Love as Dawn Draws Near- Monday, December 11th

20171210_071416

WEEK TWO: LOVE AS DAWN DRAWS NEAR

The Glow of a Fireplace

John 13:35 (NRSV)

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

A Danish practice called “Hygge” (pronounced hoo-gha) is becoming popular here and around the world. The word, “Hygge” comes from the Norwegian word meaning “well-being”. Hygge promotes togetherness, coziness and warmth during the long and dark winters. The practice encourages us to make our homes into retreat spaces during the short winter days, with such comforts as blankets, candles, books, mugs of cocoa, board games, and gathering with others.

A fireplace is a perfect setting for Hygge. As we gather near the fire for warmth, we also share the warmth of conversation, laughter, snuggling together, reflection and quiet. We feel the warmth of love shared among friends and family as we settle around the fire. It’s as if the crackling glow of the fireplace invites us to slow down, to build relationships, to reflect on life, and to enjoy the time with those we love.

Our best witness of God’s love is to BE love ourselves. When we genuinely love one another, we are sharing God’s love. Even when we aren’t gathered around the fireplace, we can be warm, friendly, hospitable, and kind. We can pause to listen and be present to others. When God’s love glows through us, people will feel as if they are in the presence of a warm, safe and inviting space to relax and retreat. What a wonderful way for them to experience the sheltering refuge of God’s love. Who might need to experience that love today?

God’s love glows through our loving relationships.

The Second Sunday of Advent, December 10th

LOVE GLOWS AS DAWN DRAWS NEAR: WELCOMING WITH LOVE

Outer Banks 2016 (223)

 Scripture for the Second Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 40:1-11

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

2 Peter 3:8-15a

Mark 1:1-8

Our scripture readings for this Sunday speak of the promise and the assurance of God’s love. Isaiah assures the people of Jerusalem that God will comfort them, will raise every valley, and will be their caring shepherd. Our Psalm tells of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness, righteousness and peace; all that is good. 2 Peter reminds us that God is ever patient with us, wanting everyone to experience God’s salvation. Mark 1 shares the words of John the Baptist, who promises that God will send the Holy Spirit as our comfort and guide. All of these verses describe the many facets of God’s love- love coming to us as comfort, justice, tenderness, faithfulness, righteousness, peace, patience, and guidance.

God’s love is our theme for this week as we watch for the Dawn of Light. These Bible verses were written for people who were in darkness. Times were difficult. The people were broken and hurting. They needed to know that the Light of love was coming. They needed to know they were loved. The same holds true for us today. We all need God’s love in these often imperfect times, for our imperfect selves.

“I rise to taste the dawn, and find that love alone will shine today.”  ~ Ken Wilber

ADVENT WREATH/CANDLES

Turn off the lights and sit in darkness for a few minutes…

~In what ways do you feel unlovable? What imperfections do you see in yourself? Were there times this week when you have been unkind, impatient, selfish, judgmental, stubborn, or unforgiving? In what areas of your life do you need God’s merciful, forgiving love?

~In what ways do you feel unloved? Have you been disappointed by certain events in your life; have you been hurt by certain people in your life? Are there wounds from your past that you need God to soothe and mend? In what areas of your life do you need God’s tender, healing love?

Bring these before God and ask God to replace your brokenness with the love in Christ that only God can give.

Light the first candle of Hope and the second candle of Love.

As we were waiting for the sunrise one morning, the sky gradually brightened and turned lovely hues of gold, orange and rose; signs that the sun would soon appear. With this beauty before us, our friend Kurt suggested that we also turn to look behind us. We observed how the light from the early morning cast beauty everywhere. The countryside was covered with a soft, rosy glow. The shadows were softer, the colors were subtle and gentle, and the earth seemed more peaceful. It was as if the tender love of God was covering the entire world.

At the edge of our brokenness and darkness, God meets us with the soft glow of love, promising us that the Dawn is near. We can look ahead to the faint light on the horizon of a new day, and be assured of God’s loving promise for a brighter future. We can look behind us and discover that the coming Dawn is already healing what has been, too. The glow of God’s love ushers in a new day, giving us a new fresh start. The glow of God’s love also gently covers and softens what is behind us, making even the shadows of our past become beautiful.

