Day 18 — Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
Matthew 1:18–25

God is present. God is with us.  

There is something grounding, hopeful, and beautiful about being fully present with one another. In a time when we all walk around with a computer that does everything in our pockets, it feels more than ever like a gift when someone offers you their attention and presence.

My youngest son, Wesley, recently turned 8 years old. And he seemingly wants nothing more than the presence of his mom or dad — when he’s scared, when he’s excited, when he’s practicing piano, when he is thinking aloud, when he’s drawing, when he’s reading. He just wants us to be with him. I’m grateful he asks for it, as his sweet requests are good reminders and make it easy to say yes and to put down my phone, or house project, or lingering Hope work. And he is often gifting us with his presence along the way.

The birth of Jesus is a sign of God’s presence. In verse 23, Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14 to show that Jesus is the fulfillment of this prophesied virgin birth that brings a son called Immanuel or “God with us.” God was and is with us. God was present in the lineage between Abraham, David, and Jesus that was detailed in verses 1–17. God was present with Mary’s and Joseph’s struggles and joys. God was present at the virgin conception and birth. God is present in the joyous moments between me and Wesley. God is present in the sorrows and injustices we each encounter. God makes himself present with humanity.  

We look back today to celebrate the miracle of the virgin birth of Jesus at Christmas, we look ahead to fulfilled promises of God’s kingdom and justice, and we look to the present with gratitude that God is with us right now in this and each moment. May you know, welcome, and celebrate the presence of the Christ this season. And may you also gift that presence to one another.

Ryan White is the associate dean for academic advising and applied learning 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 17 — Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,

To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Romans 1:1–7

In John 8:12, Jesus says that he is the light of the world. This imagery makes me think about warm sunshine or the beam of a bright flashlight in a dark room. But because I am a nerdy scientist, I also like to ask myself, what is light? It turns out that light is made up of two different things: an electric field and a magnetic field, which move in a certain pattern around each other. It takes both the magnetic field and electric field together to have light.

This thought, even though it is nerdy, helps me to understand the nature of Jesus, as described in Romans 1:1–7. Jesus was both “descended from David according to the flesh” and was also “declared to be the Son of God.” Jesus is both human and divine. There cannot be Jesus if he does not have a body, but likewise there cannot be Jesus without the Spirit of God living inside of that human form. It took both his body and his Spirit combined to make the Savior of the world.

Even though it can be explained in simple terms, I still find myself amazed at this unlikely union. But as a scientist, I see many mysterious combinations in the world around me that I cannot fully understand. An electron acts both like a wave and like a particle. Water can exist as a solid, liquid, and gas. Perhaps God built these mysterious combinations into the world around us to help us recognize the Savior of the world.

Dr. Christopher Turlington is an assistant professor of chemistry 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 16 — Monday, December 12, 2022

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Joseph like a flock.
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth.
Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh,
stir up your might
and come to save us!

Restore us, O God;
let your face shine, that we may be saved!

O LORD God of hosts,
how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
You have fed them with the bread of tears
and given them tears to drink in full measure.
You make us an object of contention for our neighbors,
and our enemies laugh among themselves.

Restore us, O God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved!

But let your hand be on the man of your right hand,
the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself!
Then we shall not turn back from you;
give us life, and we will call upon your name!

Restore us, O LORD God of hosts!
Let your face shine, that we may be saved!
Psalm 80:1–7, 17–19

Today it is so easy for us to walk our faith on the weekends. We wake with alarms, step into the embrace of warm showers, clothe ourselves in comfort we didn’t have to weave, are nourished by food prepared with the miracle of indoor ovens, and drive to our places of worship. It hasn’t always been so simple.   

