Prayers4Peace: Fourth Sunday of Advent 2023, Christmas Eve

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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

Readings:

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. 

To meet these two men who decided to live this way in a region riddled by division and chaos, I couldn’t help but fall completely in love with them, as did the rest of our group. Nabil and Faisel embodied the reading of Titus 2:11-14 in our modern world:

“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” 

Our trip was made truly beautiful because of Nabil and Faisel, and the course of my life has been altered for the better just by meeting them and witnessing their Everlasting Light. 

——————

During the Advent season, we pause to prepare ourselves for the arrival of the Messiah: God in human form. Advent means ‘arrival,’ derived from the Latin adventus meaning ‘approach’. The derivation of the word is especially important because of the significance of the incarnation of God in human form coming into the mess of our world: “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

God approached humanity to bring everlasting justice and peace, but we each know from our own personal experiences that the world is not one of justice and peace. While we rejoice at the coming of the Lord, shouting praises alongside the Psalmist, we also await expectantly for what has not yet come, when, as Isaiah states: “He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore.” 

Nonetheless, we are reminded, in the midst of our waiting, that Light drives out darkness: “Those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined.” Yet, even in this waiting, we see glimpses of God’s Light. Like the story of Nabil and Faisel, we are reminded of the Good and that we ourselves have the ability to strive for a world of justice, even if it has not yet come. 

Henry Nouwen says: “The Lord is coming, always coming. When you have ears to hear and eyes to see, you will recognize him at any moment of your life. Life is Advent; life is recognizing the coming of the Lord.” Thank you, Jesus, for being our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,  Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. May we recognize the significance of you coming to us every day, and may you give us opportunities to labor alongside you, bringing justice and light to the world around us. 

Reflection: 

Today, on Christmas Eve, we can feel the greatest sense of anticipation. As you read the scripture of Luke, insert yourself into the story. As you place yourself there, amongst Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds, see if anything new is revealed to you that you might have missed before. Reflect on the simplicity and significance of this holy night as you ponder God approaching humanity in this unforeseen way:

Luke 2:1-14, (15-20)
And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger because there was no place for them in the inn. In that region, there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see–I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

In my childhood, my family would always start our Advent readings and prayers with a song; I encourage you to engage with Psalm 96 in closing today by listening to and singing along with Psalm 96 by Poor Bishop Hooper. You can find it on YouTube.


About Adysen Moylan (author): Adysen Moylan is the Trips Coordinator at Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP). Adysen holds a bachelors in Global Studies from Georgia State University. She has spent extended time in the Middle East, including Jordan, Palestine, and Egypt, studying Arabic as well as the Arab-Israeli conflict. Adysen began as an advocacy intern at CMEP and transitioned to Trip Coordinator. She is delighted to be a part of people experiencing the Middle East for themselves. 

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