Advent: Day 13 – Friday, December 15, 2023

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
Luke 1:46–55

And Mary Sang: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”

In Luke 1:46–55, with the Christ Child within her, Mary visits Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, soon to be born. Elizabeth feels John leap inside of her at Mary’s greeting, and “Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” Then, Mary sings, and we hear her rejoice for the Mighty One, and celebrate God’s:

  • Awareness of “the humble state of his servant” 
  • Scattering “those who are proud of their inmost thoughts” 
  • Bringing “down rulers from their thrones, but lifting up the humble”
  • Filling “the hungry with good things but [sending] the rich away empty”

Mary rejoices for God’s mercy on the descendants of Abraham, which extends “from generation to generation.” The descendants of Abraham are the humble, the hungry, the most deserving of mercy in God’s eyes, as Mary voices in joyful reunion with her beloved cousin, Elizabeth. Their familial ties reveal to us the core of celebration at birth: two expectant mothers of two beloved sons and cousins in the tribe of Abraham, one of which is the Christ child.

We celebrate our own children’s births as events focused on joy and miracle. We can witness in the birth of our siblings, children, nieces and nephews and cousins, the force of life granted to all of us, to our fecundity in the willingness of the Lord. These familial ties are equal with God’s mercy, as Mary expresses in her song.

As Mary sings in celebration of the joy within her, she also reminds us that soon, as God has promised, Israel would be released from its captivity when the son of God appears. We sing a celebration at the coming of Jesus Christ similar to Mary’s song in John 1:46–55. It’s in the Advent hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” which asks us to rejoice at the coming birth of Jesus, who “[m]ake[s] safe for us the heavenward road / and bar[s] the way to death’s abode.” We can rejoice in the coming of Jesus the savior, He who rescues us from hell, sheds light on the darkness, and “bid[s] all our sad divisions cease.” We pray for the ceasing of sad divisions — this year, especially. We pray, also, at the joy of Jesus’s birth and John the Baptist’s herald of that Holy Arrival. 

Yet, what resonates for me most strongly in Mary’s song in Luke 1:46–55 are the deeds of the Mighty One, of an active and assertive God. He lifts up the humble, feeds the hungry and sends the rich away, their bellies empty. It’s a telling moment early in the Gospel of Luke. I am reminded of my own humility in the eyes of the Lord, and that he favors those who need more than I do. I am reminded of the requirement to humble myself before the Lord and before others, and that Christ’s coming will redeem me (it has redeemed me — it continually redeems me) as I commit myself to his mission: to help those among me who are most in need. 

The past and future generations of our families, like our lineages of faith and love, expand across time, beyond our mortal memories, insights, and predictions. Our children’s children will be children, as we are the children of children. All the humble, all the hungry, all those who seek succor, were once children in their mothers’ wombs, mothers who rejoiced at the coming of their child, and celebrated in the warmth of their families.

Dr. Pablo Peschiera is an associate professor of English at Hope College.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Advent: Day 12 – Thursday, December 14, 2023

When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
“The LORD has done great things for them.”
The LORD has done great things for us;
we are glad.

Restore our fortunes, O LORD,
like streams in the Negeb!
Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy!
He who goes out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him.
Psalm 126

I became a Christian when I was about 10 years old. Life then looked simple and promising. I thought that with God’s help and guidance, the trajectory of my life would take a safe and peaceful pathway. I imagined smooth stages of adulthood, growing in godliness, tackling life with victory as long as I followed biblical principles and the rules of society. Simple. No problem. Trust and obey to be happy in Jesus, as the hymn claimed. Of course there would be trials, but surely they wouldn’t be that terribly difficult to overcome.

Well, I got older. I witnessed strangers, friends, and family members experience loss and pain in its various forms. I learned belatedly that my parents had dealt with the loss of stillborn twin daughters back when I was about 4 or 5 years old. My hazy memories of that time had left me with a vague awareness of my mom’s pregnancy and the anticipation of baby sisters, but somehow the babies never came, and we never talked about it. Yet, my parents had kept on going, and were able to be decent parents in the midst of their grief, raising my older sister and me in such a way that allowed us to be relatively unscathed. How did they manage to do that?

I went through my own dark valley where I became unsure of whether I could ever feel joy again, even with faith in God. Now, I think that everyone’s life gets touched by pain eventually, and it changes you forever. 

Psalm 126 speaks of having our fortunes restored, and joy following our seasons of weeping. What stands out to me is the last portion of the psalm. The theme of sowing while still in tears. It seems that we simply cannot wait until healing arrives. Somehow, we still need to keep going in order to not let the darkness swallow us up. The slow process of healing takes place while we make ourselves get up each morning. It happens while we go to work, attend meetings, cook dinner, pump gas, clean the bathroom. It also happens while we cry out to Jesus, while we do the hard work of talking to a friend or therapist, and also when we crash and burn, ending up crying alone in our car or spending a whole day in bed because we simply just can’t anymore.

