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Advent | 2022

Advent reason for hope

We invite you to join us this holiday as President Ellis, faculty, and alums share their thoughts on the Advent season.

We will add new content weekly, so scroll down to view the videos and the provided devotionals.

At the bottom of this page, you will find a featured song by an alum for the series. It is available as a gift to you! The music you hear in each of these videos is the instrumental version of the song.

Advent Week Four – Tom Holsinger-Friesen

Advent – Week Four

Sources of Grace” by Dr. Tom Holsinger-Friesen, Professor of Theology at SAU 

Devotional Readings: Isaiah 7:10; Ps 80; Numbers 6:24-26; Ps 33:5; Matthew 5:45

“God has heard.” That’s the meaning of the Hebrew word from which we get the name Samuel. On September 29th 2007 (which happened to be my wife and my anniversary), God heard our request – one we hadn’t even known to ask for – and gave us a son. We named him Samuel. I was starting my second year of teaching at Spring Arbor University after four years of PhD studies in Scotland. Now my wife and I both tend to overthink things. When Sarah had gotten pregnant, we felt joy – yes – but also trepidation. Were we up to the task of being parents? This is a really big deal… life-changing, in fact! Well, God “heard” our hearts at a deeper level than we could and he gave us a son, and then two years later a daughter, Leah. (Can you tell that I teach Old Testament at SAU?) The theme of this week’s advent lesson is “sources of grace.” As I meditate on our scripture readings from Isaiah, Psalms, Matthew, and Romans, I’m reminded that God gives us grace even when we don’t know to ask for it. Or even (incredibly), in the case of King Ahaz over 2500 years ago, when we have no desire to ask for it. Isaiah 7:10 and following states that 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. Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman [or virgin] is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.

In Matthew’s Gospel, an angel reassures Joseph that Mary’s child is conceived by the Holy Spirit. Jesus will both “save [God’s] people from their sins,” and will “fulfill” Isaiah’s prophecy as “Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” God’s most gracious gift is his very presence, and in some way, this brings us – or perhaps is – our salvation.

In this week’s Psalm (80), the writer entreats God three times with these words: “Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.” The Hebrew verb “to shine” is sometimes understood in the literal sense as “giving light.” But in Psalm 80, we understand it figuratively as God’s giving of blessing, favor, and grace. A famous parallel is the High Priestly blessing from Numbers 6:24-26: 

The LORD bless you and keep you;

the LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; 

the LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

In poetic style, the same idea is repeated using different words. This Advent season, we receive God’s presence as our salvation: Jesus Christ is Immanuel – God with us. God’s face is revealed and is turned to toward us. God’s pleasure and joy is found in us. But the generosity of God that we discover and celebrate goes even further: 

“The earth is full of the kindness [Heb: hesed] of the LORD” (Psalm 33:5).

Our “Father in heaven,” Jesus says, makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45).

So what hinders us from asking God for his presence (or, better, having a greater awareness of his presence that is already with us)? Fear? I can relate. But Samuel is God’s gracious response to our unasked request. How about pride? I can relate to this also. It’s somewhat mysterious why Ahaz resisted God’s invitation to ask for a sign? But since the crisis at the time was a looming military invasion, he likely thought that he didn’t need God’s help. His army had been the source of his foolish pride. Whatever the case, may we lay aside fear, pride, and other obstacles and choose to turn our face to God’s face and enjoy the reality of God’s presence and salvation with us.

Advent Week Three – Ben Redmond

Advent – Week Three

“Waiting for the Lord” by Ben Redmond

Devotional Readings: Isaiah 35: 1-10; Ps 146: 5-10; Matt 11: 2-11; James 5: 7-10

I hate waiting.

That might seem like an extreme statement, but you can ask anyone who knows me well, and you will get confirmation. I don’t like anything that slows me down. Here is a quick list of things that have frustrated me in the past month: 

  • The person in the grocery line in front of me couldn’t remember their pin number, and I was stuck waiting behind them. 
  •  I was sending a text in an area with a low signal, and my phone was stuck on sending. 
  •  I was at the DC salad bar behind a person who needed to examine every cucumber they placed on their salad to ensure it was perfect. 

