Crescent Hill Baptist Church

Advent Devotional Booklet - 1987

writers: Holli and Kevin Rainwater, Chris Egbert, Nick Foster, Margaret Graves, Leslie Kendrick, John Styron, Sharon Smith, Sara Jo Hooper, Chuck Leach, Lyle Edwards, Annie Hammon, Debbie Brashear, Erin Culpepper, Mary Zimmer, Deke Slaton, Cherie Williams, Patricia Egbert, Jane Webb, Clara McCartt, Daven Kari, Stephen Shoemaker, Carolyn Seiffertt, Phil Howell, Kim Christman, Penny Laughlin, Sue Enoch, Ragan Courtney)
editors: Sharon Smith, Sue Enoch

November 29, 1987 (Holli and Kevin Rainwater)
Luke 1:68-79

During Advent we are all pregnant. And pregnancy makes us odd. It makes us swell and grow fat. It makes us cry when no one else is crying. It makes us smile when no one else is smiling.

Our pregnancy is a symbol of God's own oddness. Zechariah had to learn this the hard way. When he questioned Gabriel's announcement, he was struck dumb. After being touched by Elizabeth's and Mary's pregnancies and their willingness to carry God's blessing in their own bodies, he came to accept God's peculiar methods and was able to become God's prophet. In his prophecy, Zechariah tells us that God will not bless us with a life of comfort and ease but will keep the promise to Abraham and Sarah and call us to a new life. He also tells us that it won't be wise, old priests who will lead us to God's blessing, but little children. Zechariah shows us that God is not predictable, but astonishing. God calls us to be co-creators, to become odd, to forsake what we know to be logical and right in order to receive His blessing.

When we enter into Advent as a time of our own pregnancy, we plunge into preparing the way for the child. We will swell and grow big not from overindulgence, but from the fullness of our expectation. We will realize that our unexplained tears are not a result of sentimentality over the past, but that they fall when we suddenly recognize the past, present, and future in our own bodies.

Dear Lord, our secret smiles creep up when, in the midst of our daily lives, we feel the child inside nudging us into recognition of what is holy. Amen.

Holli and Kevin Rainwater

November 30, 1987 (Chris Egbert)
John 1: 37

He didn't look like I expected. Baby-faced and resting on a staff that bore a banner, he looked more like somebody's kid brother than the last of the bona fide Old Testament prophets.

He would have looked wild and woolly if I'd painted him. But the 17th century Spaniard Alonso Cano pictured him so normally and naturally as to almost make him anonymous. He could have been anybody or nobody.

Except for the Latin inscription on the banner, "ECCE AGNUS DEI", and the lamb nestled at his feet, he looked ordinary and remained unknown. But these two clues were a dead giveaway to his identity, even though they pointed to the identity of someone else entirely "Behold the Lamb of God," John the Baptist proclaimed nearly 2000 years ago.

When asked to identity himself, John said, "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make the Lord's highway straight." His person and his message of the coming King were one. He always pointed away from himself and to the advent of the one who was to come.

Cano captured the essence of the Baptist in his canvas. It hangs today in the Cincinnati Art Museum and mutely proclaims the good news of Advent: "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!"

O Lamb, may we find our true selves by pointing, like John, toward you. May we proclaim your coming and abiding presence always! Come quickly, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Chris Egbert

December l, 1987 (Nick Foster)
Matthew 2:4b-5 (RSV)

While Mr. Hancock was recovering from his heart surgery, I had ample opportunity to see him. I was an orderly at the hospital and dropped by to check on him at least once a day.

The work of an orderly is the lowliest of any in a hospital. While doctors and nurses are often romanticized, it is difficult to think highly of the tools of an orderly's trade bedpans and such. But to Mr. Hancock, a member of my church and a former Sunday School teacher of mine, I was a familiar face in a world of uncertainty. He looked forward to seeing me. And as we talked I got a look into the deeper levels of the faith of this man I had long admired and loved.

One day I walked in to be greeted by, "Well! Here's my medical missionary!" Mr. Hancock had gotten it into his head that my future was decided and that his vision was Godsent. His certainty shook me up a bit, but I wasn't convinced. Still his conviction did cause me to think.

Medicine as a career soon lost my interest, and within a year I had committed myself to the work of the ministry, though not as a missionary. Mr. Hancock had not been totally accurate, but he had been close.

Perhaps we wrong the prophets among us when we insist that their prophecies must "hit the bull's eye." What we should expect instead is a word that turns our eyes toward the horizon, toward whatever light beckons us, the mystery of its source always resistant to our exacting expectations.

