Crescent Hill Baptist Church

Advent Meditations - 1986

writers (in order of appearance): Elaine Parker, Fay Leach, Cherie Williams, John McTyre, Scott Royal, Leila Routh Arnett, Dorothy Waters, Eleanor Nutt, Jane Webb, Kevin Rainwater, Lyle Edwards, Lois Hendricks, Diane Catsban, Sue Enoch, Janet G. Tharpe, Marty Willoughby, Annie Hammon, Nancy B. Mowery, Sarah Jo Lyon Hooper, Mildred Burch, Lelia Gentle, Mark H. Reynolds, Sharon Smith, Mary J. Augenstein, Mary Ann Bootes, John Arnett, H. Stephen Shoemaker, Sarah Jo Hooper
editor: Sharon Smith, Jane Webb
artist: Wyc Rountree

Darkness into Light (Elaine Parker)

And God said,
"Let there be light;"
And there was light.
And God saw that
The light was good.
Darkness into light -
The story of our lives.
With our own advent
From womb's wet blackness
Into first day's sun
The cycle is begun.
We go from day to night
To day ad infinitum
And bounce from
Gloom to gladness,
Joy to disillusionment,
Despair to hope,
Depending not just on
But our own inner currents.
We walk through green pastures
And shadowed valleys,
Forever fearing evil until
We hear the song the shepherds heard
And know that light is the final word.

-- Elaine Parker

November 30, 1986 (Fay Leach)
Psalm 23

The darkness was both physical and emotional as I was barely able to hold on to consciousness. My blood pressure dropped to 40 over 70, and the doctor told the nurse to have the blood bank rush the blood I needed even if the required cross matching procedures were not complete.

Two losses in just a few days: my mother who felt her life had lost its purpose and meaning, and now my unborn child who never had a chance to see the light of day. Mother had chosen to end her life; this unborn child would not have the opportunity to choose life. In that operating room eleven years ago, the doctors struggled to save my physical life, but my battle was to find purpose and meaning in a generation between a mother whose light had gone out and a child who never knew light.

Pushing back the threat of unconsciousness, I could see a bright picture of Chuck and our three little children. With this image came the assurance that I had purpose and much to celebrate. In that moment I gained a new understanding of the woman who touched the hem of Christ Is robe and found a strength from beyond herself.

I turned to the anesthesiologist and told him that I could hold on, that I was going to make it. Ironically, his name was Dr. Aurora, a word which means "the rising light of morning."

Thank You, God, that You give us light in the times of darkness. Thank You for our families, for our family in Crescent Hill Baptist Church, for Southern Baptist Seminary, and for other friends who carry lighted Advent candles across the generations.

-- Fay Leach

December 1, 1986 (Cherie Williams)
Colossians 1:27

In December, 1972, death visited my family twice, wreathing our Advent season in sorrow. While other 10-year-olds joyously anticipated shiny now 10-speed bicycles and Snoopy roller skates, my cousin, Debbie, was in Bowman Gray Hospital losing a fierce battle with a fiendish opponent named leukemia. Two weeks later my grandmother traveled the same path, though her challenger, "Old Age," was no stranger to 84-year-olds.

Death under any circumstance bears the potential for horrendous grief, but bereavement at Christmas can be especially sorrowful. The traditions surrounding Advent-- festive gatherings, shimmering decorations, aromatic baked goods, Santa--strike a bitter contrast against the barren landscape of sorrow. Christmas, 1972, was painful. Presents were exchanged and carols sung, although hearts were not in it. Advent joy seemed a million miles removed from our miserable little corner of the earth.

When last Advent death called for two additional family members, I discovered that time and experience--at least for me--did not make grief any easier to bear. In fact, it seemed a cruel joke-as if "Death" took morbid delight in calling for my loved ones near Christmas, and--God forbid--in pairs! Only this time, through the wise counsel of our pastor and the supportiveness of other caring individuals, I discovered that the "Valley of Achor" can indeed be a "door of hope" leading toward stronger faith and the abundant life taught in Scripture.

Because death is shrouded in mystery, we tend to view it from a perspective of our sadness, our tragedy, forgetting that in Christendom, our loss truly is the departed one's gain. The birth of our Savior Jesus Christ is a joyful reminder of God's greatest gift to us, now and for eternity.

Dear God, allow the mystery., majesty and miracle of the Bethlehem birth celebration in song and worship to minister to our deepest needs. Amen.

