December 9th, 2018 Luke 1:68-79 Kathleen Moore, Emmanuel Baptist Zechariah has his voice back after nine long months of being unable to speak. He uses it to praise the God of Israel, who is at that moment raising up salvation — Justice and Righteousness— among his people. There will be liberation from their oppression. Zechariah’s own son, John the Baptist, will be someone who will call people to righteous living, and he will point to Jesus as Savior. In September, I met a woman in Flint who is a Water Warrior, whose voice had been reduced to a whisper due to nerve damage from toxic effects of the water in that city. As we — those of us who had come to listen, and those who had come to speak of the impacts of the water crisis —sat in a circle in the dark, the phrase, “giving voice to the voiceless” reverberated in my mind. Does not God require that we do justice for people everywhere affected by environmental issues? Each of us can give voice to all those parts of Creation so affected. O, for a thousand tongues to sing praises of the One who, even now, commands us to do justice. I pray that I will find a voice to speak the Word of liberation for all, to hear it when others speak it, and to act accordingly. Amen. December 10th, 2018 Psalm 126 Mike Asbury, FOCUS Pastor of Breakfast Programs The psalmist described each of these as a heavenly gift … to dream, to laugh, to sing, to cry, to carry seeds, and to reap harvest in joy for all. Each is a human and spiritual experience that requires life and time to grow within us and alongside others. Each is a gift to contemplate in life and time, yet mere life and time are no guarantees from what we understand God’s purpose in any of these. My life has been lived in a forward direction; and understood only in a backwards direction. My life, our life in Christ, our True-Self, our life from the Holy Spirit in Christ, begins as an infant, a child, and as a man raised from the dead. This has taught me that we must go out weeping, carrying seeds to sow in this world. If not of this world, we are to be restored, reborn, and return to sing of joy in the harvest with others. The more we directly give Christ our life, our time, our unseemly seeds to sow in this world, the more Christ will appear within us. Though not of this world, as the Lord of the Harvest, the “nations,” or those of this world, will take notice. Advent is looking forward for Christ to come, again and again, and yet like life or the harvest, it must be understood looking backwards. After sowing seeds in our tears, it is soon time for the Lord of the Harvest. Oh, Mother and Father God, enliven us to be still, to wait and to watch. Amen. December 11th, 2018 Isaiah 40:1-11 Rev. Marcy Rudins, Delmar Reformed Church Timing has a way of surprising us in life. Whether that be with unforeseen opportunities or with varied nuances to our daily routines, sometimes the particular timing of such events can wake us up to unexpected feelings, memories, or thoughts. One of those times was when I began meditating on the verses found in Isaiah 40. In the midst of writing this devotional, I received a call from a friend sharing that he would be going into the hospital, and from what the doctors shared, “… it didn’t look good.” Various feelings of sadness, frustration, and fear came over me, and in all honesty it was hard for me to look at Isaiah 40. It’s hard to read Scripture, at times, when there is so much pain in the world. Sometimes it’s easier to shove the Bible away, along with the painful memories and thoughts of hopelessness. If we crack open our Bible to the verses in Isaiah 40, we hear of a God who isn’t forcing us to be happy or even to be feeling a certain way in light of trauma and terror. What we hear instead is a God who comforts us, meets us where we are at, and holds us with tender care. Maybe you too have experienced grief and sorrow this past year, and don’t really know where to turn to. The beauty of Advent, and of the Gospel, is that it’s a reminder that you don’t need to be any particular way for God to come to you. But that God always has and always will be with you. Maternal God, who tenderly holds us in your arms, I have a lot of questions, doubts, fears, pain, and trauma that I’ve been holding onto for a long time and I’m tired. Father in heaven and God with all of us, continue to receive me as I am, and extend your almighty comfort to me. In the power and precious name of Jesus, I pray. Amen. December 12th, 2018 2 Peter 1:2-15 Keith Barber, First Presbyterian Church A gift is not complete until it is accepted and put to meaningful use. Shortly before my high school graduation, my dad gave me an old Pontiac to use for transportation to the summer job he’d arranged for me as a telegrapher for the railroad. I was to pay for the gas and handle upkeep, to save a large percentage of my pay to cover upcoming college expenses, and to not embarrass him with his co-workers on the railroad. In the process, a stronger bond grew between my dad and me. We worked together to do some body restoration on the Pontiac. I did not embarrass him with his railroad buddies; in fact, I did a pretty good job. The railroad even invited me back to work during every college vacation. And I think I became a