Oh God of Light and the future, may we hear the words of those who entice us to look ahead. May we follow the Light which beckons us, and way we give ourselves to its mystery.

Nick Foster

December 29 1987 (Margaret Graves)
II Kings 4:8-10

Most of my growing up years in Brazil were spent in the large city of Recife. There my father pastored a rather large church in which our family was very involved. However, about every two months we drove two-and-a-half hours out of the city to the tiny community of Viracao where dad was also the pastor. Driving out to Viracao was like going way back in time.

They used to carry all of their water up from the spring and keep it in clay pots. The women cooked over charcoal in an outdoor kitchen area and the pump for the electric lights was only turned on after dark for a couple of hours. Right next to the main farmhouse was a one-room schoolhouse and the little church.

This was a small and poor congregation which taught me a lot about the gift of hospitality. They warmly welcomed its pastor and had a place that they set aside as a room for him. It was a rather humble guest room which we called "the prophet's room." Like the woman who prepared a room for Elisha, the people of Viracao prepared a room for the bearer of "good news." The message of the gospel had dramatically turned their lives around and they were always anxious to hear more. This church, in its thirst for the gospel, embodied a real openness to the gospel and a gift for hospitality toward those bringing the "good news" to them.

Lord, make us open to receiving the 'good news' once again. Help us to prepare a place for the coming of your son. Amen.

Margaret Graves

December 3, 1987 (Leslie Kendrick)
Proverbs 3:4

When I was 15, 1 went to talk to Father Eimer who directed an ecumenical singing group of which I was a member. I told him that high school seemed irrelevant to me and that I wanted to quit school and go help the starving children on the other side of the world.

I'll never forget his response. He told me that I needed to be helped myself before I could help others. And most importantly, I needed to learn to trust.

Several years later I had a dream. I was running away from a house engulfed in flames when I unwittingly slipped over the edge of a steep cliff. I barely caught hold of a rock ledge which was about three inches wide. I knew I could not hold on for long. I screamed for help but knew it was hopeless; no one could reach me in time. I screamed again, "Help! Please help! Suddenly I heard a very still and calm voice saying, "Let go."

"Let go!" I responded "Are you crazy?"

Again I heard, "Let go." And in this second hearing, I heard the voice of God. My body relaxed, I loosened my hold, and I let go, ready for the end. Two feet later, my feet touched solid ground.

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths."

Dear Lord, Give us eyes that we might see and courage that we might follow Thee. Amen.

Leslie Kendrick

December 40 1987 (John Styron)
Isaiah 9:6

I think the gifts are what threw me off. I remember waiting, with knotted stomach, for the "opening." The anticipation was too much. My imagination zoomed from earth to the moon and back with fantasies about the contents of those beautiful packages. From under the twinkling tree, across from the crackling fire over which all six of our stockings were hung with great care, those packages taunted me. At the appointed hour, which really was as slow as Christmas coming around, I would rip those paper-wrapped, ribbon-tied vessels apart and gut them of their precious treasures.

Now, years later, this is the part I find most interesting. I remember only a few of those treasures ... and those only vaguely. There was the year we all got homemade stilts and the year we got fishing poles...but that's really about all that comes to mind. Neat stuff. It was just never quite as neat as my fantasies ... at least not until I finally learned to walk on those stilts...or until warm weather came and I actually caught a sun perch out of the old mill pond.

I remember wishing as a child that, the rest of the year could be more like Christmas. Lately, I've started realizing that Christmas really is like the rest of the year ... only more so. The celebration and symbols raise our awareness at Christmas, but the giftedness of life -- its daily fullness of new birth - - goes on all the time. It just takes longer to notice the gifts wrapped in swaddling clothes than those in Christmas paper.

Lord, thank you for the gifts of life that take longer to appreciate. Grant me the character to wait upon you and learn. Amen.

John Styron

December 5, 1987 (Sharon Smith)
Psalm 139:13-16

Quietly trailing behind him as he pushed the field marker, I watched the white, powdery line take shape in the green lawn. I followed, not knowing or caring where it led, content just to be there. That afternoon, filled with the smell of the sun- warmed grass, was to be repeated often that summer of my eleventh year.

Nothing special really happened during those "shadow" walks, but from time to time he would break into the quiet. He would comment on the outcome of the softball games that would be played there the following day. Or he would ask a simple question which I answered with only a tentative smile. Patient and accepting, he was unperturbed by my silence. He would smile in return and then continue our long journey around the playing field.

One day during our walk he stopped and, his tall, lean figure towering over me, said, "Sharon, you're just like a little caterpillar now, but hidden somewhere deep down inside are great and beautiful wings."

