December 2nd, 2018 Luke 21:25-36 Rev. Renee Hollinshed, FOCUS Acting Executive Director There is nothing strange about the events being reported in today’s news leading to devastation.This scripture warns us of this imminent destruction, but our joy shall focus on the coming of God’s kingdom! Those who lack a relationship with God may be filled with fear and uncertainty, but Christians can rest assured that “Help is on the way!” (v. 28, MSG) Jesus is reminding us to “watch and pray constantly.” We are not to get caught in the web of “parties, drinking and shopping,” for we don’t want to be caught off guard, unaware, or asleep at our post. When we guard our hearts and minds against the things we witness, our confidence in Christ helps us “escape” through the devastating news, so we can stand in eager anticipation before Christ. Jesus’ words ring with authority, and warns us to get and stay ready. To be steadfast no matter the destruction, even the cosmic events. These are not a threat to us, but a promise to end our suffering! So rejoice, Paul says, for wrongs will be righted at Christ’s appearance because we know … God’s Word never fails! Heavenly Father, Everlasting Lord, we thank you for the Word that breathes life into the lifeless, and comforts us in our hour of need! Help us stay alert as we await the coming of Your Son, and fill us with Your love, Your joy, and Your peace as we endure until that sweet hour of when Your Kingdom comes. Amen. December 3rd, 2018 Psalm 90 Richard Gascoyne, First Presbyterian Church I picked up an acorn from a tree whose parent had lived there for 300 years, and whose generations of oak trees had lived in that same spot for eons, as the Vikings, the Romans, and the Phoenicians passed through. I was in Guernica, the center of Basque country, where their language, culture, government and religion predate the Indo-Europeans; the place that Hitler bombed to smithereens on market day in 1937 and Picasso immortalized in his controversial painting. The Basques live! Their government house, home of their ancient laws, the “fueros,” similar to the 10 Commandments and the Bill of Rights, stood before me by the oak tree. It looked like a Greek temple to the gods. I stepped inside, only to find a legislative chamber. There were crucifixes on the wall, and the Basque national logo, which seems to be a symbol of the sun – a strange combination. The essence of “something” was there. I felt it in my blood, my brain, my heart. I held an acorn in my hand. In a later age a young girl will hold a baby in her arms. “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.” Eternal God, our Way, our Truth, and our Life, teach us to count our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Amen. December 4th, 2018 Revelation 22:12-16 Rev. Bill Schram, Westminster Presbyterian The world is a broken, fearful place both now and in Biblical times. We see hardship and challenge for God’s people; we see refugees fleeing violence either from Romans or Herod or the violence of today’s world. We see people seeking to be faithful and those who are seeking just to get by day to day. Advent is a time of still hoping. Not for Jesus’ birth, that’s come and gone. Now we hope for him to return and set things right, and clean up the mess. We still want a savior, perhaps even with a terrible, swift judgment. But what we need is a savior who brings a terrible, swift mercy. We need a savior this merciful because it is we also who need this much mercy. The rest of the world predicts the rise of darkness, desperation, death, fear, and blame. We speak of still having hope. We dare to believe that living in the starlight of the birth and the morning light of the resurrection allow us to live, still speaking of hope in the light of Jesus’ bright, morning star when his love will reign over all. In this dark time of year, we string lights of hope. In dark times of life, help us be the lights of hope as we reflect the light of Jesus, our bright morning star. Amen December 5th, 2018 Isaiah 1:24-31 Leroy Suess, First Church Albany Pinched in the middle of seven prophetic verses, Isaiah announces, “Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city. Zion shall be redeemed by justice and those in her repent, by righteousness.” How true might those words ring in our ears and hearts? For we live in a time not too dissimilar from Isaiah’s, except for one big difference. We live on the other side of that prophetic voice due to the blessed assurance of the advent of Christ, which we are now in the midst of trudging through again. Times were tough then in Judea and Jerusalem. Times aren’t easy now in Jerusalem and Albany, in the days of Netanyahu and Mayor Sheehan. Plenty of gloom and doom still abound. Yet there is hope. Advent hope. The adventure of being a prisoner of hope. The hope of being redeemed by justice to come, to eventually come. For fun I looked up the word “adventure” and the third definition was “A bold, usually risky undertaking, hazardous action of uncertain outcome” with which I righteously agree. For we are marching through Advent with a most CERTAIN outcome of hope fulfilled, that day is anon when the world, not just here or there cities, will be redeemed by justice, and those who repent by righteousness. Yes! Come Lord Jesus! Imagine this: Albany being called a city of righteousness, or how about this: America a country of righteousness? Or one further adventurous outlook, the whole world? Haven’t you sung it – “He’s got the Whole World in His Hands?” COME