Before you think I need professional help, let me assure you that I’m not alone. Some of you might be reading this and wondering what’s wrong with me! But somewhere, a person who understands exactly how I feel is reading this. Why can’t everything move at my pace?

Our theme for this week is waiting on the Lord. While being light-hearted about waiting in traffic or at the store is easy, waiting on God is an entirely different matter! Maybe you have felt this way before:

  • You have been waiting for God to take away the hurt caused by someone you care about.
  •  You are waiting for God to provide clarity about your future. 
  •  You are waiting for God to bring healing to a loved one.

Waiting on God presents some challenges for us. We believe that God loves us, and we are trying to surrender ourselves to His purposes and promises for our lives. We trust that God is in control, which means by default that we don’t have control. So what does it look like to wait on the Lord? 

Consider the words of James 5:7: “Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return. Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen.”

James helps us understand waiting by using the analogy of waiting for plants to grow. I’m not much of a gardener, but I planted several plants this past spring in my front yard. I was careful to plant them in good soil and give them plenty of water. Imagine my surprise when I checked on them a week after planting them, and they were still the same size! (I told you I wasn’t very patient!) I was convinced I had done something wrong until I talked to a more experienced gardener. They explained that even though I wasn’t seeing the growth in real-time, the plants were growing beneath the surface. Sure enough, by the end of the summer, my plants had seen significant growth! The mistake I made with my plants is the same one we make with our lives. I assumed that no growth was happening simply because I couldn’t see it. 

James tells us to be the kind of people who “patiently wait for the rains” and eagerly look for the harvest to ripen.” What is James describing here? He’s describing faith and hope. Waiting on God requires patient faithfulness rooted in the belief that God works even when we can’t see it. Waiting on God also requires hopeful surrender rooted in the belief that we will eventually see that God has been working in our lives the entire time.

Patient faithfulness and hopeful surrender are the perspectives that we must carry if we are going to wait on God. The good news is that we have control over these perspectives. We can choose to believe that God is working while we are waiting, and we can choose to believe that we will see God’s goodness on the other side of our waiting. Spend some time today evaluating your own life. Are you living as if God is always working? Are you actively surrendering to God with hope in what He will do? 

Waiting on God can be a scary choice to make. So if you are in the fight right now, I leave you with this encouragement from Isaiah 35:4 

Say to those with fearful hearts,

  “Be strong, and do not fear,

for your God is coming to destroy your enemies.

  He is coming to save you.”

Student Reflection

Advent Week Two – Matt Hill

Advent – Week Two

“The Hope of the World” by Matthew Hill

Devotional Readings: Isaiah 11:1-10; Ps 72:1-7; Ps 18-19; Matthew 3:1-12; Romans 15:4-1

Have you ever wondered where hope would come from, only to find it in the most unlikely places? The idea that goodness can emerge from stressful situations seems palpably foreign. My wife and I were in a great place. We were finishing our education, ready to move to a new state and start the lives we had been trying to build for the last seven years. My seminary training and my wife’s graduate work were ending, and we had lofty plans: paying back student debt and eating more than beans and rice. So my face went a bit flush when I heard her say the heavy words: 

“Matt, I think I’m pregnant.” 

“No, you’re not,” I confidently assured her. “That’s impossible.” 

“Umm, yeah, I think I am.”

It’s not that we didn’t want kids someday; it was just that it wasn’t convenient timing for us right then—we weren’t looking for this life change. When we got home from the pharmacy, we immediately went to the bathroom, and my wife took the pregnancy test, and we waited, eyes fixed on the stick for what seemed like an eternity. The symbols of addition and subtraction never mattered as much to me as they did at this moment. Slowly, a plus sign emerged, and my wife said, “Matt, I’m pregnant!” 

“No, you’re not,” I confidently assured her again. “That’s impossible.”

“A plus means I’m pregnant, and there’s a large plus sign on the stick.”