Many would proclaim the gloom and doom of our frailties and present shortcomings -- and their own as well -- but thanks be to God for those who see beyond the present darkness into a hopeful light!

Lord, we are grateful that you know not only our present state, but that, with hopeful eyes, you took beyond to see who you dream us to be. Help us to see. too -- and believe. Amen.

Sharon Smith

December 6, 1987 (Sara Jo Hooper)
Exodus 3:1-6, Luke 2:15

"Daddy's gift is on the dresser if you want to see it," Mother told me. This was important, grown-up involvement for a six-year-old, and I went to her room with great excitement. There, on the dresser, was a box of chocolate-covered cherries. I had never seen candy in a box before, so I knew that this was something special. With great care I took down the box, tore off the cellophane, removed the cover and discovered the most beautiful and fragrant candy I had ever seen.

When Mother called me, I reluctantly replaced the cover and returned it to the dresser. "It smells wonderful" I exclaimed. "What do you mean? How could you smell it? You didn't open it did you?" Mother asked sharply. "Of course," I replied with perfect six-year-old logic. "You told me I could look at it. I couldn't see the gift without opening the box."

That Christmas memory always makes me feel connected with the Judaean shepherds. There they were -- in the middle of the night, taking care of their sheep -- when angels appeared and announced that a Savior was born. Did the shepherds just say, "Great!" or "Maybe we'll check this out as we go near Bethlehem?" No! They said immediately, "Let's go see," and they followed the star to the Bethlehem stable. They were not content to hear the news or even to see the sign of God's good gift; they had to push back the gift wrapping to see the gift, this baby, Jesus, for themselves.

Now we have the exhilarating, terrifying responsibility of living and loving in such a way that when people see us they see God's gift of love.

Dear God, thank you for sending your son so that we can see your love for ourselves; help me to show your love to one person today. Amen.

Sara Jo Hooper

December 7, 1987 (Chuck Leach)
Isaiah 53:1-3

She was wrinkled and stooped, with a small stocking cap over her muddy-gray hair. Her faded, cotton dress hung unevenly below her knees, not quite concealing the rolled-down hose humpily knotted in place. She hesitated as she noticed my two sisters and me huddled quietly in the back of our '38 V-8 Ford. She shuffled toward us, and even though my sisters were older than 1, five and six year-olds did not seem like much protection. Suddenly the woman pulled a brown paper bag from the crook of her arm and produced what appeared to be a small, dry muffin. She handed it to one of my sisters and said, "Here sweetie." She turned to go, but paused and pulled out a second muffin and handed it to me. "My aren't you sweet," she muttered, and was gone.

As my pounding heart began to slow again -- enough to get occasional gasps of air into my lungs -- I felt how fortunate we were that she had not thrown us into the oven and made gingerbread men of us on the spot. We knew about Hansel and Gretel. We hardly breathed or moved a hair until our parents came back. With sad relief we threw away the mysterious offerings.

We probably were right not to eat the muffins from the stranger. But I often wonder how many times throughout history God has been received similarly -- sending unexpected gifts and getting in return our suspicion and distrust.

God, help us not to treat you or bag-ladies like witches. Help us to move beyond the initial fear in our hearts, as the shepherds did, so we can accept your gifts.

Chuck Leach

December 8, 1987 (Lyle Edwards)
Psalm 78:52-53

Shepherds are quiet people, simple people. It's the nature of their profession to be caring and nurturing. But shepherds don't always tend to sheep. Shepherds also attend to their fellow humans, much in the same way as Jesus compelled the disciples to be fishers of men rather than fish. Shepherds are caretakers and nurturers of other people.

I consider myself to be truly blessed to have been born into a loving and caring family. My parents have given of themselves for me all these years. Often they have gone without something which they needed just so I could have something I wanted.

But most of all they have believed in me and loved me without question, just like the shepherds outside of Bethlehem, The shepherds believed unquestioningly and rushed to pay tribute to the tiny child. My parents have been my loving shepherds for nearly 20 years, and I thank God for them.

Dear Father, most gracious provider, thank you for the love of our parents. Help us never to forget the sacrifices which they have made for us. Amen.

Lyle Edwards

December 9, 1987 (Annie Hammon)
Isaiah 42:18-20

There are days in my life, probably not so unlike those of the shepherds sitting on the dark hillside, when I think I've heard all the stories, and heard them so often I could recite them in my sleep. Growing up as a missionary kid, I was sure that I'd heard everything there was to tell, and certainly had heard more than my fair share. It was almost too easy to tune out the stories and the voices behind them. I already knew what they would say. I knew about the Christ who brought light in darkness and hope in despair. I knew of the need for repentance, and I believed in Incarnation close at hand. So I quit listening to the voices that were so familiar, deciding they had nothing now or special to tell me.

