the truth of the name Elizabeth gave to her son, he was freed from his speechlessness and praised God. I think Jerry struggled with his doubt about his decision to leave the priesthood but always trusted in the saving truth of Christ.

Prayer: Gracious Lord, let us never forget that in all our doubt, you are supporting us with the saving truth of Christ. Amen.

-- Glen Skaggs

Friday, December 12 - Advent Two

Three Simple People
Luke 1:5-80; Mark 6:14-29

Three simple people, Zech, Liz, and John
sought out by God to usher in a kingdom.

On duty as a priest, chosen by lot,
Zech, in the Holy Place, sees a vision.

An angel says," Your prayer is heard,
your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son."

Liz, barren and much too old, praises God.
Zech goes dumb when Liz gets pregnant.

Liz is freed from her shame and the reproach of men.
Zech shivers, to rear a son "to prepare the people"?

Zech, dumb for nine months, writes, "Call his name John."
John, raised among the Essenes, becomes a prophet.

John sees prayers of a thousand years being answered.
He baptizes Jesus, defies King Herod.

His head on a tray, John leads the way to the cross,
the first martyr of the kingdom, the Way to peace and love.

Prayer: O God, Lord of the universe, Thy Kingdom Come, Thy will be done . . .
Thank you for calling us into Thy Kingdom, for the courage to carry the cross, and the comfort of repose in peace and love.

- Ghazal,
Edward Thornton

Saturday, December 13 - Advent Two

Zechariah, Elizabeth, and John
Luke 1:5-25, 57-66

Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous before God. . . but they had no children, and both were getting on in years. Once when Zechariah was serving as priest, he was chosen to offer incense. There appeared to him an angel of the Lord. He was terrified. But the angel said, "Do not be afraid, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. . . ." Zechariah said to the angel, "How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years." The angel replied, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, you will become mute."

After those days, his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, "This is what the Lord has done when he looked favorably on me."

Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. . . . On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child and the neighbors and relatives were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, "No, he is to be called John." They said to her, "None of your relatives has this name." Zechariah asked for a writing tablet and wrote, "His name is John." And all of them were amazed. Immediately, his tongue was freed, and he began to speak, praising God. Fear came over all their neighbors. All who heard them said, "What then will this child become?"

Prayer: Dear God, we like Zechariah may have trouble believing the good news. Help our unbelief so that our tongues, too, may be freed, and we may begin praising you. Amen.


Sunday, December 14 - Advent Three

Elizabeth and Mary
Luke 1:25-46

The angel Gabriel was sent by God to Nazareth to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph. Her name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you." But she was much perplexed and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said, "Do not be afraid, Mary. For you have found favor with God. You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and name him Jesus. He will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David, and of his kingdom there will be no end."

Mary said to the angel, "How can this be since I am a virgin?" The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the son of God. Your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son. For nothing will be impossible with God." Then Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word."

Mary set out to Judea where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb, and she exclaimed, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb." And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed. . . ."

Prayer: Dear God, grant that we may say with Mary, "Here am I, your servant," so that we may also say with her, "My soul magnifies the Lord." Amen.

Monday, December 15 - Advent Three

Music (and Other Kinds of) Lessons
Colossians 3:16-17

Mrs. George Hoover -- a tiny middle-aged woman with long, graying hair pulled back into a fluffy hair-net, penetrating, intelligent eyes -- was my piano teacher. Although my parents were school teachers of modest means, Doug Williamson would only have the best our town could offer for his three daughters. At the age of thirteen I began to study with Mrs. Hoover. My lesson was before school at 7:00 a. m., because all of her regular time slots were filled. My Daddy took me to my lesson, and a taxi brought me to school. Each week I looked forward with anticipation to my hour-long lesson.

No long fingernails for Mrs. Hoover! No sloppy practice habits! She demanded finger nails cut to the quick and an hour of disciplined practice each day. And I gave it. We would sometimes spend 20 minutes going over a few measures until it was just right. She would press her fingers into my arm to show me just the amount of pressure to use. She insisted that the power came from the shoulders, not the hands. When I finally played a passage correctly, she let me know it with her entire aspect. It was worth it! I always did love challenges, and she gave them.