On this day in my faith tradition, we remember a pivotal event that occurred nearly 500 years ago in Mexico. The Spanish had been busily carrying out their Conquest for over a decade and the native Mesoamericans were dying in such numbers from European diseases and war that they believed it was the end of the world. It is in this context, in 1531, that we meet St. Juan Diego, a humble Aztec man and new Christian. He arose every morning before dawn to walk 15 miles into Mexico City to attend Mass and faith formation classes. This man was hungry for the Lord in a real, gritty, walk-through-the-desert-in-the-dark kind of way.

In a series of remarkable encounters in December, he was visited by Mary, who urged him to build a church closer to his home so that more people could come to the Lord and learn about him. This new church made Jesus more accessible to more people, and in the end, this meeting brought millions of people to the faith. 

So today, on this Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, we remember that the path to a relationship with the Lord is often begun with early mornings, long journeys, and the courage to keep moving forward. Like the writer of today’s psalm, and all conquered peoples, we may sometimes feel lost, but we are strengthened in the knowledge during this season of preparation, that Light is coming.

Melissa Mulder is an assistant professor of Spanish instruction 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 15 — Sunday, December 11, 2022

Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz: “Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.” And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted.
Isaiah 7:10–16

Have you ever asked God for a sign? I have. I’ve asked for mile-markers on the journey (How long, O Lord, how long?), or a sign to help me make the right decision. I’ve asked for signs of answered prayer and signs of hope in hard times. I’ve asked for signs of God’s presence in circumstances that have left me wondering if God has walked off the job.

Scripture tells us that God seems to love to give signs to his people. God painted the sky with the moon and stars as a sign for seasons and days and years (Genesis 1:14); God placed a bow in the heavens as a sign of his covenant (Genesis 9:12); God worked signs in Egypt to free his people, and Jesus came performing signs and wonders so that we might come to believe and have life in his name (John 20:30–31). In this life of faith, maintaining our conviction of things not seen, we need signs (things seen) and are grateful when they come.

The prophet Isaiah went out to meet King Ahaz that day and comes to meet us this day with the giving of another sign. As it turns out, God has not walked off the job.

“Ask a sign of the Lord your God” (Isaiah 7:11). Go ahead, ask. When you descend to Sheol — into the moments of death and pain, darkness and hopelessness we all experience — ask. When you ascend to the heights, ask. Is God with me here, even here? A woman will conceive, a Son will be born. The Lord himself will give you a sign, Immanuel — God with us.  

O come, dear child of Mary, come,
God’s Word made flesh within our earthly home;
Love stir within the womb of night,
Revenge and hatred put to flight.
Rejoice, rejoice! Take heart and do not fear,
God’s chosen one, Immanuel, draws near.

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”

Rev. Jennifer Ryden is the senior chaplain 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 14 — Saturday, December 10, 2022

Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written,

‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way before you.’

Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
Matthew 11:2–11

In today’s passage from Matthew, we read that the coming of John the Baptist is the fulfillment of prophecy. There are actually several prophecies that point to John. The first, referenced by Matthew, is from Malachi: “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me” (3:1). Another is from Isaiah: “A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God’” (40:3).

A third prophecy actually comes from John’s father, Zechariah, who “was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied” about his own son: “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways” (Luke 1:67, 76).

So, John is the prophesied messenger who prepares the way for Jesus’ first coming. He’s sort of a big deal. But where is the John who will prepare the way for Jesus’ second coming? Who is that messenger? The answer may be surprising: You are.

Like John, every Christian has been entrusted with a message: the gospel, the good news, which is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). Just as John did, we who know Jesus point to him and say, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).

If you are a Christian, this is your charge: Prepare ye the way of the Lord. We are God’s messengers now. 

This Advent, be a messenger who shares the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, for he will come again.

Josh Bishop is the web content manager 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 13 — Friday, December 9, 2022

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
James 5:7–10

As I read James 5:7–10, I am reminded of my father. He was no prophet and suffered no religious persecution. However, I believe he suffered persecution for being a Mexican man in a predominantly white world. My father helped raise his eleven siblings and loved his seven children. He was a carpenter, architect, veteran, and the lead county cartographer for over 30 years. My father was a quiet man, revered by his colleagues, known as a perfectionist who “documented” everything, and a committed provider to the family. 