-- Cherie Williams

December 2, 1986 (John McTyre)
John 1:4-5 (NEB)

It was about the middle of my last semester in seminary when I found myself asking that far too familiar question of what would come next. The fall was proving to be a difficult one, both academically and at work. With these struggles it seemed inevitable that some days felt much darker than others. On one of those cool, seemingly bleak autumn evenings, when I lay tired and unable to sleep, I penned this prayer:

YHWH, Jesus Christ,
It is in the dark
that I moat feet the need for Your hope.
It is in the pain and insanity humankind offers
that I know God is sane.
It is when there is no tight
that Your tight shines brightest.
It is here that I hunger
for the hope and future
which I know are Yours.

Lord, Jesus Christ
Send Your grace that
I might not learn to love the dark,
but instead continue to hunger
for the tight,
that I might not learn to accept the shadows,
but instead continue to tell of Your brightness,
until as You came,
You come again.

-- John McTyre

December 3, 1986 (Scott Royal)
John 1: 4-5

When I was a child I was afraid of the dark. I can remember lying in my bed and imagining all the terrible possibilities that lurked around me. The pleasant room that I so trusted in the daytime often became a dungeon of horror with the onset of darkness coupled with my somewhat vivid imagination. Yet, the glimmer of light that shone from under the crack of the bedroom door was my hope that if I cried out, my parents would answer, bringing into my darkness the warmth of their presence, the assurance of my safety, and the light of their love. Time and time again I tested that love by crying out in the darkness--I was a vocal child--and time and time again they answered.

I am still afraid of the dark: afraid of the darkness of pain and suffering, of hunger and thirst, of tragedy and despair - the darkness of the often cold world around me, and even more frightening, the darkness within my very soul. Yet, now I am afraid to cry out - afraid to be vulnerable, afraid that no one will hear me, or worse, no one will cars. As adults, because many of us are so afraid of the darkness (and even more afraid of crying out) , we deny its presence in our lives and the world around us. We claim that the Christian life is one of light - of good times and laughter, victory and power, assurance and resolution. Yet, human life incorporates both bright light and empty darkness as well as all the shadowy gamut of colors and shades that lie in between the extremes.

The hope of Advent for me is like that glimmer of light that eeks out from under the dark bedroom's door. In the midst of my darkness there is the hope of light somewhere - the hope that if I cry out God will answer with light. I no longer hope for life without darkness, but I hope for light within darkness - the light of God who comes into our darkness with His presence and love.

God, help us to cry out as children do, and help us to see the tight of Your love, however dark our surrounding. Give us new hope with the coming of Advent. Amen.

-- Scott Royal

December 4, 1986 (Leila Arnett)
John 8:12

Recently I had an operation to remove some unsightly growths beneath my left eye. While my eye was bandaged and my vision was impaired, I thought a lot about the topic, "Darkness to Light." It seemed to me, in my semi-dark world, that once the bandage was removed, I would be able to see again and all my problems would be solved. Indeed, I myself would go from "darkness to light."

However, when the doctor removed the bandage, I did not feel that I had gone from darkness to light, but from darkness to further darkness. While I could now see clearly again, I was devastated by my appearance, which I felt was worse than it had been before surgery. Perhaps it will improve in time, I thought; but the image from the mirror was not very promising. It suddenly dawned on me that I was not so much interested in seeing light after darkness as I was in looking better. Have you ever had that experience? This is darkness of a different sort!

How can we deal with this kind of darkness? The dictionary defines darkness as "the absence of light." There is surely no absence of light in a Christian's world. Jesus said, "I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (John 8:12).

Oh God, we know that as tong as we have this Light, we cannot remain in darkness. The belief that You will guide us through any kind of darkness gives us great hope. Amen.

-- Leila Routh Arnett

December 5, 1986 (Dorothy Waters)
Acts 26:18a

The Women's State Reformatory where I held my first job as a social worker resembled an ancient brick fortress. The acres of flat land surrounding it emphasized the height of the building, topped by many peaked gables and a heavily slated roof.

The warden, a small trim person with dark eyes and gray hair, was unforgettable for her leadership skills. She was a small trim person with dark eyes and gray hair. Her voice was always expressive. She was a good leader.

I understood that since she had become warden, the "convicts" were now to be students." Attractive house dresses replaced the old prison garb. The reformatory had an adequate medical staff, teachers, social workers, a chaplain, psychologist and dietitian, as well as a variety of educational and vocational classes and a good library. There were chapel services and recreational activities. As the leader of a social club called "The Merry Makers," I learned that most of the students came from unhappy backgrounds. Good family relationships were infrequent. The reformatory was truly a place for a new start for these women.