Something else happened in those weekly lessons -- we talked. We talked about music, relationships, life. I always left those lessons with a feeling of accomplishment and well being. Every week I got an hour of her undivided attention -- a great music lesson and a mentoring session. Mrs. Hoover was my teacher, my mentor, and my friend. She adored me, and I knew it. She was God's gift to me.

And my fingernails are still short.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for people who will take the time to teach us the disciplines we need to do something right. Amen.

- Bobbie Thomason

Tuesday, December 16 - Advent Three

A Curious Song of Christmas
John 1:14

I have fond memories of Christmas caroling during my years growing up in East Tennessee. The church's youth group and its leaders would pile into three or four cars and travel the narrow "holler" roads to sing for homebound church members.

In typical caroler fashion, we would begin singing on the porch, but in our community it was not uncommon for the one being serenaded to insist that we come inside. The warm spirit of hospitality was frequently accompanied by a Warm
Morning coal heater that kept the living room temperature at least 90 degrees. We offered our homebound hosts songs and a meager basket of fruit and store-bought candy bars. In return, we often were treated to some wonderful baked goods, expertly prepared by aged and caring hands.

After completing our standard repertoire, the leader would ask for requests. On many occasions the homebound person said, "Amazing Grace." At the time, I found this request to be strange and out of touch with the spirit of Christmas.

As the years have passed, I have come to learn more and more that Advent and Christmas are all about God's amazing grace. While I doubt this hymn will ever rank among my favorite Advent/Christmas songs, I hope the theme of amazing grace pervades my sense of anticipation and celebration during this season. After all, what is more amazing and grace-filled than a God who chose to become flesh and dwell among us? We can joyfully ponder, but never fully comprehend, this incredible gift.

Prayer: Dear Lord, as we reflect on the mystery and goodness of the Incarnation, show us how to model your amazing grace. Amen.

- Pat Cole

Wednesday, December 17 - Advent Three

Curly and Ruth Howard
Ephesians 6:2-3

Of course, we did not know that Christmas 1958 was Dad's last. "We" were Mike, Pat, Nancy, and Jane, the stair-step children of Curly and Ruth Howard, young adults home for Christmas. We sensed each of us had come home from having gone on a search for autonomy, and that our search had brought a mature sense of love for and connectedness to family, a desire to be back with our parents in that funny stucco house in Hollywood, Florida: Home.

This new sense of connectedness brought a special appreciation of each other. We rejoiced in the recognition of what family meant to us, what we had to give each other. There were lots of funny (and sad) stories, lots of laughter as we shared this new love that connected us all.

Come February, we would scatter Dad's ashes in the Gulf Stream of the Atlantic Ocean, his second home. This burly, caring man, who led us on our exciting journey from the Midwest to booming, post-World War II Florida, was unexpectedly gone from our lives. Looking back from February to that Christmas, we knew it had been the best Christmas we had had, an enchanting time made more special by Dad's premature death.

Forty-two years later, Curly and Ruth's children gathered in Florida to celebrate the life of Ruth Ward Howard. With families and extended families, we once again told our stories -- some the same as before, many new. The next generations witnessed and became part of these stories that bind our loving Christian family together. Though linked with the loss of Ruth (Mother/ Grandmother/Great Grandmother/ Mother-in-Law), we find our lives together are meaningful because of her life and witness.

How graced we were to have had such loving, faith-filled parents.

Prayer: Thank you for loving parents who model your love to us. Amen.

- Nancy Howard

Thursday, December 18 - Advent Three

Jim Tanner and Gregory Pritchard
2 Timothy 3:14

My four years at Oklahoma Baptist University (1961-65) were some of the best of my life for the usual reasons: being away from home for the first time, meeting new friends, falling in love every other week or so until I finally got it right. Two professors were a part of that goodness. They made a difference in me.