I'm still not a very good listener, but those voices from my past -- granted, quieter and more subtle than the voices of the messengers appearing to the shepherds -- echo through me, and I think I'm finally learning to hear more than the words. The urgency and intensity in the voices come from lives lived in a sharp contrast to the demands of their cultures: missionaries who left families and familiar comforts; African Christians whose families disowned them - people whose lives, rich in sacrifice and love, pointed beyond themselves even more than their words. When I can listen to their voices in the context of their lives, I catch glimpses of the one whose voice spoke us all into being. And I want to hear more.

Gracious Giver of Words, help us to listen and look for the signs of your coming, in familiar stories and Bethlehem star. Amen.

Annie Hammon

December 10, 1987 (Debbie Brashear)
Matthew 25:34-40

Shepherding? I perused the lengthy list of duties found in my job description as a public schoolteacher. It wasn't there. Yet isn't shepherding one of the important roles of an effective teacher - whether in the schools, at church, or at home? The act of tending, herding, guarding, leading - isn't that ever-present in the minds of teachers?

On a superficial level, I couldn't begin to number the times I have counted children in line - on field trips, back from lunch, into an assembly ... on a deeper level, how many children are begging to be shepherded in a way so that they can make it in life, searching for someone to take the time to care? Sure, we teach the academics, but is that enough?

It brings to mind a conglomerate of all the faces that have come to me ... Robert, standing outside on a morning with below- freezing temperatures without a coat on his back, buttressing a tough exterior with the attitude, "I'm not cold!" and hiding an even tougher (yet oh so vulnerable) interior saying, "I don't care because nobody cares." Melanie, wearing a dirty shirt and torn jeans, trying to ignore the snickers and teasing. Caroline, who cannot read, being ridiculed at home by her prostitute mother. Quiet Amber, hiding all those thoughts inside her. Bubbling Kevin, ready for everything except to stop and listen to what others say.

They all come to be shepherded. Some accepting it freely and seeming to profit from it. Others making it despite all odds. Still others fighting all along the way. Some refusing to be shepherded at all. How can we serve them all?

Oh God, it's much easier to shepherd those who want to be shepherded, who appreciate it, who say thank you. In your ever-constant way teach us to love the unloved. care for the uncared for and uncaring, and reach out to the unreasonable. Amen.

Debbie L. Brashear

December 11, 1987 (Erin Culpepper)
Psalm 23:1

We can compare the members of a family to the shepherd and his flock. The members of a family watch over each other just like a shepherd watches over his flock. The flock helps the shepherd by staying together and warning each other of danger. The younger members of a family help each other with homework, and help their parents by doing chores around the house.

While my family was camping out west this summer, my mother burned her ankle. She and my dad had been like a shepherd to my brother and me. After she burned herself, all of our chores and responsibilities changed and my brother and I had to become like a shepherd to her. We had to, with the help of my dad, even learn how to cook.

How is God like a shepherd to us? He guides us through the day and understands our needs. God gives us nourishment just like a shepherd feeds his flock. We look up to God for help and leadership. This is why we celebrate the birth of his son Jesus. Jesus showed us how God is like a father and a shepherd.

Dear Lord, may we grow each day in your strength and knowledge. Teach us to care for one another and follow as you lead us. Make us not only one of your sheep, but also a shepherd to others. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.

Erin Culpepper

December 12, 1987 (Mary Zimmer)
Luke 2:17-18

As adults, we may think of the shepherds' story as a children's story, We may have lost our ability to suspend reason and consider a story about angels and shepherds. Thomas Merton said, "In our time, what is lacking is not the courage to ask questions of Christ and the miracles, but the courage to expect an answer." Or perhaps we cannot imagine our sophisticated selves as having much in common with shepherds sitting on a hillside.

But there they sat, in the dark night, listening to the sheep and never expecting anything out of the ordinary. So too, we go about our lives -- work, home, church and community -- sometimes feeling that all we are doing is sitting in the dark waiting for the morning light.

Those shepherds got a miracle. An angel came to them and brought them good news. This didn't happen quietly either. The sky was filled with light in the middle of the night, the shepherds were given a message that the sign of the miracle and of their salvation was a baby lying in a manger.

The shepherds found the courage to make the trek to Bethlehem in the dark night, and, sure enough, the message of the angels was true. They found the baby Jesus, the sign of God's love in the world, lying in a manger.