Prior to the parole hearing the reformatory staff met with the warden to summarize an evaluation and to make a recommendation to the parole board. At the time of parole the student shared in the plans for her return to the outside world and a more promising future.

This early experience made a lasting impression on me. I learned that it is possible for a person to rebuild his or her life with the assistance of caring professional people. The darkness of the past truly can be dissipated by the hope of a
new beginning.

Heavenly Father, strengthen our awareness that as Christians we are here to help others begin again. Amen.

Dorothy Waters

December 6, 1986 (Eleanor Nutt)
Genesis 9:13-15a, Luke 2:15-20

My mother and my Grandmother Parks were "Holiday People" who planned their celebrations for months ahead. The first Thanksgiving and Christmas that Grady spent with my family, he decided one reason for marrying me would be to spend the holidays with us. He and I never established a different holiday tradition. Our question was never "What will we do?" but "When will we go to the farm in west Tennessee?"

We knew what to expect. We had traditions. The Christmas tree was never cut until we got to the farm. Grady, Perry, Toby, Baron the Dachschund and I would ride in the truck with my dad until we found the perfect cedar tree. We never learned that the tree looked smaller in the field than it did in the family room. The ceiling had years of scratch marks on it from dragging in the tree that was too tall for the room.

Thanksgiving week of 1982 Grady died in a plane crash. Thanksgiving Day we picked the grave plot in the Parks Chapel cemetery where he would be buried. December 26, 1985, my dad died of cancer and was buried next to Grady.

Early in the 1985 Advent season I was struggling over my first round of final exams. I was grieving my dad's approaching death and wondered if my family would ever again celebrate the holidays. It seemed the sun had not shone for months. Suddenly I became aware of a rainbow on the marble hearth in my bedroom. In minutes there were rainbows on the wall, the ceiling, and all over the room. The December sun had come out and was shining on a crystal prism on my glass coffee table. Immediately I felt a sense of Advent hope. I have memories that can never be taken away. I have hope that again my family will have reason to celebrate.

Dear God, hope is Your ultimate Advent gift to the children of pain and tragedy. Thank You that in the coming of Jesus the new light of Life breaks tike a rainbow onto the horizons of our daily life. Amen.

-- Eleanor Nutt

December 7, 1986 (Jane Webb)
Psalm 34:14

A couple of years ago during Holy Week, I found myself sitting bolt upright in bed in the middle of the night, soared to death. I hadn't had a dream or nightmare I could remember; in fact, it seemed like I'd been sleeping the deepest sleep imaginable. I thought it was the end of the world. I remember holding my breath, listening for the next bomb to drop. I felt the most frightening sense that God had given up on us and turned his back on the world.

The next day when I told my friends about my scary experience, they told me I'd had what scientists call a "night terror," in which the body goes so deeply asleep, its systems nearly shut down, so that waking from such a sleep is like coming back from the brink of death.

Later that week I heard South African poet Dennis Brutus read his poems about families separated by the government, people arrested for reading his poems, and his own torture in prison. About the middle of the reading, it suddenly occurred to me that it was 12 noon on Good Friday. Yet, one recurring line from his poems stayed with me: "Somehow, tenderness survives."

In a world that reminds us so vividly of its darkness, surely we need Christmas and Easter to remind us that the way tenderness survives is only through a miracle--a miracle like the birth and death and resurrection of a Prince of Peace.

Dear God, let us use reminders of the darkness in our world to give us energy to work toward the light of peace. Amen.

-- Jane Webb

December 8, 1986 (Kevin Rainwater)
Luke 2:10

Last Christmas I experienced the joy and peace of Emmanuel. With God, I moved from darkness to light. In a painful struggle with fear, God gave me joy that brought newness and recreation of life.

The shepherds in Luke were filled with fear when the angel appeared to them. But the angel said, "Be not afraid for I bring you good news of great joy..." What would have happened if the shepherds had run in response to their fear? Would they have known the joy of the good news?

Like the shepherds, I was filled with fear during the past Christmas. It was an old fear that I had lived with for most of my life. I was afraid of my alcoholic father. Even as an adult, fear of my father held a powerful grip on me and had an impact on all that I said and did. In the midst of Advent, I decided to stop running and face that fear.

I chose to communicate to my father how I felt about his destructive abuse of alcohol and the resulting pain and alienation that I felt. Breaking the silence of 25 years was extremely scary. I struggled for weeks with how and what to say. I agonized over the consequences of my honesty and my words.