Jim Tanner's freshman English course had a well-deserved reputation for being tough. Every freshman had to take it for two semesters and write an essay every week of each semester. I had always done well in English, so getting an "F" on my first essay was pretty disconcerting. A sentence fragment. I struggled into the Spring, getting "C's" and an occasional "B-." However, halfway through that second term, I wrote an essay on E. B. White's "Second Tree from the Corner." Dr. Tanner read it to the class and gave me my first "A." All the blood, sweat, and tears he had extracted was finally paying off.

As a sophomore, I took Introduction to Philosophy. Gregory Pritchard sometimes had a distracted air as he lectured on Plato and Aristotle, Hume and Kant -- as if he had forgotten the room of students in front of him. But he never lost his students. He made philosophy accessible because his lectures were masterpieces of elegant organization and insight. Because of his ability to connect ideas in a coherent way, I was getting to argue with the greatest minds of the human race.

Bobbie recently gave me a glass paperweight, with a piece of parchment embedded in it on which is written, "Good writing is clear thinking made visible." Jim Tanner taught me good writing. Gregory Pritchard taught me clear thinking -- two lessons that have made all the difference.

Prayer: Make us thankful, God, for those who set high standards and won't let us be content with less than our best. Amen.

- Bill Thomason

Friday, December 19 - Advent Three

Life as Journey
Luke 2:2

Advent and Christmas are shaped and colored by comings and goings, by journeys. I think it all begins when God decided to journey from heaven to earth in person. When you read Scripture announcing the coming of Christ and then the birth and immediate events in the life of Christ, you are amazed at all the journeys that happen: Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem, God from heaven to earth, shepherds from fields to town, Mary and Joseph to Jerusalem, and later to Egypt, etc. Lots of journeys.

But Bethlehem is the grand intersection where heaven touches earth, where the human journey meets the divine journey and the Christ is born, Immanuel, God with us.

In a sense, Christ's life and ministry, then, is about the journeys he takes, where he goes, what he does. It is telling and compelling that in the middle of each Synoptic Gospel, Jesus makes an intentional turn and begins his journey toward Jerusalem, toward the Cross. But it all began in the journey to Bethlehem.

In his superb book, The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage, Paul Elie chronicles and weaves the journey of four great writers: Flannery O'Connor, Dorothy Day, Walker Percy, and Thomas Merton. He begins his book with this arresting line: "A pilgrimage is a journey taken in light of a story."

For you and me and for all believers, our pilgrimage is a journey taken in light of The Story. And it all begins in our journey to Bethlehem. Let's go, even now. Amen.

Prayer: Wondrous Arriving God, as we make our way to Bethlehem this year, we pray that Christ will be born anew in our lives, and we be born anew in You. Amen.

- Bill Johnson

Saturday, December 20 - Advent Three

Shepherds and Angels
Luke 2:1-19

A decree went out from Augustus that all the world should be registered. Joseph went from Nazareth to Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house of David. He went with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. An angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said, "Do not be afraid; for see -- I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

"Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those
whom he favors."

When the angels had left and gone into heaven, the shepherds said, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. They made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.

Prayer: From highest to lowest, you make the good news known, a Savior has been born for us. Help us, like these shepherds, see the signs of your coming. Amen.


Sunday, December 21- Advent Four

Simeon and Anna
Luke 2: 21-40

After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child. They brought him to the Lord and offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him.

It had been revealed that he would not see death before he had seen the Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took in his arms and praised God, saying,

"Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the
presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel."

And the Child's father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, "This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel -- and a sword will pierce your own soul too."

There was also a prophet, Anna, of great age. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

When they had finished everything required by the law, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

Prayer: Give us the patience of Simeon and Anna, as we await the revealing of your salvation. Amen.