God who brings us the Dawn of Light,

As we watch and wait for the Dawn, we welcome the glow of your love that brightens today and blesses yesterday. Thank you for showing us how abundantly we are loved, by giving us your Son, Jesus, as the Dawn of Light. This week, guide us to live as your tender and merciful love in the world. Amen

Hope in the Darkness- Friday, December 8th

20171203_220946

WEEK ONE: HOPE IN THE DARKNESS

The Glimmer of Starlight

Psalm 19:1 (NRSV)

The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.

The last time we visited Jim’s boyhood home in Little Mountain, we stood outside and gazed at the stars. In the country, away from street lights and porch lights, we were able to see so many stars- and even a ‘shooting star’ meteor race across the sky! Isn’t the universe so wondrous, infinite and amazing? We are unable to comprehend it all!  These starry nights lead me to feel very small and insignificant. God’s creation is huge- and I am humbled.

In these moments, I marvel that God loves even me. God loves this one person in this one place on this one earth in this one universe in the infinity of universes we call “space.” The thought makes me consider my problems as quite unimportant! Yet, God loves me and even cares about my smallest concern. THAT is infinite love.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Only in the darkness can you see the stars.” When our life is darkened by despair or anxiety, when we are humbled by our brokenness, God’s awesome, infinite love and power can be more clearly seen. God has created this wondrous universe. Surely God can help us with our needs.

Hope shines in God’s magnificence and majesty.

Hope in the Darkness- Thursday, December 7th

20171203_220946

WEEK ONE: HOPE IN THE DARKNESS

The Glimmer of a Nightlight

Psalm 27:1 (NRSV)

The Lord is my light and my salvation- whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life- of whom shall I be afraid?

Night lights can be such a gift for parents of children! These tiny lights seem to keep those ‘monsters’ away. Night lights enable children to see their surroundings better while making the shadows less dark and threatening. The soft glow of a night light provides enough light for children to see, but usually not enough to disturb their sleep. Another comforting benefit is that children are assured that they can be seen by those who are watching over them. They know they are being protected by loving guardians who will look in on them throughout the night.

We can all be assured that God is watching over us. With or without a night light, we know that we are seen and loved. All night long. Through every darkness, God still sees us, comforts us, holds us, and helps us. We can rest more easily, knowing that, no matter what, God is the stronghold of our lives, and there is no need to be afraid.

Today we have hope because God’s love shines on us to brighten our deepest darkness. We have hope in knowing that we are always seen by our God who cares for us more than we can comprehend or imagine. We have hope because we can sleep peacefully through the darkest night under God’s watchful gaze.

Hope shines under God’s watchful, loving gaze.

 

Hope in the Darkness- Wednesday, December 6th

20171203_220946

WEEK ONE: HOPE IN THE DARKNESS

The Gleam of a Lighthouse Beacon

Isaiah 43:1-2 (NRSV)

But now thus says the Lord…
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you…

Daily living can be much like navigating boats upon the sea. When our days are going smoothly, we feel we can take on the world. The conditions are perfect- sunny skies, light breezes, calm waters- and we become eager to sail out and enjoy the views. (How often do we mistakenly believe that our smooth sailing has come from our skill and expertise, when in reality we have been enabled by perfect conditions?) Sometimes we may venture too far. We float or sail or motor away in our boats of self-sufficiency into unknown deeper waters.  We become SO courageous and confident in ourselves, we forget our frailty, and eventually we are in “over our heads.” Darkness sets in, and we find ourselves caught in a fog of failure, a storm of stress, or a tempest of trials. 

Like the lighthouse on the stormy seas, God keeps shining through the darkness, guiding us, leading us home. Like the lighthouse, God remains steadfast and certain, while we recklessly venture into those deep and dark waters. Like the lighthouse, God beckons us back, calling each of us by name until we are safely home. We only need to keep facing the Light. Keep heading toward the Light. Keep following the Light and we will all be led safely back to shore. This is where we find our hope today.