Even as a child, I knew that my dad “suffered.” He never shared what ailed him, nor will I ever understand why he behaved the way he did. It wasn’t until his passing, while sorting through his “documents,” that I caught a glimpse of his suffering. My mother had a sudden heart attack during his final years of employment. His entries mentioned getting the news and leaving work quickly, not saying a word to anyone. At this time, he also faced allegations of being a “thief,” drug addict, and an insubordinate “dog.” 

As I sorted through his documents, I was aghast. I could not believe any of the allegations. He shared none of his litigation process with any of his children. The investigations led nowhere, and his lawyer recommended settling out of court with his employer by taking early retirement. I remember he retired early to care for my mother in her final years. 

I pray I am never in my father’s shoes, but in my times of persecution, God gives me the strength to not grumble, establish my heart, and be patient — for the Light has come.

Dr. Anita Esquerra-Zwiers is an assistant professor of nursing 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 12 — Thursday, December 8, 2022

“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 1:46b–55

In her book Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, Madeline L’Engle explores the idea that making art is a form of faith. In the first chapter, L’Engle suggests that creative ideas come to artists in the same way the angel Gabriel came to Mary — that the artist or writer can reject such invitations or respond with Mary’s yes.

Mary’s song of praise in the verses following the Annunciation emerged from that yes. Gabriel came to Mary with a calling that she could only comprehend in part — one that would alter her whole life and interrupt all her plans. Mary responded to that enormity and the unknown with faith over fear and with wonder. Her trust in the Lord was not a feeling but a choice. Soon after, she saw miracles visiting her cousin Elizabeth, and, caught up in awe, Mary expressed a song of praise laced with revelations of God’s character. Perhaps her song’s enumeration summarized years of witnessing God’s faithfulness. Perhaps she sang in a holy spontaneity, receiving the revelations herself as they poured from the gate of her lips. 

Regardless, Mary’s willingness to accept God’s invitation blossomed into a joy so powerful that she could only express it in song. L’Engle makes me wonder how many moments of our lives are tiny annunciations. Whether for a creative work or other venture, how often does God’s Spirit stir our hearts to partner with him? When the cry of our hearts is a faith-filled yes to those invitations — regardless of their scope, regardless of the anxiety we may feel at their cost — I suspect we will overflow in gratitude and praise, like Mary, and sing, “Our souls magnify the Lord.”

Michael Brooks is an adjunct 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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Day 11 — Wednesday, December 7, 2022

God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.  Selah

Come, behold the works of the LORD,
how he has brought desolations on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the chariots with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
Psalm 46:5–10

In college my favorite Bible verse was “meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). The flavor of those words, stuck in the middle of the Bible, was just the sort of bitter taste I needed as I chewed through what seemed like endless exams and attempts to be good enough.

Today’s verses bring a richer taste to the same concept. We try, we scheme, but in the end, God rules; God who can dissolve the earth with a breath. We do not control.

A decade after college, I spent weeks in a hospital bed. I should have been halfway through my pregnancy, and yet despite all medical attempts, the contractions came in unbidden waves. I wept to the ceiling. “God, take him, he’s yours, he’s always been yours,” I cried, and then silently asked if the “taking him” could please be in the “allow him to live” sort of way. The illusions of control had been stripped away.

What followed was a gift of peace and a response. It was not the response I wanted, not “he’ll be fine” or even “he’ll live.” Rather, it was the one I needed. “I am here.” God, the God who breaks the bow and shatters the spear, knew and loved my son. God was with us.

And that was enough.

“Be still and know that I am God.”

When you walk through the bone-dry places, when all illusions of control are removed, I pray that you feel this depth of peace.

