What I learned writing Advent devotions

This past season of Advent, I wrote daily devotions which I sent to anyone interested in receiving them. I had about twenty-five folks subscribe, so I was committed to twenty-four devotions, beginning December 1. I chose a selection of bible passages that mentioned darkness and light as the calendar moved us slowly but surely to the winter solstice. The increasing darkness each day was a perfect backdrop for the coming of light, fuel for both physical and spiritual insights. Here are a few things I learned writing this collection of devotions.

  • From the beginning to the end, there are a lot of verses in the bible that mention dark and light. While darkness is used to describe sin, wickedness and death, light brings hope, righteousness and life.
  • Writing daily devotions is hard work. Especially when you’re working from a theme. (I wrote devotions last Lent, too, but used two chapters of a gospel.) Even though each was only three- to five-hundred words, I often struggled to find meaning or application for the passages. This is actually a good thing. It made me stop and think, dig a little deeper, and find personal application. Each one had an important lesson for me.
  • I didn’t get much feedback. Maybe that’s a good thing. My writing could probably use some work. Anyway, you never know who is or who isn’t reading your work. Apart from a few, “I’m really enjoying your devotions,” I didn’t get many comments at all.
  • When you are writing every day, you develop a rhythm. You get into a groove. The more you write, the easier it is to write. I am sure the daily routine improved my writing. It is a good discipline to commit to.
  • I think I wrote more for myself than for others. I wanted to show myself that I could do it. I felt the need to create rather than just consume ideas and insights.

I’m not sure if I’ll do this again. I felt like I could only write once a day, so I put my blog on hold. It took time, maybe ninety minutes or so every day. That’s a lot of time to devote.

But I probably will.

A wonderful, beautiful, minor key.

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Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

At noon and then again this evening at our midweek Advent worship services, I realized that all the hymns I picked out were in a minor key.

Songs in a minor key sound sad, melancholy, foreboding and desperate. And yet, I love the minor keys. They sound so real, passionate and gutsy. They don’t soar like major keys, lifting our hearts, but dive deeply, into the depths of our souls.

Really? At Christmas? The “most wonderful time of the year” which is designed to be “merry and bright?” Whoa, big guy, it’s not Christmas yet. It’s Advent. It’s still a time of reflection, repentance and even desperation. Good thing. We need help.

Like an endless line of dominoes, those in the public eye are falling to allegations of inappropriate sexual misconduct. A seemingly endless obituary of innocent victims shot at concerts, in schools and on the street floods our eyes with tears and minds with fears. Smartphones connect us with more people than ever, yet we sit home lonelier than ever. Rockets take us closer to Mars, and bring nuclear weapons closer to our homes.

Jesus steps into that world. He was condemned for inappropriate contact with people you weren’t supposed to be near. He was innocent, yet condemned and executed. Surrounded by crowds, he ended up on the cross alone. He spoke of leaving this world, which was coming to a violent end.

Anyone see a connection here? First, there’s nothing new under the sun. We’ve been struggling with these issues for a long, long time. Second, we can’t seem to fix the problems. They keep coming up over and over again. Third, our fears of the end are legitimate. This world will not last forever.

Thank God! This is not what He intended, nor what we were created for. We need a new heaven and a new earth. Soon. Churches like ours that observe Advent pray long and hard for that. We know that is our only hope.

But at least we have hope. We have something to look forward to. As a musician I know that if you raise the third just one half step, you will feel the lift of a major chord, and it never fails to thrill me. I love those hymns, so close, so achingly close to a resolution, a major key, and new life.

Five ways to stay close to God during a busy holiday season.

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Photo by Gareth Harper on Unsplash

It seems like a no-brainer. The holiday season, spanning Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas and New Years is rooted in Christian tradition, filled with special music and worship services, and fills our view with many Christian themes. The busyness of the season, whether it’s planning for guests, getting ready for travel, scheduling worship, buying and wrapping gifts or practicing for performances, we may discover that there isn’t a whole lot of room for Christ himself, a problem dating back to the birth of our Lord.

So, how do you stay close to God during this fun, amazing and busy time of the year?

Put him on the calendar. There’s worship at your church on Sunday mornings and maybe some midweek services during Lent. Ink them in and be there. Our Lord promises to join our worship gatherings of two, three or more, speaks to us as His Word is proclaimed, and brings His gifts of grace in the sacrament. These worship moments provide an anchor when you find yourself being pulled in many different directions.

Do a “plus one.” OK, you already have a morning quiet time or evening devotion. Grab a seasonal devotion and give him an extra five minutes. Our church gives them out. Many are available online. Here’s a great one from Lutheran Hour Ministries. Just like that first cup of coffee, jump start your day with His word rather than all the other things going on. It makes all the difference in the world. (Bonus points: get or make a little Advent wreath and burn the candles.)

Play a little sacred seasonal music. You can listen to non-stop Christian music every day beginning well before Thanksgiving. Much of it, however, will be secular rather than sacred. You can find it on Pandora, Spotify, YouTube and Amazon if you look. Most of your favorite artists have a Christmas album. I like “All I Want For Christmas is You” and “Sleigh Ride” as much as the next person, but you can do a whole lot better.

If you send Christmas cards, send one with a Christian message. You would not believe how many member of my church send me secular Christmas cards featuring cardinals, snowmen, and Santas! It’s usually around 50%! There are so many amazing and affordable cards that creatively capture the birth of Christ. Pick up a box of those to send out, for your sake and theirs.

Serve. Help out at church, help out a neighbor, help at a local ministry. Don’t just give something or send something. Be there. Jesus said, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” Jesus came and spent time with those who seemed furthest away from the kingdom. That’s where you’ll still find him in this world.

If those don’t work for you, I’m OK with that. If gingerbread, Burl Ives, Kris Kringle, mistletoe and the Hallmark Channel do it for you, go for it. If not, why not try something different this year?