Throughout all this, God meets us in our pain, providing us with a little light for each additional step. As we wait in our darkness, keep sowing, keep working, keep fighting. Keep clinging to his promises that he will give us strength for each day. And one day, we will find ourselves having actually exited from the complete darkness into a new season of light, able to feel joy and experience laughter again, with our own song of ascent, glad because of the great thing God has done for us.

Jasmine Lowell is the international education coordinator for the Center for Global Engagement at Hope College.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Advent: Day 11 – Wednesday, December 13, 2023

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.
They shall build up the ancient ruins;
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.

For I the LORD love justice;
I hate robbery and wrong;
I will faithfully give them their recompense,
and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their offspring shall be known among the nations,
and their descendants in the midst of the peoples;
all who see them shall acknowledge them,
that they are an offspring the LORD has blessed.

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD;
my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up,
so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise
to sprout up before all the nations.
Isaiah 61:1–4, 8–11

As we read the comforting words of hope delivered by the prophet, let us not forget the context of God’s story, a context which anoints the words with deep blessing. The entire book of Isaiah is a recurring cycle. Betrayal, injustice, and pride are followed by God’s warning and entreatments. These are sometimes suspended with a brief glimmer of repentance, but usually followed by punishment and destruction. That was the pattern for God’s people centuries before Christ, and it is not unfamiliar to God’s people today.

The passage from Isaiah 61 is a vibrant demarcation towards hope, a pronouncement that the cycle will be broken. So where is the hope in these words? It is in the promise that God would deliver his people from Babylonian captivity, the punishment they so invited, and also in the promise that God’s people would be delivered someday from the captivity of their own sin, and its eternal punishment. Where is the comfort? That comes 700 years later at the synagogue in Nazareth, when Jesus ascribes the Messianic prophecy to himself, fully identifying as the nexus of God’s redemptive plan.

We have received the ultimate deliverance in the earthly work of Jesus Christ, starting at the incarnation and ending at the cross and empty tomb. That is why the context makes these words sweet, because 2,700 years later, we are they — God’s people living in the reality of deliverance. Yet, we are also still waiting for the day when the Lord will return and wipe away our tears, and then we will say, “Surely this is our God,” and we will rejoice in his salvation.

Dr. Jonathan Peterson is dean for the Natural and Applied Sciences Division at Hope College.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Advent: Day 10 – Tuesday, December 12, 2023

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
Luke 1:26–38

Well, that’s one way to find out you’re pregnant. Nowadays most women eagerly wait alone in a bathroom for the all-knowing pink strips to appear, or not appear, on a plastic stick they just peed on. However a woman finds out she is pregnant, though, it is always a heavy moment weighted with emotion. The thought that your body will be responsible for bringing an entirely brand new soul into the world is nothing short of incredible. As someone who has experienced this twice now, once when we were eagerly wanting a child, and once unexpectedly, I can say that both times the same sinking feeling swept over me, “A new person is about to depend on me for their existence. I’m not sure that I can do it.” It is, in fact, a weight that no woman is meant to carry alone, but with the help of the Father.

As I am writing this I am 35 weeks pregnant with our second baby boy. Right now he is flipping and kicking inside of me, proving his life and vigor even before his arrival. In just a few short weeks, likely around Christmas time, he will be in our arms turning our lives upside down yet again. Pregnancy is an incredible honor and an experience truly like no other, but more than anything, it is a sacrifice. Your body is quite literally not your own for 10 months (yes, 40 weeks is 10 months, not 9) and for years after birth. Then the pregnancy ends with a crescendo of physical sacrifice that is exhaustingly invigorating, bloodily beautiful, and traumatically miraculous. And if you ask any mother at the end of it all if it was worth it, they would say, “Yes. For the love of this baby, yes.”

We don’t know what Mary’s predisposition was before Jesus’ birth annunciation. Maybe she was eagerly wanting a child, or maybe she really wasn’t. She was very young and had no idea what experiences awaited her. Undoubtedly, she knew that she would be outcast for being pregnant and not yet married. Yet, her response to the angel is a humble one: “Let it be to me according to your word.” It is interesting to think that before the savior of the world could sacrifice his life for all humankind, he had to first entrust that this young girl would be willing to sacrifice herself in order to do so.

Motherhood is just another way that we die to ourselves for the sake of someone else. Mary’s sacrifice is compounded by the fact that the child she bears, the savior of the world, the long awaited one, decided to make his grand entrance in the form of a helpless fetus. There is no being quite so vulnerable as a baby. Yet, the one who needs nothing, the creator of all that has ever been, decided to come into the world completely helpless and dependent. The omnipresent came as finite matter in finite time. The omniscient came as a child knowing nothing. The omnipotent came as a powerless, vulnerable, naked infant. God so wanted to empathize with us that he turned his being inside out that he would be Emmanuel, God truly with us.  