Through the weeks leading up to Christmas Day, I broke into tears as I trembled with the fear. As I let the tears of fear flow out of me, I experienced a joy and peace that was new and different for me. I felt God with me in His peacemaking Spirit, and I felt God with me in the arms and ears of those who listened to me, cried with me and held me close.
Emmanuel came into my life last Christmas leading me out of darkness and fear into light and truth.

Dear God, continue to bless us all by being with us and giving us Your peace. Amen.

-- Kevin Rainwater

December 9, 1986 (Lyle Edwards)
John 14:27

The summer after my junior year in high school was a very low time for me. I had not done well in school; my final grades were passable but nothing worth bragging about. My self image was very low. Three days after school let out our church's youth group went on its annual excursion to a camp in North Carolina. During the bus trip I was quiet and sullen, sitting mostly by myself. I hate to say it, but at that time I was so low I was actually questioning the existence of God.

Each year part of our journey to In the Oaks leads us through the Great Smoky Mountains. That particular day we were caught up in a storm system; the sky was gray and bleak--perfect weather for depression. Dark clouds hung heavily in the sky, but even this threatening sky was dotted with bright patches of clear blue sky, gleaming with golden streaks of sunlight.

As I looked out on this beautiful scene I was touched and a smile broke on my lips. I asked myself, "How could there not be a God? Look at this!" There it was in front of me: through all the gloom and depression of the world, the love of God was streaming in to touch my heart. For the first time in weeks, I felt truly at peace. "Peace I leave with you ... let not your hearts be troubled."

Dear God, provider of peace and Love, give us Your peace to hold us through. Help us be agents of Your peace, that no one should be denied knowing You. In Your name we pray; Amen.

Lyle Edwards

December 10, 1986 (Lois Hendricks)
Psalms 18:27

This was Christmas Day 1964. My son John and two other boys had been lost now for several hours in an Ozark hollow. What had begun as a joyful day under the warm Christmas tree lights ,with gifts turned to one of deep despair under the ice coated tress in the dark dense woods. If they had gone in one direction, they could have fallen into a river, in an old cistern if it had possibly become uncovered. They could have slipped over slick cliffs or creek banks or rocky crevices hidden under brush and darkness. And there was the risk of exposure to freezing weather all night. Darkness filled our hearts as the darkness filled the night without. We searched and waited. Then it happened. The phone rang. Friends were saying the boys were safe and were being brought home. That
Christmas we truly experienced what it means to go from
darkness to light in our hearts.

Dear God, thank You for the light of the world who is with us both in the darkness and the light, bringing us peace.

Lois Hendricks, John's mother

December 11, 1986 (Diane Catsban)
John 8:12

Since birth, my five year old son Christopher has slept with a night light in his room. The many attempts to wean him from this trusted friend have brought tearful cries in the night. What would be a blinding light to my restful sleep is a source of reassurance and peace in his little world. We perceive light differently, as either too bright or too dim, depending on our individual situations.

Jesus came to the people saying, "I am the light of the world," and bringing his offer of eternal salvation. Yet, depending on the amount of light the people wished to see in Jesus, his offer met mostly rejection. Thanks be to God for not dimming this light of salvation through the ages and that it is still available to all people today.

Eternal Father, as we light the candles of Christmas, help us to remember Your blessed Son, the true Light of the world.

-- Diane Catsban

December 12, 1986 (Sue Enoch)
I Peter 3:8-12

The room was filled with six lively, laughing elementary boys. Though long past the assigned bedtime, laughter and games filled the air. As I laughed at their energy, I noticed one boy who was not participating in the fun. In the bright light and noise he had found an empty bunk, stretched out, and fallen peacefully asleep. None of the activity around him affected the calm of his rest.

So it is with our lives. We are constantly confronted with the demands of jobs, home, church, and community. It seems that no matter how much we do, or how many tasks we assume, it is just not enough. In the midst of our busy lives we also seek peace.

This thing we seek is not simply the absence of war or conflict. It is not just a word to be discussed among Heads of State. We are seeking the calm in the eye of the hurricane, the confidence with which to meet the challenges of living in a complex society.

The coming of Jesus Into the world is that gift of peace. It is not easy accepting this gift, remembering its availability or interpreting it in our world. It is not easy to sleep calmly in the midst of chaos. It is, however, waiting for each of us in the love of this Christ of Christmas. "Peace is not a season, it is a way of life."

