Welcome to Hope College’s third annual Advent devotional!
The theme for this year’s devotional is Come & Cheer, taken from a line in one of the best-known Advent hymns, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”:
“O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer Our spirits by Thine advent here; Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, And death’s dark shadows put to flight.”
On one level, this is an Advent prayer from us to God: Just as the Israelites prayed for the Messiah to come and cheer their spirits (a prayer that was fulfilled on that first Christmas morning) we now pray for Jesus Christ to come and cheer our spirits with his second coming. During the next few weeks, we’ll wait for Christmas Day as a small, seasonal way of rehearsing the church’s greater anticipation of Jesus’ second advent.
On another level, though, “come and cheer” is an invitation from God to us: During this season of preparation and celebration, when Christmas sloshes over the edges and spills into the entire month of December, we are invited to come and cheer our spirits in the presence of Emmanuel, God With Us.
It’s December, and, at Hope College, it’s December in Michigan — which means we’re in for sunless days and long nights. The “gloomy clouds” and “dark shadows” mentioned in the hymn will be all too real for us. But even here, in the bleak midwinter, God is meeting us with his invitation into Christmas joy: Come, and cheer!
If you follow along with us, every day of Advent — beginning tomorrow, December 3 — you will find a new devotional reflection by a member of the Hope College faculty and staff. (If you haven’t already done so, please subscribe.) Each scripture passage will be adapted from the Revised Common Lectionary readings for Advent.
Please join us for this Advent journey toward Christmas Day.
Standing tall over the Pine Grove at the center of Hope’s campus is the squat, gothic bell tower of Dimnent Memorial Chapel — as well as the narrow, stretching steeple of the Mulder Chapel at Western Theological Seminary next door.
The two schools — Hope College and Western Theological Seminary (WTS) — don’t just occupy adjacent land as neighbors. And they aren’t only connected by a shared history through the Reformed Church in America, which founded both schools (WTS worshipped on Hope’s grounds for the first 30 years of the seminary’s existence, from 1866–1895).
Even today the college and seminary continue in close partnership, collaborating together in a number of ways. Here are just a few:
Hope-Western Prison Education Program
Through the Hope-Western Prison Education Program (HWPEP), Hope and WTS are partnering to provide a Christian liberal arts education to men incarcerated at Muskegon Correctional Facility.
Students at the Muskegon campus are enrolled in a full-time course load, receiving a four-year Bachelor of Arts degree from Hope when they successfully complete the program, which has standards just as rigorous as those expected of Holland-based students.
Although graduates receive a degree from Hope College, it’s actually a highly collaborative project, drawing teaching faculty from WTS as well as engaging WTS students in work as teaching assistants. The program is co-directed by Dr. David Stubbs, professor of ethics & theology at WTS, and Dr. Richard Ray, provost emeritus and professor of kinesiology at Hope.
“The degree to which both Hope and WTS faculty and staff are working alongside each other in furthering their institutional missions through HWPEP is so encouraging,” Ray said. “It requires people from both institutions to slow down and try to understand how the two institutional cultures are alike and how they are different, and then emphasize the best of each in forwarding HWPEP’s goals.”
Vita Scholars Program
The Vita Scholars Program is a 5-year B.A.+M.Div. program that is meant to form students as followers of Christ, as pastors, and as leaders empowering the reception of the Gospel in every part of life.
Vita Scholars take an accelerated course of learning to earn their B.A. in religion and their M.Div. from Western in a far shorter time than is typical for ministry preparation.
This semester, Vita Scholars have begun meeting with program director Dr. Keith Starkenburg to be mutually formed in discipleship and ministry.
“We’ve been reading Bonhoeffer’s Life Together and learning how to practice and experience the Gospel as individual disciples and as folks preparing for ministry,” said Starkenburg. “Next semester, the focus will turn toward learning how to articulate the depth and connection of the biblical story as we continue to seek ways to practice the Gospel in our lives and ministries.”
Hope College Campus Ministries
“We love Western Seminary,” said Senior Chaplain Jennifer Ryden, who is a graduate of WTS — as are Dr. Trygve Johnson, dean of the chapel, and Charly Peña, chaplain of discipleship. Another chaplain of discipleship, Shomari Tate, is a current student at Western.