The example displayed for us by both Jesus and Mary in this annunciation passage is that love gets low. Love does not seek to rise above or ascend, it bends deep. Love calls us to die to ourselves that we might truly live. Jesus made this concept emphatically clear through his life and ministry, and at one point even says, “… whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:25). 

As we enter this Christmas season, may we follow their example. In what ways do you need to sacrifice your will, what you think might be best, for the love of God and others?

Emily Mayo is adjunct faculty for the Department of Art and Art History at Hope College.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Day 9 – Monday, December 11, 2023

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.
You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
Isaiah 9:2–7

As we journey through Advent, the words of Isaiah 9:2 illuminate the path before us: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness, a light has dawned.”

These words resonate with a timeless hope that transcends the boundaries of ancient prophecy: they reach across the expanse of human experience.  Perhaps you are in need of this light in your own life: a diagnosis uncertain, a relationship severed, a loss you never imagined. In the midst of such darkness, Isaiah’s vision invites us to pause and reflect on the profound truth that even in our darkest moments, a light pierces through to guide us with the promise of renewal and grace. This meets us in a variety of ways: through the smiles of strangers, the long-held prayer is answered, the promise of warm coffee in the morning, reconciliation after years of pain, or perhaps in the simple sunlight through an afternoon window.

Advent painting by Erin Drews
Original artwork by Erin Drews, inspired by Isaiah 9:2

In the quiet anticipation of Advent, we find solace in the recognition that this light — this arrival of a newborn King — is not distant. Rather, it’s a personal and intimate light that dispels the shadows of doubt, fear, and despair, revealing a way towards healing and transformation. As we await the celebration of Christ’s birth, let us open our hearts to the illumination of this divine light, allowing it to warmly permeate the cold realities this world might bring.  

Erin Drews is resident director of Gilmore Hall and Hope Forward program coordinator at Hope College.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Day 8 – Sunday, December 10, 2023

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,

“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way,
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Mark 1:1–8

I’m a checklist person. I love a good list I can mark complete to feel prepared and accomplished for a given task. Each year, as the weather turns colder, I revive my handy “winterization” checklist for my tasks around the house. This includes the standard household chores of putting away the outdoor furniture, tending to the landscape, prepping the snowblower, and hanging Christmas lights outside the house. 

As we navigate the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, we quickly find ourselves overwhelmed by the demands of work, family, social obligations, and endless lists.

This Advent season, we reflect on the words of Mark 1:1–8, which proclaim the coming of Jesus Christ. In these verses, we find John the Baptist preparing the way for the Messiah, calling them to repentance and baptism. John appeared in the wilderness, saying, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” This is not just a call to be ready but also an alignment of our hearts. Advent allows us to examine and clear the clutter of our busy lives.

Perhaps we should consider an alternate checklist this year. A spiritual checklist where we take intentional steps to prepare our hearts by setting aside quiet time for prayer and self-reflection, acknowledging areas where we have allowed stress to overshadow the joy of the season.  John’s baptism signifies a turning away from the old and a willingness for the new. What areas of our lives might need forgiveness, humility or renewal? What distracts us from our relationship with the Savior?

Let us prepare the way for Jesus, not just in the festive decorations but by approaching each day with joyful anticipation, humble gratitude, and encouraging others to experience God’s love. Together, we can celebrate the birth of Christ to receive the greatest gift ever given.

Jason Cash is director of Public Affairs & Marketing at Hope College.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Day 7 – Saturday, December 9, 2023

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation.
2 Peter 3:8–15a

Our human perception of time is peculiar. In a busy season, time flies and suddenly months have passed without our knowing. Yet in a season of waiting — for the job, for the diagnosis, for the relationship — each day seems longer than the last.

So when we read in today’s scripture passage that “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day,” perhaps we can relate to a shifting perspective on time.

Our Heavenly Father, however, has the ultimate perspective. He is not bound by time. He not only knows our comings and our goings today and tomorrow, but he also has the full picture — not just of our lives, but of all humankind throughout time.

And even with that great perspective, He chooses to be patient with us. To wait for us. He’s patient when we stray from his way, he’s patient when we are slow to heed the Spirit’s prompting, and he’s patient even when we stubbornly resist his offer of grace. Because of His patience, we have the sweet promise of salvation that we celebrate this Adventide.

Upon reflecting on God’s immense patience with me, I recognize my impatience with Him to move on my time, as well as my impatience when dealing with my brothers and sisters. That friend who let me down again? That coworker who seems to always mess up their part? That family member who won’t admit they’re wrong? Oh, Lord, grant me an ounce of the patience you offer me.

While our God waits patiently for us, he tells us something about how we should wait for him: diligently. Each day this Advent season, may we be at peace as we turn to Him in thanks for his slow gift of salvation.