Dear God, in our honest moments we know we are all lowly shepherds in the night, hardly daring to risk a belief in miracles. Now, at Christmas, grant us courage to respond to your message of tight as they did and get on the road to seek the sign of Jesus you have for each of us. Amen.

Mary Zimmer

December 13, 1987 (Deke Slaton)
Acts 27:23-25

All angels are guardian angels. And what they guard us against mostly is our own fear.

A few years ago an angel came and sat on the edge of my couch and said, "Don't worry. It's all going to be just fine. This is going to fit quite nicely into God's plans." Later when I told my friend about it, he said, "Well, maybe it was an angel. That's what they always say." Looking back on the Christmas story I see he was right.

An angel came to a Youth II girl in Nazareth and said to her, "You're going to have a son, but don't worry it's all going to work quite nicely into God's plans." Then the angel spoke to her boyfriend and told him the same thing.

Mine months later there were a couple of goat ropers out watching their sheep. All of creation started coming apart at the seams when an angel appeared to them.

When an angel appeared to Joseph for a second time, he told him that the emperor was going to try to kill his song but not to worry about it.

We know about the other angel that sat on the tombstone and said to Mary Magdalene, "See? I told you everything was going to work out just fine with God's plans." Those folk who were living through the story probably weren't any too sure of the angel's optimism. But the truth is that the angels we do meet all tell us not to be so seared, and they have a great history for knowing what they're talking about. So the next time someone makes you feel better just by being there and telling you not to be so afraid because it's all going to work out, listen carefully for the sound of wings.

Daddy in Heaven, thank you for all those mysterious ways you manage to comfort us. Thank you for letting us know that it's working out O.K.

Deke Slaton

December 14, 1987 (Cherie Williams)
Matthew 5:3-12

The setting, Bellarmine College, 1981. Reynolds Price, novelist, had been invited to read from works in progress. Afterward, a middle-aged woman approached. Smiling, she asked, "Do you have a car?" "Yes," I said, silently musing, "Oh boy, what are you getting into now?" "May I have a lift?" "Sure," I said with a degree of reservation bordering on suspicion.

Driving, we spoke of surface topics strangers talk of, mainly the reading just attended. "Do you write?" she asked. "At one time," I answered. "Do you?" She did. Poetry. "That's tough to get published," I commented. "I know," she began, "It's taken years to see my work in print. It brings joy," she hesitated, "but there are others more talented and more deserving."

I'm glad she didn't see my shook; had I recently published anything, I probably would not have had the generosity of spirit to understand that my blessing might well be the ground where another felt unblessed.

My passenger, whose address turned out being Francis of Assisi Convent, not only possessed this wisdom, but lived the compassion of it. Driving off into the starry night, this verse came to mind: "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers; for- thereby some have entertained angels unawares" (Hebrews 13:3). My Catholic sister an angel? Not yet, but nearer the genuine article than most.

Lord, help us to not dwell on our own blessings in places where we know others are feeling unblessed. Help us not to conduct ourselves as if good health and plentiful blessings are a reflection of your vested interest in us, leaving others to wonder why your grace does not include them. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Cherie Williams

December 15, 1987 (Patricia Egbert)
Psalm 91:11

There it was. Three feet high. You plugged it in and magic happened in that tiny apartment. She sprayed "canned snow" on the glass pane in the kitchen door. The peppermint squares were sweaty and stuck together in a plastic dish on the table
by the furnace. If I was lucky I got to spend the night and wear one of her nightgowns. We always had a glass of softdrink while we watched a Christmas special on T.V.

She liked to have me with her. I was her special one, and I knew it. When I needed clothes, school supplies, or wanted change for candy, she was there. When I was in trouble, she was there. Not being raised in a Christian home, love was often a reward to be earned rather than a gift. But not with her.

At Christmas time, the most special time of the year, I wanted to be with the only person who gave me unconditional love. My Grandma.

Now that I'm older I realize how true Psalm 91:11 is, "For he will give his angels charge of you, to guard you in all your ways." When I look at Grandma, I see how faithful my Father is.

This Christmas I'm going back to Ludlow. I want to get sticky fingers again, wear a shorty nightgown and plug in that artificial tree.

Heavenly Father, help me to unconditionally love someone as you love me. Make me an angel in someone's life.

Patricia Egbert

December 16, 1987 (Jane Webb)
Hebrews 13:1-2

In the movie It's a Wonderful Life, when George Bailey meets his guardian angel, Clarence, George growls, "You look about like the kind of an angel I'd get." Yet, the very nature of angels is that they come in clouds of the unexpected -- in unexpected forms to unexpected people in unexpected places, appearing to a teenage peasant girl, to shepherds on a hillside, to George Bailey as he's about to jump off a bridge to his death in icy-cold water, and even in my skin.

