In Everlasting Light, Justice Shines, Sunday Devotional for Advent 2023 Written by Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon, CMEP’s Executive Director
Isaiah 62:6-12 | Psalm 97 | Titus 3:4-7 | Luke 2:(1-7), 8-20
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” (Luke 2:8-15)
The hope of Christmas morning is the Good News that light prevails in darkness. Today, we celebrate the nativity story and the birth of a young child in Bethlehem named Immanuel, reminding us that “God is with us.” In the world’s darkness, the Christ child brought us everlasting light that overcomes the darkness.
In Preparation for the Arrival, Sunday Devotional for Advent 2023 Written by Katheryn Hamm, who traveled with CMEP to the Holy Land in Spring 2023, and Adysen Moylan, Trips Coordinator
Isaiah 9:2-7 | Psalm 96 | Titus 2:11-14 | Luke 2:1-14, (15-20)
Simon Sinek said: “Life is beautiful not because of the things we see or do. Life is beautiful because of the people we meet.” In traveling to the Holy Land this past spring, I was in constant amazement at the diverse landscapes, the historical significance of the sites, and the opportunity to experience the places where Jesus walked and taught. However, our tour guide, Nabil, and our bus driver, Faisel made the trip beautiful and memorable. These two men had never met or worked with each other before, yet there was an immediate sense of respect, cooperation, calmness, and devotion between them. Our group contained about fifteen people, and both men formed deep and independent connections with each of us. The smallness of our group allowed them to give us a heads-up when they thought upcoming sights would interest a particular person or to know when someone was overwhelmed with information and in need of a break. Their gentleness and loving demeanor extended to our group and to everyone they met. Despite their previous, deeply troubling experiences with the Israeli government and military, both men continually chose to love, show kindness, and practice unconditional grace, even to those who have done them wrong.
Praying the Psalms, Saturday Meditation for Advent 2023 Written by Lauren Draper, Middle East Fellow
Malachi 3: 1-4, 23-24 | Psalm 25 | Luke 1: 57-66
Praying the Psalms is a longstanding Christian tradition. It is a discipline of centering prayer back to scripture, and it is mirrored on Christ’s own actions throughout the Gospels. In this practice, read through the psalm, line by line, making the words of the psalm your own. If it is helpful to you, think of the psalm like a Christmas tree, and hang your own personal worries, doubts, praises, or joys onto its branches.
In you, LORD my God, I put my trust.
I trust in you; do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me.
No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame, but shame will come on those who are treacherous without cause.
Show me your ways, LORD, teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.
Remember, LORD, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you, LORD, are good.
Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.
All the ways of the LORD are loving and faithful toward those who keep the demands of his covenant.
For the sake of your name, LORD, forgive my iniquity, though it is great.
Who, then, are those who fear the LORD? He will instruct them in the ways they should choose.
They will spend their days in prosperity, and their descendants will inherit the land.
The LORD confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them.
My eyes are ever on the LORD, for only he will release my feet from the snare.
Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.
Relieve the troubles of my heart and free me from my anguish.
Look on my affliction and my distress and take away all my sins.
See how numerous are my enemies and how fiercely they hate me!
Guard my life and rescue me; do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.
May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope, LORD, is in you.
Deliver Israel, O God, from all their troubles!
About the Author: Lauren earned her bachelor’s in Arabic and Middle East studies from the University of St Andrews in Scotland. After spending four years in youth ministry and community building in the UK, she moved to Jerusalem. In Israel/Palestine, she continues to utilize this relational skill set through the position of Middle East Fellow, while also elevating the voices of Christian leaders in the region.
Awareness Examen, Friday Meditation for Advent 2023 Written by Lauren Draper, Middle East Fellow
Hebrews 7:18-25 | Mark 10:24-32
Hebrews 7: 18-19 holds in tension the former commandment and the new covenant, weakness traded for hope: “For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.”
Reflective Prayer, Thursday Meditation for Advent 2023 Written by Lauren Draper, Middle East Fellow
Hebrews 7:1-6| Mark 10:17-27
And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.”And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Mark 10:17-27
At that time, Jesus and his disciples came to Capernaum, and when he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they were silent; for on the way, they had discussed with one another who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve; and he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” And he took a child, and put him in the midst of them; and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”
John said to him, “Teacher, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ, will by no means lose his reward.”
Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to live in Jesus’ day and to be among his disciples? Today, I invite you to imagine just that.
The spiritual practice of gospel contemplation is a form of prayer in which you imagine that you are present with Jesus in a story from the Gospels. By envisioning yourself physically in the room with Jesus, the words will be transformed into the language of your heart, and your spirit will be opened more widely to Jesus’ ministry to you today.
Begin by reading the passage from Mark reflectively. Now, read the passage again, then set the text aside, and contemplate the scene:
Jesus has arrived in Capernaum with his disciples, and he asks them a simple question. Knowing that the answer is awkward, the disciples are silent and perhaps embarrassed. Of course, Jesus knows the answer already, but his next comments are not a rebuke so much as kind guidance.
As you reflect on the unfolding story, imagine you are there, literally and physically present. You walked with Jesus and his disciples earlier that day, and you have now arrived in the house. Look around the room. What do you see? Hear? Smell? When Jesus asks what the disciples are talking about, he is asking you too. How do you respond?
As the experience proceeds, Jesus brings a child into the middle of the room. Where does the child come from? Do you know the child? What is going through your mind as Jesus proceeds to teach you about what it means to be great in His kingdom?
Then the topic turns when John asks a new question. As you hear Jesus’ response, does it seem to be a new topic, or is it part of Jesus’ earlier teaching about greatness and humility?
These moments in the house with Jesus seem informal and conversational. Do you have a question you want to ask Jesus? What might it be? As the story unfolds, notice details you’ve never seen before.
As with all spiritual practices, the purpose of gospel contemplation is to place yourself into God’s forming hands. With this particular practice, it is not about using your imagination to control or conjure up a scene – but allowing God to use your imagination to speak more deeply to your heart, mind, and spirit about who God is and to see the world by God’s light.
About the Author: Ben is a researcher and public organizer. Inspired by his study of higher education in Palestine, Ben currently works on the ways educational and epistemological structures develop responsively to physical landscapes, especially those that are highly configured and imposed. In his local community, Ben helps churches engage more thoughtfully with Native communities and come to terms with histories of injustice.
Ben holds his Ph.D. in Higher Education from Azusa Pacific University (Los Angeles) and his M.A. in Liberal Arts from St. John’s College (Annapolis). Ben’s dissertation is a qualitative project exploring adaptive Palestinian approaches to pedagogy.
In his career in higher education leadership, Ben has experience building international educational partnerships, teaching, and establishing an academic center for applied public research.
I was introduced to the meditative practice of Lectio Divina a few years ago, and it’s been a great help and inspiration to my spirit ever since. Lectio Divina is Latin for “divine reading,” “spiritual reading,” or “holy reading.” The goal is to read through a passage of Scripture three times and commune with the Spirit of the living Christ. Read in the mind and out loud, with careful concentration on the words, pausing at the commas, and breathing after the end of sentences. While this is a beautiful practice any day of the year, please join us in thinking of our brothers and sisters in the Middle East as we go through these steps:
In Palestine/Israel, few things feel certain. In spending time there, one grows accustomed to a life that moves at the speed of the news cycle and days that often feel shadowed by grief. Even so, no matter what trials the day holds, it ends with the sky painted in the most beautiful sunset– a sign of the land’s enduring beauty and an expression of faith for a better tomorrow to come. There is much tension in a place that is both so sacred and so enmeshed in conflict. This makes it even more vital to share the truth of this place– in all of its joys, sorrows, and yearnings.
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. (2 Peter 3:8-9a)
What does it mean to wait ‘in earnest’? The author of 2 Peter wrote to a community seemingly confused by what seemed a long wait for Jesus’ return. In earlier verses in Peter chapter 3, the author mentions the “scoffers” in the community sowing division, apparently taunting Jesus’s followers by questioning why he had yet to fulfill his promise to return. But the Epistle writer turns this line of thinking on its head:“Do not ignore the fact, beloved, that with the Lord, one day is like a thousand years…” This passage reminds us God’s timing and the human conception of time are not always aligned. From this reading, might we also remember the importance of living in the in-between.