Hope shines because of God’s steadfast faithfulness.

Hope in the Darkness- Tuesday, December 5th

20171203_220946

WEEK ONE: HOPE IN THE DARKNESS

THE GLEAM OF A LANTERN

Psalm 119:105 (NRSV)

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.

Those of us who have camped outdoors at night can appreciate the power of a ‘lamp for our feet!’ As we walk through the unfamiliar darkness we could easily stumble over obstacles or wander in the wrong direction. It would be unwise to walk blindly ahead on our own, without any assistance. So it is with the paths we walk every day, as well as the longer journey of life itself. We need help to choose the better routes, to see with clarity the obstacles before us (or within us!), and to walk more confidently and steadily.

“Your word is a lamp for my feet…” This verse is so descriptive of God’s provision for us. God’s word in the scriptures, along with God’s Word lovingly shown through Jesus, help guide our steps every day. One interesting aspect of this verse is that we are only given a lamp for our feet. God is not shining a bright spotlight far down the path ahead. When Jesus said, “Do not worry about tomorrow,” he meant that. God’s Word and love are for this present moment. It is enough to know and feel God’s loving guidance, re-direction, and strength for our very next step. We can journey on, one step at a time, confident in God’s caring provision all along the way.

Today, let’s take a few moments to thank God for providing for us in the past.  Let’s also notice how God is providing for us right now. As we do so, we will find our hope for every next step, for every unknown path that lies ahead.

Hope shines in God’s sufficient provision.

Hope in the Darkness- Monday, December 4th

20171203_220946

WEEK ONE: HOPE IN THE DARKNESS

THE GLIMMER OF A CANDLE

Psalm 62:5 (NRSV)

For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.

A few Sundays ago Pastor Mike explained that the lighted Christ candle in our worship space is a symbol of Christ’s presence among us. He reminded us that Jesus’ presence is everywhere- not just in our worship space- but all around us and within us. The candle flame represents Jesus, who is the Light of our world.

There IS something so beautifully quiet, peaceful and holy in a candle flame. I often light a candle when I want to be reminded of the presence of Christ, when I want to keep someone in prayer, or when I want to remain aware that I am called to be Jesus’ love for others. The small flame can light up even the darkest room. The soft scent of the candle also permeates the room as a gentle reminder that I am the aroma of Christ.

We become so busy during the Advent season, with preparations, decorations, parties, events, and travels – along with our usual busy routines – quickly filling our days. Because we are distracted by schedules and festivities, we often miss Jesus’ presence among and within us. Christ is present always and everywhere, but we are too busy to notice.

Light the candle of hope and take a moment to just be still. Sit quietly in the presence of God in Christ. We were reminded yesterday that as we await the Dawn of Light, we know in our hearts that the Dawn has come. Our hope is here, now, even in the darkness. If we still ourselves long enough to notice, we will feel God’s presence, once again giving us hope for each new day. You may like to keep a candle burning throughout the day as a gentle reminder that you could be God’s hope-filled presence for someone else, too.

Hope shines in God’s constant presence.

The First Sunday of Advent, December 3rd

HOPE GLIMMERS IN THE DARKNESS: WAITING WITH HOPE

cell as of Dec 2 2017 003

Scripture for the First Sunday in Advent

Isaiah 64:1-9

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

Mark 13:24-37

All of today’s scripture verses include pleas for help- “Oh, that you would tear open the heavens and come down” (Isaiah 64:1), pleas for restoration- “Restore us, O God… let your face shine that we may be saved” (Psalm 80:3) and an admonition to keep alert- “Be aware, keep alert, for you do not know when the time will come” (Mark 13:33). Even though these verses were written many years ago, they are just as pertinent for our days here and now. We are imperfect people living in a broken world, and we earnestly seek- no, we desperately need- the hope of God’s restoration and presence for each new day.