Laura McMullen is the executive assistant to the provost 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 10 — Tuesday, December 6, 2022

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad;
the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus;
it shall blossom abundantly
and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the LORD,
the majesty of our God.

Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who have an anxious heart,
“Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God
will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
He will come and save you.”

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
For waters break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;
in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down,
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

And a highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Way of Holiness;
the unclean shall not pass over it.
It shall belong to those who walk on the way;
even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.
No lion shall be there,
nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
but the redeemed shall walk there.
And the ransomed of the LORD shall return
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain gladness and joy,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
Isaiah 35

Streaming Isaiah 35

I remember when the television show 24 premiered twenty years ago. Many who read this may have never seen the show, but it provided a unique approach to an action-drama series. Every episode was meant to reflect an exact hour of real time (e.g., its first episode was titled “12:00 a.m. – 1:00 a.m.”). There were 24 episodes that add up to one full day, yet it took almost seven months to make it through that day! This required commitment and hope that the time spent would be worth the watch. 

In our streaming world, however, this may now be unimaginable. Many of us seem to enjoy the satisfaction of binging an entire season or at least controlling how fast or slow we will get to the ending. We only must endure what we want to endure. 

I wonder if those who first heard Isaiah 35 wished they could fast forward. How long would they wait? When would they go from the desert and the wilderness to gladness and life? From weak and anxious to steady and strong? 

During Advent, we are reminded that God is with us (Emmanuel)! Christ arrived, paid the price for our sins, and made all things new. Yet, we still strive against the darkness. Although our world, our institutions and we ourselves are not as broken as they could be… they are broken throughout. Yet there is cause for hope and joy in reading Isaiah 35. It makes clear that a land that is good, peaceful, and just will be prepared for us and that God is at work now (when we want to fast forward)… in our hearts, in our lives, and in our world. Peace, love, and goodness await those who will live in the land God has prepared for us. Be strong, do not fear; your God will come with vengeance (v.4).

Dr. Stacy Jackson is the Kenneth J. Weller ’48 Professor of Management 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 5, 2022

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
who publishes salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
The voice of your watchmen — they lift up their voice;
together they sing for joy;
for eye to eye they see
the return of the LORD to Zion.
Break forth together into singing,
you waste places of Jerusalem,
for the LORD has comforted his people;
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The LORD has bared his holy arm
before the eyes of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our God.
Isaiah 52:7–10

Imagine when you were little and all you wanted to do on Christmas morning was sprint down the stairs to go see what presents Santa had brought you overnight. You were still in your pajamas, didn’t even wait to eat breakfast or brush your teeth — just straight down the stairs to the magic and wonder that was found under the tree. You were bursting with joy. Pure joy. 

That is the feeling that the prophet Isaiah is portraying here. Pure joy as the messenger is running down the mountain to bring good news to the town. Pure joy as they proclaim peace and salvation! Pure joy as the watchmen shout to the people that the battle has been won. 

I wonder sometimes if we could bottle up that joy and just carry it with us on tough days. Carry it with us and spray it on our wrists like a good perfume. And I think we can… figuratively, of course, because joy is rooted in what God does. Joy can be found in these verses. The joy in these verses comes after much worry and anxiety — a battle had to be won, death and loss and stress were on the forefront of people’s minds. And the messengers brought the people pure joy with their news. 

Our God is a God of joy. Jesus came to earth. There was stress. There were tough days. A battle had to be won, death was inevitable. But joy, in the form of Jesus, had come. The angels called Jesus’ birth “good news of great joy” because even though there was death and sadness and hard times, Jesus came to bring joy. Pure joy. 

So next time you are facing a tough day, take out that little bottle of joy — in the form of a Bible verse, a worship song, a devotional — and spray it all over. I pray you feel pure joy in these coming weeks as we celebrate the good news that Jesus came to earth for us. 

Courtney Kust is the assistant athletic director of events and assistant women’s basketball coach 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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