O God, may we diligently seek the peace of Your Son in our hearts our relationships., and our nation. Help us to know that one person can make a difference in how others experience the coming of Christ to the world. Amen.

-- Sue Enoch

December 13, 1986 (Janet Tharpe)
Mark 8:22-25, 1 Corinthians 13:12

In the gospel story above, Jesus places His hands on a blind man and then asks him, "Can you see anything?" The blind man replies, "Yes, I can see people, but they look like trees walking."

What an answer! Such unabashed honesty stuns me. Imagine saying to Jesus, "Yes. Now I can see a little bit, but you must not be up to par today, Jesus. ..what I do see is all blurry."

The blind man had been living in total darkness. Jesus' first touch did not deliver him fully into the light of clear sight. We might expect the blind man to express anger or disappointment. But as he stands midway between blindness and sight, what resounds is a remarkable "yes" of faith. He boldly states what he can see, including the distortions that linger. Then, after a second touch by Jesus the blind man sees clearly. Later Saint Paul echoed this characteristic of faith in his letter to the Corinthians.

So we are reminded that faith is a journey, not an event. It is dynamic, not stated. Transformation and conversion come to us not once, but many times during our lives. We are ever on pilgrimage, ever in process.

Dear God, at Christmas we celebrate Your full entrance into our human journey as Emmanuel (God with us). May that affirmation give us the courage of an honest faith so that we may be bold about what we can see--however little or much. And may it give us confidence in the face of things that we still see as through a dark glass, resting in the "peace that passes all understanding."

-- Janet G. Tharpe

December 14, 1986 (Marty Willoughby)
I Peter 1:6-8

After more than a year's Journey through the darkness, I believed that at last, through God's grace, I had found the light. It had been a painful, yet beautiful, experience of renewal, and I felt much joy and gratitude. Then, after a few months, in spite of all I had learned, I found myself drifting back into the darkness. I read and re-read the scriptures that had been so comforting and enlightening, and I prayed; yet God seemed so distant. With my mind I still believed all that I read, but I could not "feel" it in my heart. What I believed no longer seemed to make any difference in my daily life. When I expressed these thoughts to our pastor, he assured me that this struggle is what faith is all about. His words were reassuring, yet I could not seem to regain the feeling of joy or of gratitude.

Then one Sunday morning in worship, we sang "O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go," and it was as though I were reading those lines by George Matheson for the first time. As I sang, "O Joy that seaketh me through pain, I cannot close my heart to thee; I trace the rainbow through the rain, And feel the promise is not vain That morn shall tearless be," suddenly I was overcome by an immense feeling of gratitude and joy! Through tears of joy I sang the final verse.

Dear Lord, help us not to close our hearts to the Joy by dwelling on the pain. But to know that Joy seeks each of us, even--or especially--through pain. Amen.

-- Marty Willoughby

December 15, 1986 (Annie Hammon)
Job 38:1-15

During the Christmas Eve candlelight service last year I was struck by our very deliberate attempts at worship. The music, the carefully chosen words, the juxtaposition of darkness and light, the spades of silence ... all are designed to facilitate a sense of worship in us and to convey that worship to God. We work so hard at doing worship "right" on this night of nights, never stopping to consider that the Creator and Sustainer of our universe might find it all woefully inadequate. Annie Dillard surely is right - we do need to come into that Presence with crash helmets rather than straw or velvet hats.

Then I realized the catch - Just when we realize the enormity of our error in daring to approach this Creator-God, an angel appears and says, "Fear not." And unto us is born a child who is God-with-us, and this God we never should have dared to approach with our feeble and sometimes insincere attempts at worship, has approached us in the most vulnerable form any of us ever take. Power and glory become need and humility, and the world is turned upside-down and inside-out, and all the rules are broken. Nothing will ever be the same, for this truly is good tidings of great joy, and we will spend the rest of our lives learning how to worship this infant God.

Mighty God, You gently remind us each year that You have always dwelt among us and that we need to look for You in the unexpected. Give us sight to recognize You in the world You created. Amen.

-- Annie Hammon

December 16, 1986 (Nancy Mowery)
Isaiah 9:2

Last summer while Bill and I were in Europe, we traveled on a road that skirted the Italian Riviera. As we wove in and out of the rocky cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and the seaport cities like Genoa, San Remo and Imperia, the road took us through so many tunnels that we lost count after reaching 100. Some tunnels were a short span and we were never in complete darkness--others were one to two miles long. At first it was exciting to go through the tunnels, but after so many it became depressing. We felt we were missing much of the beauty of the countryside and the quaint towns by spending so much time in the dark walls. We eagerly began to look forward to the light at the and. Finally we were no longer in the tunnels but in a land with flowers growing in the bright sunshine and the sea reflecting the rays of the sun.