Allison Keep is a visiting assistant professor of music at Hope College.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Day 6 – Friday, December 8, 2023

LORD, you were favorable to your land;
you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
You forgave the iniquity of your people;
you covered all their sin.

Let me hear what God the LORD will speak,
for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints;
but let them not turn back to folly.
Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him,
that glory may dwell in our land.

Steadfast love and faithfulness meet;
righteousness and peace kiss each other.
Faithfulness springs up from the ground,
and righteousness looks down from the sky.
Yes, the LORD will give what is good,
and our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness will go before him
and make his footsteps a way.
Psalm 85:1–2, 8–13

I do not keep my promises. My faults are many, but perhaps the most frustrating of them all is this — that, even when I try, my word is inconstant. I’ve broken promises to so many different people: to my students, to return their exams by Friday; to my husband, to pick up a tomato from the grocery store for the chili; to myself, to be the wife, daughter, professor, person I want to be. With each broken promise comes renewed resolve to keep the next one, and the sneaking, correct suspicion that I will always, at some point in the future, return to my inconstant ways. I am human, and humans break their promises.

How fortunate we are, then, that God does not. Psalm 85:10 tells us that his love for us is married to a permanent faithfulness to his promises. His love is not our love, which even in its most constant human forms forgets to be faithful to its word (ask Jake about the chili). His promises are not the stuff of exams and tomatoes; they are promises of peace, protection and, ultimately, salvation. “We are assured” is a term oft used in Christian services and circles, and it is easy to forget that when we say these things, we speak with authority on God’s plan for his creation. Friends, consider this: God, in this moment, on this day, holds tight to the promises he has made to his people. He has not forgotten; he will not forget. The end is known, and it is this: “Yes, the LORD will give what is good.”

Dr. Kirstin Birkhaug is an assistant professor of political science at Hope College.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Day 5 – Thursday, December 7, 2023

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the LORD’s hand
double for all her sins.

A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

A voice says, “Cry!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All flesh is grass,
and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades
when the breath of the LORD blows on it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever.

Go on up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good news;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good news;
lift it up, fear not;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Behold your God!”
Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
behold, his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young.
Isaiah 40:1–11

The students of the Hope-Western Prison Education Program at Muskegon Correctional Facility file into the classroom. The walk across The Yard is an exercise in self-control as they absorb the barbs of others, their backpacks and textbooks targets of derision. 

“Who do they think they are?”

Their state-issued clothing is worn and patched and hangs loosely on their bodies. Their environment is a crooked place.

A desert

A shadow-filled valley

A place of uneven ground

The world offers them no comfort. 

And yet, smiles and rumors of smiles fill the classroom. Their professors break open

Their shackled imaginations

Their trauma-twisted lives

Their imprisoned hearts

And some, perhaps many, begin to see themselves as God’s. As made in God’s image, and by God’s love. And in God they are




Forever. Living witnesses to Advent. And the glory of the Lord is revealed anew.

Dr. Richard Ray is co-director of The Hope-Western Prison Education Program.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Day 4 – Wednesday, December 6, 2023

“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”
Mark 13:24–37


In our daily lives, what are we watching for most? Often, it seems that we are watching for… ourselves.

And why not? In the public square of a highly connected world, the affirmation and adulation that comes with being an “influencer” is intoxicating. Never has it felt more important to be seen, to be liked, to be what the world pays attention to. We are watching not for God, but for the opportunities to increase our follower counts and our sense of self-satisfaction.

With that in mind, I feel a tug of despair when I read Mark’s exhortation, as if we already are immersed in the dark skies that he writes about. When despair creeps in, I remind myself to calm my spirit, shift my gaze and “watch for the whale.”

In 2017, my colleague, Tim, invited me to travel with a class of Hope students to Alaska for a May Term off-campus study program. Every morning, a group of us rose early and walked together, in search of a place to begin the day with prayer. In Seward, we found a favorite spot on the rocky shoreline of Resurrection Bay. One dawn, we sat there, eyes fixed on the still water in the early morning light, lamenting the absence of whales in the bay that day. As we finished our prayer, Colton, one of the trip leaders, jokingly added, “Jesus, if you’re listening, please let us see a whale.” We hardly had a moment to chuckle when a humpback whale suddenly broke the water’s surface with a dramatic full breach. We screamed and cheered with delight.

I still feel incredulous at the perfection of that moment. In the beauty of Alaska, we were carefully watching for God’s presence — in ways that are hard to replicate today, in the daily grind of ordinary life. But to this day, when I find myself becoming too distracted or discouraged to recognize God’s presence, I tell myself, “Watch for the whale.”

God shows up in ways big and small. This Advent, remember to watch!

Jennifer Fellinger is vice president of strategic initiatives at Hope College.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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