“We have lots of formal and informal connections,” Ryden said, before ticking through an (admittedly incomplete) list:
Chapel Services: WTS President Dr. Felix Theonugraha preaches at Hope’s Chapel every year; he’s also taught Campus Ministries student Bible study leaders. And, in addition to Dr. Theonugraha, other Western professors have come to preach at Chapel. “Depending on the Chapel season, we’re likely to have one or two or three more,” Ryden said. “It’s a gift to have such talent right next door.”
Here’s Dr. Theonugraha’s most recent Chapel sermon:
Teaching and Board Appointments: Trygve Johnson is part of the teaching faculty for a D.Min. cohort at WTS’s Eugene Peterson Center. Jennifer Ryden serves on the Girod Reformed Theology Board; as part of the Girod program, she also meets regularly with local pastor theologians. And, Ryden recently led breakout sessions for the Bast Preaching Festival at WTS.
Campus Ministries Interns: Campus Ministries currently has two interns who are students at WTS, one of whom works with the athletics ministry and another who works with the discipleship chaplains. “Our interns connect well with students and are a valuable part of our team,” Ryden said. “Would love to continue to have interns and to grow that element.”
Have you ever been amazed at the beauty or the grandness or the intricacy of nature? Perhaps you have been on a long hike and found a special peace in the quiet of the woods. Or maybe you have been to Niagara and have been overwhelmed by the roar of the falls and the blast of the watery wind against your face. And on the nights when the stars are bright and bold, you are amazed that the longer you look, the more stars you see. If you have ever had an experience like one of these, then you have seen the glory of God.
As a Christian chemistry professor, instead of looking outside to see the glory of God, I get to gaze at the minute details of the universe. Instead of focusing on waterfalls and woods, I get to look at the atoms and molecules that God used to build it all. These tiny particles also reveal the glory of God. Did you know that if an atom’s nucleus were the size of a golf ball, the atom itself would be one and a half miles wide? Did you know that one ounce of gold is made up of 87,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 gold atoms? When I ponder these truths, I cannot fully grasp them. They remind me of the time I first saw the Grand Canyon: even though I was seeing it with my own eyes, I could not fully take it in.
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge” (Psalm 19:1–2). As a professor, I am able to be a conduit of nature’s speech. I cherish the opportunity to help students discover the brilliant truths proclaimed by even the smallest pieces of the creation, so that God is glorified.
“Hope College is a Christian community that invites all its members into a holistic and robust engagement with the historic Christian faith and a personal encounter with the living Christ through the Holy Spirit.”
Hope is committed to providing a world-class education “in the context of the historic Christian faith.” (That line is from the college’s mission statement.) Practically speaking, this means the Christian identity of the college is much broader than the good work being done through Campus Ministries: God is moving and working in Hope’s classrooms and laboratories, athletic fields and Pine Grove, residence halls and cottages and cafeterias.
This new Faith at Hope blog intends to celebrate, support and promote Hope’s Christian mission by sharing the stories of the people of God at Hope College. In that way, it will be an extension of, and in service to, Hope’s identity as a Christian community, and it aims to answer two questions rooted in our Christian Aspirations:
In what ways are community members engaging with the historic Christian faith throughout the college?
What does it look like when community members personally encounter the living Christ through the Holy Spirit?
Following Hope’s Christian Aspirations, the blog aims to be faithful, welcoming, and transformational.
The Faith at Hope blog celebrates Hope College’s ecumenically Christian character, recognizing that Christian faithfulness at Hope takes many forms. With a goal of promoting the wide diversity of the body of Christ, the blog is committed to telling the stories of what faithfulness at Hope looks like in its many Christian voices and expressions. As a reflection of our faithful community, the blog will be a platform committed to the historic Christian faith as expressed in the ecumenical creeds of the ancient church.
Like Hope College, the Faith at Hope blog welcomes people of all faith — or no faith at all — with an invitation to experience the love and good news of God’s forgiveness found in Jesus Christ. To this end, it seeks to tell the many, varied stories of how Christian students, faculty, staff, and other community members are experiencing and expressing their faith at Hope.
The Faith at Hope blog recognizes that a personal encounter with the living Christ through the Holy Spirit transforms all of life — every field of study or play, every classroom and dorm, every academic, cocurricular, and personal pursuit. As such, the blog has the widest possible scope for sharing testimonies of how the Spirit is transforming the people and place of Hope. It does not aim to prescribe what Christian transformation must look like; rather, it will describe the transformational work that the Spirit is already doing in every sphere of life at Hope College.
So, with those three aspirations in mind — faithful, welcoming, and transformational — we invite you to follow along as we explore Faith at Hope in the coming months.