A few days later we were in Switzerland and drove through a tunnel six miles long. That darkness surpassed any we had ever been in and seemed like an eternity of blackness. When a ray of light finally shone through as we approached the end, we all felt like shouting for joy as the light got brighter and more radiant as we came out of the darkness. It was a most welcome light we were seeing again.

Dear God., this Christmas, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, may we also rejoice in the salvation He brings to all of us who accept Him as our Saviour. Help us to strive to tell those who walk in darkness that He brings light and joy to all the world.

-- Nancy B. Mowery

December 17, 1986 (Sara Jo Hooper)
Luke 2:8-15; Isaiah 60:4-5a

Dreamily I gazed at the stars, the wispy, racing clouds, and the brilliant, full moon of a mid-July night. Suddenly my mind snapped to attention. Across the face of the moon shone a cross--a cross as, bright as--and even bigger than--the moon itself. There could be only one explanation for a cross in the sky (any 11-year-old, rural child of conservative religious upbringing could tell you that Jesus was returning to earth!) The end of the world had come! Trembling with excitement and fear, I brought my family to share my discovery. I was relieved, though a bit disappointed, when I was told that the cross was formed by the window screen's breaking up of the moon's beams.

But for a few moments I was caught up in the same excitement and terror the Judean shepherds must have felt when their night sky burst open with the news of Jesus' birth.

Each time I remember that night and what I thought was happening, I'm reminded that Christ's light continuously breaks in upon Us in new and surprising ways; it excites yet terrifies us with the possibilities of our response to his radical love.

Dear Lord, as children we take the time to notice, to see. Help us as adults now to clear away the busyness so that we can see the light and joyfully receive it when it breaks over us. Amen.

-- Sara Jo Lyon Hooper

December 18, 1986 (Mildred Burch)
II Corinthians 4:6

The beginning of 1986 brought about quite a change in my life when I sold my home and moved into an apartment. From the eighth floor I can look over the tree tops and directly into the eastern sky. Many mornings I watch the sunrise. What a joy! I never cease to be amazed at the beauty of the flaming, morning sky or the glorious afternoon sun creeping over the western horizon. Each time, I am reminded of God's majesty and glory, and most of all, of God's faithfulness. Since the first day of creation that sunrise has taken place, and without that light there could be no life upon the earth.

I think back, however, to the darkness before the dawn--a time when I feel God's nearness--and realize one has to experience the darkness to truly appreciate the light.

Henri J. M. Nouwen, in his book entitled Aging, The Fulfillment of Life, deals with two different views of aging: "Aging as a way to the Darkness" and "Aging as a way to the Light." How good it is for all of us, especially those of us who are older, to realize that we can continue to grow and look joyfully toward the light.

Dear God, the assurance that You have been and always will be there brings us great joy. Thank You for the gift of Your Son, the ''light of the world" through whom we have life eternal.

-- Mildred Burch

December 19, 1986 (Lelia Gentle)
Psalms 92:4

My mother and father came here to celebrate Christmas with us last year--a holiday we had not been able to share for 12 years due to work schedules, etc. Enroute to Standiford Field, my three preschoolers were elated about greeting their grandparents. As we made our way through the old airport terminal, the surroundings seemed dull--almost depressing. I was confident that Christmas would not begin until we were safely back home settled around the fireplace in what I perceived to be a more conducive holiday environment.

But what I saw when I entered the gate startled me! All around, families were huddled together and faces were beaming in anticipation of a loved one arriving for the holidays. There were more folks gathered there than at most family reunions It seemed hundreds of tiny fingers and faces pressed the large airport windows waiting for that special grandparent to arrive.

When the plane finally landed, the room nearly exploded with excitement. Shrieks of laughter and excitement mingled with tears of joy and gladness as each passenger was greeted in the open arms of loved ones rushing to embrace them. People seemed to glow, almost electrically, as eyes met for the first time in months, even years for some. My own family reunion made me grateful to be not merely an observer, but a participant. This year, I can't wait to greet my parents at the airport. In fact, I may go out an hour or two early just for the celebration!

Father, teach us to receive Christmas in the unexpected and to celebrate it when and where it comes. Amen.