In my skin? Yes, apparently I'm entertaining an angel inside of me who's singing the Good News. Because those who know me know that "I'm no angel." Yet, just this fall one of my composition students wrote these words in his journal:

"Throughout my lifetime I have noticed that the many hurdles and pitfalls that await us
are sometimes accompanied by 'Angels.' Some you only see once, and that very briefly,
maybe just to make you stop and think about the direction you're going in. Some stay a
little longer, guiding you over a hurdle and 'poof,' they are gone ... Of course you may not remember them because the help they gave you was supposed to be your own thinking. Others, like you, show up in our lives when we don't need a real 'miracle' but just to let us know there are still kind, caring, sensitive human beings in this world."

Glory to God! Peace! Goodwill to everybody A Savior's been born who comes and lives inside us and enables us to be more like angels than we ever imagined possible. Amen.

Jane Webb

December l7, 1987 (Clara McCartt)
Luke 1:13-14

Father told us there would be no Christmas at our house that year,. Mother- was 100 miles away in a hospital for a month of treatment before surgery, and another whole month to recover before coming home. I was only seven and did not understand all the grown-up talk. But I knew Father was worried. Neighbors talked in hushed voices with my big sister.

One bright spot was Christmas Eve at church. The beautiful tree reached almost to the rafters. Last year I had asked Mother why my name was never called when packages under that tree were given out. She had explained that only families who had money could afford extra presents. This year I looked at those packages, recalled what Mother had said, remembered how sick she was -- and I was miserable. Even hearing the Christmas story about the angels who said they brought great joy did not thrill me as usual.

Then Santa started distributing the presents. I heard him call my name, but I didn't move because I knew I was dreaming. He called it again. I had a package from the tree! What joy! It was only an inexpensive (15-cent) wooden ironing board for my doll's clothes which Dad had managed to put under the tree. But to me it was a fabulous gift. Soon after, word came that Mother would be home before long.

Never since that night have I doubted that God's angels did indeed bring great joy to all men -- and even to boys and girls -- when they least expected it.

Dear God, thank you for those words of the angels. Thank you for the Joy they brought that night. Thank you, too. for the continuing joy that is ours as we trust that message from thee day by day. Amen.

Clara Anniss McCartt

December 18, 1987 (Daven Kari)
Matthew 2:1-9

On my first Christmas alone I taught myself to see a candle. I rose at 6:00 a.m., struck a match, and kindled a little flame that would be the only light in my small room until noon. All morning I read the Christmas story, prayed, and opened one by one the gifts sent to me from family members several thousand miles away. Then, fully prepared for the day, I went out to be a light and share the meaning of Christmas with others.

Seeing the candle taught me how to celebrate Christmas in a new light. The candle, wreathed in holly my mother had sent, reminded me that I was not alone; others were present around that light. The gentle flame assured that God's light of truth always comes with the warmth of love. But as I sat and stared at the candle, I also came to see a flickering and swaying not unlike that seen by the wise men who followed their wandering star to Bethlehem. Some say that star was an angel gleaming in all his glory, newly gleaned from standing in the presence of God. That star came as a candle from heaven to show the way to the Light of the World, God's brightest candle, Jesus Christ.

Until that one Christmas morning I never dreamed that a candle could mean so many different things to me: family, fellowship, love, pilgrimage, and Jesus himself.

Oh Lord, help me always to be a little child at your feet that I may ever learn to see you in the little things of earth. And help me to be as the angel who showed the way to your candle that others may come to your birthing stall and find the Prince of Peace. Amen.

Daven M. Kari

December 19, 1987 (Stephen Shoemaker)
Luke 2: 10

I was lying in bed one night worried and anxious, tossing and turning, growing more fearfully, restlessly awake with every moment. This kind of night-time worry is a stranger to me and I did not like it at all. Then suddenly I felt a kind of warming surround me, like a warming light, and I sensed a voice was saying to me, "It will be all right. Rest. Rest."

Was it my own voice talking down my fears? Was it God's voice? Or an angel's?

Throughout scripture and especially in the Christmas narratives, angels appear saying,, "Be not afraid." Isn't that what we all need to hear? Be not afraid...afraid of the dark,
afraid of the future, afraid of yourself or of what you've done. God is with you. And while this God cannot protect you from all harm, he will keep you to himself and guard your spirit.