God gives us that hope. Always we are promised that “God is faithful” (1 Corinthians 1:9). God has shown us so generously through Jesus that God’s love is for us, God’s love will restore us, and God’s presence is always with us. Perhaps the instruction to “Keep alert!” is actually a promise that we will see God coming to us even in this moment, if we only pay attention!

“Hope is not only found in the dawning of the new day, but in our trust- even in the darkest night- that the dawn will indeed come.”    (KLW)

ADVENT WREATH/CANDLES

Turn off the lights and sit in darkness for a few minutes…

What worldly concerns might be bringing darkness into your spirit? Where do you need God’s restoration? Are you discouraged or frustrated? Is there an area in your life in which you lack clarity or purpose? In what areas of your life do you especially need God’s presence? Bring these before God and ask God to replace your concerns with the hope in Christ that only God can give.

Light the first candle, the candle of Hope.

In the darkness as we await the dawn, we know these things: the dawn has come before, the dawn will come again, and the dawn never fails to come to us every day. And so it is with Jesus. This season, as we watch for Jesus, the Dawn of Light, we know that he has come before, he will come again, and he continues to come to us, every day.

This is our reason for hope. Like the dawn, God has shown us through Jesus that God always comes to us. God comes to us, anyway. The conditions aren’t perfect, we aren’t perfect, the timing isn’t perfect, and still God comes. God comes in our darkest nights. God comes in our darkest times of illness, grief, uncertainty, sinfulness, or anxiety. God gives us Jesus, our Dawn of Light, for every day of our lives, forever.

The moon is full on this 1st Sunday in Advent. Doesn’t this serve as a wonderful reminder that God gives us hope in the darkness?

God who brings us the Dawn of Light,

Thank you for this special season, as we watch for your gift, your Son, Jesus. Help us to make the most of this time of watching and waiting. Open our hearts to recognize all the ways you give us hope, the ways you are our hope. May we live with such hope that others may also find their hope in you. Amen.

ADVENT: Watching for the Dawn of Light- Introduction

Imported from old computer 1331

John 8:12

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

When I mentioned to Pastor Michael my idea of writing Advent devotions around a variety of lights, he thought of the image of Jesus coming as the Dawn of Light upon our darkness. How beautifully this Dawn of Light will guide our time of Advent waiting! We will watch and wait for Jesus as we would watch for the dawn, by moving through the deep night, to the early glow of light, to the first peek of the sun, to the full dawn of day.

Each week, our Advent candles and devotions will focus on the hope, love, joy and peace that Jesus brings. You’re invited to use an Advent wreath as part of your devotional time, or simply use four candles arranged around the Christ candle in the center. On Sunday, there will be a candle-lighting devotion based on our theme of moving from the darkness to the dawn. From Monday through Friday our devotions will focus on a variety of lights and how they bring to mind the blessings God shares with us in the gift of Jesus. Saturdays will be times of reflection, or a chance to “catch up” if you’ve missed any devotions earlier in the week.

Jesus came to us and continues to come to us as the Light of the world. This Advent, may we all grow in our awareness of the loving presence of God-with-us: Jesus, our bright Dawn of Light upon our darkness.

(On a personal note, these devotions are written as a “thank you” gift to my new friends of St. John. You have blessed Jim and me so much as we make West Virginia our new home. You all have been lights of Christ for us. May you feel blessed by the hope, love, joy and peace we have- all because of Jesus!)

Advent Begins this Sunday!

Outer Banks 2016 (141)

Dear Friends,

I am blessed to be writing Advent devotions for our new faith community, St. John United Methodist Church in Scott Depot, WV. If you would like to prepare your heart and renew your spirit as we await Jesus, our Light of the world, I will be sharing these devotions here at Simply Soul Searching. “Watching for the Dawn of Light” begins this Sunday, December 3rd, with an Introduction on Friday the 1st. The devotions will continue each day (except Saturdays) through the end of the month. The Sunday devotions will include lighting an Advent wreath. If you like, you may simply use four candles and a larger Christ candle.

May our hearts be transformed during this special season, as we move from darkness into the full Dawn of Light!