Monday, December 22 - Advent Four

Madeleine L'Engle
John 1:14, 16-18

One of the wonderful things about growing up in my family was the constant availability of books and a real love of reading. "As a child I read avidly, and in stories I found truths which were not available in history or geography or social studies." These are words which I quote from Madeleine L'Engle and that I could say of my own childhood. She is a writer I discovered as a young adult. One of my prized possessions is a personalized and signed copy of her book The Circle of Quiet, which Mary Zimmer brought back to me as a gift from a writer's workshop she attended while we were backdoor neighbors and friends.

Through many of Madeleine L'Engle's books I have found words that give expression to my own seeking and reflection in matters of faith. She uses words beautifully to speak about God, relationships, faith, and truth in a language that is art. The Irrational Season has repeatedly led me through the Christian year. In her writing she contemplates and present her Incarnational view of the universe. She is so candid: "We cannot explain the incarnation. It takes every leap of the imagination to accept this amazing, impossible gift of the Creator."

The Two Part Invention, the story of her marriage to Hugh Franklin and her struggles with his death, gave me words about illness, loss, and prayer to help me during the times of my parents' deaths. She says: "These deaths make no sense at all, unless the mystery of the Word made flesh is present in them too." About intercessory prayer: "We don't have to understand to know that prayer is love, and love is never wasted. Glimpses of Grace speaks often to me. From there comes my prayer:

"God be in my thoughts, and in my heart. In my left hand and in my right hand. Atone me. At-one me with you and your love. Amen."

-- Margaret Graves

Tuesday, December 23 - Advent Four

John Claypool and Arnold Epley
Psalm 96:7-9
Philippians 4:8-9

I spent seven and a half years at Southern Seminary (1965-1972) earning two degrees in theology. This otherwise excellent theological education left one big gap to be filled: other than two courses on preaching, the Seminary taught me nothing about the theology and practice of worship.

Fortunately, each week I was able to attend what amounted to a practical seminar on Christian worship. This practicum occurred at 11:00 a. m. each Sunday in our sanctuary. John Claypool, our pastor, and Arnold Epley, our minister of music, led the seminar. In reality, of course, this was not an academic exercise but a worship service. Nevertheless, as I look back over my first few years worshipping here, I realize that not only was I worshipping God, but that I was also finishing my seminary education and filling in what it had left out.

I had gone to church for all of my 22 years, but had never really worshipped until that first service I attended here in late August, 1965. This sounds like harsh condemnation of my home church. Trinity Baptist Church of Oklahoma City did many good things for me, but worship was not one of them. That first service here showed me that with regard to corporate worship, I was spiritually malnourished. The services I encountered here were manna in the wilderness and water in the desert.

Everything I know about worship, I have learned by worshipping at Crescent Hill Baptist Church.

As I think about the people who have helped me on my human journey, I see a common thread running through them all. All four of my stories have to do with learning how to set standards and learning how to judge what is good and worthwhile. Even that simple card game I played with my grandmother was about good literature. If there is any excellence in anything, Paul says, those are the things we as Christians are to think on.

Prayer: Good Creator, we thank you for the excellence of your creation and for those who help us know its goodness. Amen.

-- Bill Thomason

Wednesday, December 24 - Christmas Eve

Your Cloud of Witnesses
Romans 16
Hebrews 12:1-2

John Claypool tells of being at a preaching conference where Fred Craddock was also speaking. Craddock began by reading the 16th chapter of Romans, which consists primarily of the names of people Paul commends to the church at Rome. How, Dr. Claypool thought, will Fred Craddock get a sermon out of that? When he finished the reading, Craddock said something to this effect: A lot of you are probably wondering how I am going to get a sermon out of this. All of these names represents someone important to Paul, someone who was a saint to Paul, someone who had helped him on his journey. We all have such saints, so take your worship bulletin and jot down the names of the people who have been your mentors and guides.

This last meditation before Christmas is for each of us to write by following Fred Craddock's suggestion. Who are your saints?

Thursday, December 25 - Christmas Day

The Mystery of the Incarnation
John 1:1-18

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth. . . . From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.

2003 by Crescent Hill Baptist Church
No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without permission of the publisher.

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