Then life, whatever it brings, cannot destroy you, and you can rest in the unfailing arms of Love.

That was the angel's message to all those participants in the Christmas story: Joseph, Mary, Elizabeth, shepherds keeping sheep, and who knows how many others. And that is the angel's message to you.

Close your eyes. Feel the warming light. Imagine the great wings, green and copper, rising from the angel's back sweeping the air and causing a gentle breeze to brush your face. Then hear his words:

Do not be afraid. God is with you. Immanuel is His Name. It will be all right. Rest. Rest.

H. Stephen Shoemaker

December 20, 1987 (Carolyn Seiffertt)
John 1:1-9

"Oh little town of Bethlehem, How still we see thee lie!"
"How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given."

Is there anything more silent, more still, than candle light? Candles at Christmas call forth special memories for me.

I remember my grandmother telling of when she was a girl ... she would come out of church on Christmas Eve into the crisp midnight air carrying her lighted candle, reluctant to extinguish it.

I remember the excited stillness of candlelight services when I was a girl ... the whole congregation seemed to be holding its breath as we shared the light, its soft glow silently filling the sanctuary.

I remember a candlelight service in which several of the Crescent Hill Youth carried candles ... my daughter's face was softly lighted in the darkened sanctuary as she shared in the celebration of God's love.

I remember our family tradition of having a Christmas Eve candle for Michelle and Mike ... we adults guided their hands until they became old enough to light their candles for themselves.

I remember a still, silent town and faces of the beasts, man, woman, and child bathed in the soft light of Bethlehem.

Dear God, at this Christmas time, may we be Still to receive the wondrous gift of your love. May the candle's tight remind us of the love that surrounds the quiet. still tradition of family. Help us share that love to the darkened world. Amen.

Carolyn Seiffertt

December 21, 1987 (Phil Howell)
Philippians 4: 8 (NEB)

The Christmas season had been a season of rushing, worrying, and frenzied buying. We had certainly experienced what is often the secular meaning of Christmas -- trying to buy something big enough and inexpensive enough for everyone.

But late Christmas Eve, my family closed out the crowds and confusion surrounding it. As each year before, we gathered in a darkened room to read the Christmas story. In the presence of such wonder and beauty, a quiet peace entered, and the frustrations and concerns of the outside world melted away. A bond of intimacy formed among us, even between self-conscious brothers and sisters, allowing us to exchange what were to be our most meaningful gifts. Rather than purchased objects, however, these were gifts of love; we shared with each family member our favorite memory of that person, and told what a difference she or he had made in our lives.

It was quite a scene: brothers and sisters, eye-to-eye, accepting and affirming. Such times as this seem so right and yet so rare. We sprawled contented on the floor together, savoring this unusual joy.

The presents were waiting under the tree, the cookies were waiting for Santa, and presents were yet to be bought or sent to friends and relatives, but these were not important. We were experiencing the wonder and love that are Christmas.

We had moved from Bethlehem -- the bustling crowds, the misplaced focus of the occasion -- to the stable -- the peace, the wonder, the gift of love -- to experience Christ. An eddy of calm and truth in a sea of pandemonium, like the eye of a hurricane, like the first Christmas gathering.

Lord, draw us into the warmth and peace of your love to encounter Christ. Help us to celebrate this time not with concern for worldly goods, but with joy and excitement for your goodness made flesh. Amen.

Phil Howell

December 22, 1987 (Kim Christman)
Matthew 2:13-18

I have always liked animals. When time for the Christmas pageant came around, I wanted to be a shepherd so I could be around sheep, or to be a wise man so I could ride on a camel. Or better still, I wanted to be Mary so I could be in the barn with all those animals. That would be great!

But there is one part of the Christmas story that I have never been interested in at all. It is usually not in pageants because it's too sad. It is the story of Herod, his soldiers, and the families in Bethlehem. It's a hard story to tell at Christmas time because everyone is supposed to be happy. But it is still a Christmas story. And it is a shocking reminder that Jesus, who was saved by God from death in his manger bed, was saved for death on a cross.

But even in such a story we can find hope because it tells us that God knows our suffering and even cries with us when we are sad. We can find hope because the last word of the story of Matthew is not one of many empty cribs and sadness but of one empty tomb and joy.

Gracious God, we thank you for all of the Christmas story even though part of it is sad. Remind us that you did not leave the families in Bethlehem when they cried and do not leave us when we cry. Thank you for the hope that our sadness will turn into joy. We pray through the love of Jesus, Amen.