-- Lelia Gentle

December 20, 1986 (Mark Reynolds)
Psalms 118:24

I believe each day is part of the journey from darkness to light. Many times in my life the path is gentle and joyful.

Eleven years ago I was an accompanist for a singer on my college campus. On one Sunday our booking was in a small church about twelve miles outside a country town. I asked Marie, a friend of mine who was Catholic, to come hear Beverly sing and to experience Kentucky culture as someone from Cleveland would never have experienced it before.

As we entered the church, I told Marie to relax, and that if they brought a box that made hissing sounds into the service, we would leave during the prayer. Marie was

The service began promptly at eleven a.m. following the superintendent's Sunday School report on the "bring one" campaign. I was proud. I had brought one. The pastor did the welcome and announcements. He asked Beverly and then me to stand briefly and exchange smiles with the congregation. He then asked If another guest had come to share in the program.

Perhaps in another setting Marie could have said, "Peace be with you," but this was just too much. I began to say, "This is my friend Marie..." Noticing I could not be heard, I continued louder, " ... she just rode along."

"Well, Rhoda, it certainly is nice to have you here today," the pastor said to Marie.

Beverly, "Rhoda Long" and I began to rock the pew gently with muffled non-denominational laughter.

The journey from darkness to light that day was peaceful, pleasant and is still a good memory.

Dear God, teach us to seek, experience., and give joy.

-- Mark H. Reynolds

December 21, 1986 (Sharon Smith)
Psalms 138:1-3

I have always equated loving with giving, but recently it has been important for me to reconsider the value of receiving. During the past months I have been struggling to allow several important relationships to grow into friendships. It has not been an easy journey, but I have learned some things along the way. I have learned that I prefer giving to receiving, because I do not have to make myself vulnerable to another person or to risk disappointment and rejection. But risk and vulnerability--not safety--have their place In a loving relationship. When we do risk trusting people enough to accept what they offer us, we give up our isolated, self- sufficient selves and admit that we are in need. It is an act that we alone are responsible for; no matter how long a person may stand ready to offer themselves, unless we are willing to receive, the relationship remains incomplete.

The God who made Himself a needy child teaches us the importance of receiving in relationship. He stands ready to offer us His gift of love, but before we are tempted to kneel in adoration at the side of the manger, offering our precious gifts to the Christ Child, we must acknowledge and accept God's call to us to enter into a loving relationship with Him. Then we can kneel, offering gifts as needy children who have so wonderfully received.

Oh God, giver of all good gifts, open our eyes to see and our hearts to gratefully receive Your love.

-- Sharon Smith

December 22, 1986 (Mary J. Augenstein)
Philippians 4:11,13

At 54, Aunt Luella, one of seven children, left her teaching job in New Jersey to care for her mother who had a broken hip and arm. No one expected Grandmother to survive long. This period of recuperation began Grandmother's years of making hooked pillow tops from sacks of rags which friends and family supplied her and which later reappeared as gifts to friends and family who visited her. Aunt Luella pinned on the canvas patterns of circles, triangles, and squares. Grandmother became so excited about beginning each creation that she sometimes waked up my aunt at daybreak.

Sometimes, too, her little quavery voice rang out in the night with "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" and "Amazing Grace", sounds which I can still hear. Aunt Luella didn't get many nights of uninterrupted sleep.

Her main recreation was finding a dewy peace rose in the backyard to share with my grandmother, or walking ten blocks to the library to get five more books for Grandmother to consume quickly. When grandchildren filled the house, she prepared delicious meals for all to enjoy.

She was my dearly beloved aunt, the greatest person in my life. But being called great was the furthest thought from her mind. I can hear her laughing now. The word sacrifice was not in her vocabulary, but that's how our family evaluated the eighteen years of total bed care she gave her mother.

O Father, such loving sacrifice has been an abiding inspiration in my life. Thank You for this gift of love. Amen.

Mary J. Augenstein

December 23, 1986 (Mary Ann Bootes)
I Corinthians 13:13

With the cool days of September I felt the magical anticipation of a major event in my life--the Mid-South Fair. At twelve, attending the fair was an absolute; to go a second time would be more than I could expect.

In order to go the second time, I needed Mother's permission. As we drove to town where she worked at the Post Office, I could already hear the music from the carousel and I was imagining myself lost in the crowds. But Mother said, "No!" She reasoned that one time was enough, we did not have the extra money, and besides, there were the clothes she had asked me to iron.