LORD JESUS! Amen! December 6th, 2018 Philippians 1:12-18 Rev. Chris Vande Bunte, Delmar Reformed Church Have you ever met those “silver lining” people? They find the silver lining in every situation, person, and cloud of life. Frankly, they can be a little irritating. After all, we don’t always want to look for the good in a situation. Yet, here is Paul, pouring out his heart to his friends who are worried about him, and to us. He says his imprisonment has actually been a “good thing” because it is helping him spread the Gospel to more and more people. While many of us would find it hard to find a silver lining being imprisoned, it is difficult to object to Paul. When someone we know has gone through something difficult, yet perseveres, overcomes, and then uses the experience to encourage others, it can be as powerful as Paul’s letter. As we journey through Advent, many of us find it to be a difficult time. Perhaps grief or pain suffered in the past doesn’t seem to fade. It can turn us off to the idea of celebration and especially to the people around us who are having “the perfect Christmas.” Deep down, though, we know even those who look happy, experience hurt and pain too. Perhaps, then, when Advent seems to bring more blues than joy, instead of turning inward, we might seek to encourage others by sharing our story. Like Paul, together we can help one another through, sharing Good News even in difficult circumstances. In lifting others, we too may find new strength for the journey. Emmanuel, as we prepare for your coming, we sometimes come with grief and pain, as much as joy and celebration. Help us to share your love and Good News with one another in the ups and downs of life, as we seek to welcome your incredible love enfleshed into our lives and world once again. Amen. December 7th, 2018 Malachi 3:1-4 Judy Hartley, Westminster Presbyterian Malachi is the last of the Old Testament prophets. Little, if anything, is known about the last of the minor prophets in the Bible. A short summary of the book of Malachi is this grand message he delivers. Malachi makes it clear in his message that a Messenger or a King is coming, and that Messenger will be of great power. All will be tested. That test will be thorough and arduous. Malachi warns believers and unbelievers of the refiner and purifier of silver as unyielding and severe. Using the tension between the sins of the fallen and the Messenger’s formidable test, Malachi directs our attention to an unpredictable future. By preparing us for the future, and for the test, and by holding our feet to the refiner’s fire, we are being guided to a more pure or deeper understanding of the Messenger’s teachings and lessons: Jesus’ lessons and teaching. Purifying God, test and cleanse us now as we prepare for the arrival of our Messenger and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. December 8th, 2018 Psalm 25 Marilyn Pendergast, Trinity United Methodist Church What does a psalm written about 500 years before Jesus was born have to tell us about Advent, about preparing ourselves for the birth of Christ? We celebrate Christmas as a time of joy, of family togetherness, presents, feasts, giving, and receiving. But Advent is a time for us to contemplate and prepare ourselves for the greatest gift of all. David was an older man, beset by war and treachery, yet he begins with “O God, I trust in thee.”Our world today is likewise frightening and we can feel powerless…can we remember to trust God and not despair? “Show me thy ways O Lord, teach me thy paths.” Can we spend time each day in prayerful contemplation, to give God the chance to guide us in our personal relationships, our work, and our lives? “O Lord, pardon my iniquity for it is great.” We are human and often do not follow God’s path but rather our own desires. Can we seek forgiveness and resolve that we can do better? We can be better? “My eyes are ever toward the Lord, he will deliver me from my troubles.” Trust is a key element of faith. Can we prepare for the coming of our Savior, filled with hope and knowledge, that God has blessed us and continues to do so each day, even when the day seems dark? With God’s help, we can. O God, teach us your ways and guide our lives to make us worthy of your gifts. We are hungry for peace and healing of our souls that can only come through your grace. Amen. Click here to view the complete FOCUS Churches Advent 2018 Devotional FOCUS was created in 1967 when pastors of four churches in downtown Albany recognized a need to join together in a cooperative spirit. Over the next decades FOCUS identified serious physical needs of those in poverty. For more than 30 years, FOCUS has operated feeding programs which have grown to include tow food pantries, a year-round breakfast program which guests themselves named, “The Breakfast Club.” FOCUS is also dedicated to educating others about the realities of poverty and advocating for the needs of those suffering injustice. FOCUS has committed to speak truth to power in addition to its direct ministries of the body. Today, FOCUS is a stand-alone not for profit organization, separate from those member churches that first envisioned what such a community could accomplish. FOCUS honors its roots and the original vision (read the FOCUS Covenant here) but continues seeking new ways to address issues we and our neighbors face. We welcome participation from all individuals and organizations seeking justice in our world. For more information, please visit our FOCUS Churches of Albany website.