better person for the experience. Here, the author of 2nd Peter encourages us to accept and put to meaningful use the most wonderful, most fantastic, most glorious gift the universe has ever seen: the gift of Godself to humankind. To you and to me. It is not enough to just say “Thanks, God,” and go on with our lives just as before. In coming among us, God shows us how to live in ways that will not only please God, but will bring joy and peace to us. The author spells out a chain of virtues that God readily offers: faith, knowledge, goodness, self-control, endurance, Godliness, mutual affection, and love. He presents a series of gifts, each one leading to another, and all springing from the original gift of Godself among us, and ultimately bringing us eternal life with God in his heavenly Kingdom. As we anticipate the birth of Jesus, the manifestation of your Word in flesh living among us, may we joyously anticipate this beautiful gift and all it represents. May we open our souls and minds to the gift and prepare to receive it and act upon it. Amen. December 13th, 2018 Amos 6.1-8 Becky Hudak, First Church Albany The first time, actually several times, I read this scripture passage I thought “WHAT!!?? Why is this passage included in an Advent devotional?” Several verses begin “Woe to those who are” …middle class/upper class/privileged. I found myself squirming, feeling guilty and uncomfortable.This isn’t a feel-good Christmas message, and I don’t want to feel guilty in the middle of this season of joy! Over the course of the next few weeks I settled down and listened for God’s voice in these verses. I came to see that, indeed, this passage belongs in the middle of my Advent journey. I am brought back to center, reminded that in the midst of my holiday preparations, Christ came into this world for all of us; rich and poor, privileged and marginalized. As FOCUS church congregations we have a heart for this city, a fire that burns inside of us for social justice, equality, and dignity for all. This scripture is exactly what I need to hear today so I don’t become consumed by consumerism. Jesus is “the reason for the season.” Jesus who came into the world, God made flesh, to show us how to live, love, and care for one another. Lord, thank you for pricking my spirit. For bringing me back to you in this busy holiday season. For reminding me why we celebrate the birth of our savior, Jesus. Amen. December 14th, 2018 2 Corinthians 9:1-15 David McMillan, Westminster Presbyterian The people of the young church in Corinth were quite a crew; some slaves and others rich, some Jews and some Gentiles. Paul worked and lived with them for more than a year before he felt secure to leave them on their own. When he did leave they promised to take a collection for the people of the young church in Jerusalem. Wherever he went he boasted about their generosity. Now he was going back to Corinth. Would the gift be ready, cash in hand? If so, then he could arrange to have it sent east to Jerusalem while he went west to Rome. When he arrived in Corinth, the money was there but the Corinthians wanted him to take the money himself, to go hundreds of miles away from Rome. Could he give the gift of surrendering his hope to satisfy his friends? Thus it was that Paul reluctantly accepted their request, sat down with his scribe and dictated a letter to the Romans, a letter that was to become the foundation of our faith, a letter that would never have been written had he gone to Rome. Strange are your ways. When your plans invade my plans, give me the gift of grace. Amen. December 15th, 2018 Isaiah 12:2-6 Michael Cooper, Delmar Reformed Church How often have you felt that you are unworthy of God? We may be caught up in the mundane chores of our lives, or conflicted over a thought or action we have taken that we know deviates from the path God laid out for us. At such times it may seem that the path to God’s kingdom is so long, or so difficult to follow, that we are tempted to give up and let ourselves follow whatever trajectory our desires lead us to. I’m fairly certain that for many of us, one of your favorite movies is The Wizard of Oz, a staple of our childhood and a yearly ritual on TV (in those ancient days before videos, DVDs, and streaming services). Dorothy, the lost girl from Kansas, and her three compatriots are given a very simple task by Glinda, the Good Witch: Follow the Yellow Brick Road. If they follow that advice they will find their way to the Kingdom of Oz, even though there are Wicked Witches, flying monkeys, and other creatures trying to divert them from the path. And, in the end (spoiler alert), she discovers that the power to return home was inside her the whole time, and the others found that the answer to their true desires was not on the Yellow Brick Road but in their hearts, minds, and courage. In the same way, Isaiah is reminding us that the way to our salvation was within us all the time. By singing and praising the Lord, we can draw water from the wells of salvation. Dear Lord, please remind me on a daily basis that the way to your Kingdom may not be a straight, even road, but that I can call upon you to give me the strength I need for the journey. 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.