We drove home in silence and found Daddy sitting in his favorite spot on the porch. A series of strokes had left him a shadow of the strong, robust man he had been in his younger years. But he still had a quick wit and easy laugh, and he showered me, an only child, with time and attention. From the look on my face he could tell that my plans and Mother's did not agree. The music from the carousel had stopped.

"Go on to the fair," he said, as he slipped money into my hand. He had a grin on his face which made me wonder if he had a plan that would take care of both Mother and me.

The next day his plan was obvious. He had ironed the clothes for me. They were wrinkled, some were slightly scorched, but they were all folded and piled together in a bundle of love. I imagined Daddy, whose huge hands had never before held an iron, as he worked his way through the week's laundry. And he had done it all for me.

This simple act of love grows dearer as time passes. The sight and sounds of the fair have long faded--but the memory of a father's love never fades.

Dear God, at Christmas time, we are reminded of the greatest gift of all, Your love become flesh. Amen.

-- Mary Ann Bootes

December 24, 1986 (John Arnett)
Matthew 18:3

Amid the hype of Christmas it is well to think small. God didn't enter the world with a big splash but as an inconspicuous little child, a child of whom people would remark when he was finally doing his thing, "Isn't this (just] the son of Joseph the carpenter?" Certainly there were some spectacular miracles performed by Jesus, but more often than not we find him talking and listening to the "insignificant" people in a manner that demonstrated the love which was the message He came to give. In The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence tells us "that we ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed."

In the office today the schedule was very hectic, and I was almost at the point of despair when, from the adjoining examining room, I heard the hearty laughter of a small child, and the tension was broken. Even so, God moves into our lives as a small child, and, amid our worries and anxieties, he gently shares a word of love with us: "In the world you will have troubles, but fear not, I have overcome the world."

Lord, thank You for Your love that breaks the chains of fear and anxiety that bind us. Help us to laugh in life and do all (especially the little things) with Your spirit of love.

-- John Arnett

December 25, 1986 (Stephen Shoemaker)
John 1:14

The Jews thought the Spirit of God had left the earth. For centuries they felt the awful absence of the Spirit. Then a miracle happened - The Miracle. John the gospeler said that the Word of God through whom the world was made "became flesh and dwelt among us...."

The Spirit of God had returned! The same Spirit that moved across the face of the deep and created heaven and earth moved across the life of a young teenager named Mary, and she bore a son of heaven and earth whose name was Jesus, which meant "God will save His people."

The good news, the good-story, the gospel is that the hesed-love of God, His faithful lovingkindness, His determination to make a success of His creation, His commitment to do all He could do and give all He could give in order for His creatures to flourish, this hesed-love became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus' life is the supreme expression of God's patient persistence, never-give-up-no-matter-what love. After 2,000 years it still moves us beyond words to kneel before a manger in awe-struck gratitude.

Eternal God, may the Spirit of God that moved across the life of that teenager named Mary move across our lives so that God's love will find birth in us. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

H. Stephen Shoemaker

In Preparation (Sara Jo Hooper)

Have you ever gone to a party in someone's honor, had a great time and later realized you never met the guest of honor? Most of us are tempted to fall into that pattern in our celebration of Christmas.. We love all the trappings of this time of year, but sometimes the result is that we reach January 1 , exhausted, financially over-extended and wondering what is wrong with us that we have done so much but felt so little joy.

Making Christmas the celebration it can be demands that we set priorities. The following are three of the most critical ones: focus on Christ, simplify, and spend "real" time with people.

Set aside a few minutes each day for you and others to focus on the real meaning of Christmas. Save Rudolph and Santa for other times. Use the Advent meditations: even if the children do not understand everything, they will love sitting down together and they will also sense that you consider the activity important. Lighting the Advent candles, adding a piece to the creche scene, or singing can provide an added dimension to your time together.

Make a conscious effort to simplify your plans for the season, financially and activity-wise. Avoid scheduling more than one special event on any one day; re-evaluate several times during the season the things you "have" to do.

Finally, begin a project which you can continue throughout the year. Collect food and bring it to church on the first Sunday of each month, or collect essential personal items (soap, toothpaste, etc.) for agencies like Wayside Christian Mission and the PTA Clothes Closet. You may want to work with Mary Ann Perry, Director of Senior Adult Activities, to identify an elderly person whom your family may adopt as a "grandparent." This can be a two-way gift.

To help give your activities some focus, we have provided a calendar on the following pages.

Sara Jo Hooper

Advent 1986 1986 by Crescent Hill Baptist Church, 2800 Frankfort Avenue, Louisville, KY 40206. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the publisher.

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