Kim Christman

December 23, 1987 (Penny Laughlin)
Matthew 2:11a

In the Laughlin household we have several nativity sets which occupy special places in various rooms. The nativity set that has become the most dear to my heart is the one' that is the least expensive, made of unbreakable material ... something for the children to arrange and rearrange. It had its beginnings with Matt back in 1970 and was complete except for Mary. So we purchased an angel who resembled Mary and "clipped her wings."

Matt was content with this; however, the 80's came and so did Nicholas, horrified that his mother had clipped the wings of an angel. After several Christmases of dealing with Nicholas's displeasure, I happened upon a Christmas in July "sale" and found an unbreakable Mary along with a flock of lambs, a few cows, and camels. The next Christmas Nicholas could barely contain his joy. He hurriedly asked for advice on how to
arrange the multitude of figures. I suggested that he think about that special night in Bethlehem and arrange them according to his heart.

Later, Nicholas came running downstairs and had Rick, Matt, and me gather outside his bedroom with our eyes closed tightly. He flung open his door and there on his chest of drawers was the stable with every shepherd, wise man, lamb, cow, camel, angel ... crammed shoulder to shoulder ... gazing at baby Jesus, Joseph and yes, the "real" Mary. As we looked at that crowded scene, Nicholas clasped his hands to his heart and with the purest of love exclaimed, "They all wanted to see baby Jesus and be near him because they were so happy he had been born!"

Thank you, God for children who, through their pure and simple love for 'baby Jesus" can teach us, their parents May we become more childlike in our faith and worthy of ;our most precious gift to us on that starry night in Bethlehem--your Son, Jesus Christ. May we always want to be near him, too. Amen.

Penny Laughlin

December 24, 1987 (Sue Enoch)
II Corinthians 4:1-7

The Christmas Eve service at Crescent Hill had been beautiful. I had finally touched the real joy of the Season, leaving the frustration of too-hectic schedules and too many demands behind. I didn't want the evening to end, and decided to attend the midnight Mass at an Episcopal church.

I entered the Sanctuary, struck again by the beauty of this place. The lighting of the church seemed to emphasize our Advent theme of "Darkness to Light." As people approached the altar to receive Communion, I noticed a family with several disabled children whom I knew.

They were the last to approach the altar. The steps to the altar were a barrier to the family's participation, but the priest and acolytes moved down to them with practiced ease.
The parents and older children received communion. One priest moved to the smallest wheelchair which held a very young deaf- blind child. He picked the child up, holding him gently as he blessed him.

The picture of that child suddenly awakened an understanding of the vulnerability of this God-man whose birth we were celebrating. This child, dependent on parents for food, clothing, love, and protection, placed in the arms of another for blessing, is so much like the Savior we love. In this child I recognized anew that Christ's coming was not just remarkable because He was God. It was also remarkable because of the life He lived. His life in us is the light to change the world in which we live. What a marvelous treasure for earthen vessels!

Christ Incarnate, your coming on earth demonstrates living in victory. In this time of celebration may we reclaim life in your image and learn to live in remarkable ways. May the treasure we carry in earthen vessels be visible in a world longing for light. Amen.

Sue Enoch

December 25, 1987 (Ragan Courtney)
Luke 2:16

It is hushed and dark and my whole world seems to wait in anticipation. In stock stillness I sit in the shadow of the wings of the theatre, observing Bethlehem. From the men and boys around the campfire looking for all the world like shepherds, to the hovering angels looking vaguely Victorian, to the lighting man perched even higher than the angels, my eye records each detail in the scene. The little lambs bleat ad lib, and the violins, sighing like the wind, join the heavenly chorus on cue at the conductor's down beat. And then from out in the auditorium, lit in a dark blue wash of color, pinpoints of light appear. The three hundred-voice chair, carrying votive candles, makes its way through rows and rows of marveling people and kneels around a manger and sings to a new born baby. And as often as not, that baby wails for its real home; the glaring lights, the smell of wellworn costumes, lambs, and grease paint are poor substitutes for the only reality the tiny baby has ever known.

Each year as I work in the Houston Christmas Pageant, it is Bethlehem again for me. In the wonder of the moment I am aware...aware of a renewal, a rebirth of faith in my life, and I celebrate again the word being made flesh and dwelling among us.

Dear God, you who turned earthly mangers into cradles. promises into covenants, and covenants into reality, please turn our feeble faith into glorious song. You who walked in our human footprints, sailed our stormy seas in a frail boat, and died on our stripped tree, remind us again how you can turn ashes into beauty, pain into peace, and death into life. Thank you, Holy One, for the hope of Bethlehem that still shines in our nights. Amen.

Ragan Courtney

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Advent 87 1987 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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