“No, a plus sign means that you’re positively not pregnant,” I said this not as some terrible joke but rather out of my situational self-delusion. My wife, always the realist, calmly told me I was wrong while I fumbled at the box, trying to decode the mysterious hieroglyphs.

“It’s like I need the Enigma Machine to crack these instructions.” 

Sometimes I think that we Christians have been so convinced of a certain Scripture reading that we cannot accept the evidence before us. The Jewish community around the time of Christ’s birth was looking for something different than a homeless, penniless, escapee who clandestinely emigrated away from the Jewish homeland. The savior coming in this setting wasn’t part of their plan. It wasn’t convenient. 

God seems to work through and with different people in diverse ways. But one thing for sure is that when he does choose to move, it’s not typically on our timetable or under our direction. He does what he wants, and we’re lucky to be a small part of that movement. Our most significant task, especially during this Advent season, is to be open to the nimble moves of an uncontrollable God. 

Some questions to consider: How is God surprising you with hope like he did with our religious ancestors two thousand years ago? How can we both accept our circumstances while awaiting something new from our Divine Creator? And how can we play a role in this hopeful narrative and lean into the wonders of God? 

Advent Week One – President Ellis

Advent – Week One

“Keep Watch” by President Brent Ellis

Devotional Readings: Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Matthew 24:36-44; Roman 13:11-14 

Few mornings, if any, compare to Christmas morning. As a child, my earliest memories of Christmas mornings contained joy, exultation, and anticipation as my brothers, sister, and I roused each other to enter our family room together to discover what surprises awaited us under our Christmas tree. Would I receive the GI Joe with real hair or perhaps even our long-desired Telstar console? In all the anticipation, the worst part of our Christmas mornings would be when our parents tarried in preparation for our entrance and asked us to wait behind the hallway door leading to the joys of our hearts. We wanted to be as close to the door as possible, and none of us could contain our anxious energy. Soon I, or one of my siblings, would inadvertently bump, scrape, or push another sibling in the close quarters of the hallway, followed by immediate retaliation. The anticipation of presents was replaced by pushing, shoving, and defending the immutable right each had to stand exactly on the spot desired. Chaos ensued until my parents spoke, signaling the time for us to pass from the confined hallway and through the door to our perceived paradise.

Maybe you can relate to my childhood Christmas mornings, perhaps you can’t, but those childhood mornings remind me of a profound Christian truth. Romans 13:11-14 expresses this truth beautifully. Paul writes to the Christians living in Rome, wanting to remind them that soon, the hallway door separating our current, temporal reality will be opened, and God will call out to his children, welcoming them into eternal life, paradise, heaven. Paul leads into these verses with a statement that the law is summed up with a single rule, “Love your neighbor as yourself”, taken from Leviticus 19:18. He writes, “Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10). Within this context he moves into the reality that “the time has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:11-12).

Christians, while we wait for Christ Jesus’s return, are stuck behind the metaphorical hallway door, waiting for God to finish his preparations and call us home. While we wait, Paul reminds us of how we should wait. In verses 13-14 of Romans 13, Paul encourages Christians to live in a manner reflective of the character of Jesus rather than the character of the world. He writes, “Let us behave decently, as in the day time, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh (or sin nature).” Paul knows that while we wait, we can easily be distracted from what we are waiting for. We can quickly become drawn to the trappings of the temporal world and, like my siblings and I, fight for things we know do not compare to what awaits us on the other side of the door. Paul tells us to wake up and recognize the temptations of the temporal world do not compare with what awaits us in heaven, our true hope. Rather than fighting for things that have no value or meaning, instead, as we wait, we should act like Christ, loving and serving others rather than striving for our own will.

Our featured original Christmas song, “Rejoice Emmanuel”, is written by alumnus Jon Gerten.

Download it here: “Rejoice Emmanuel” by Jon Gerten or you can stream it now below:

Lyrics for “Rejoice Emmanuel”

Verse 1
Who would believe that Jesus our King
would come without beauty or majesty?
Who could have seen
the change He would bring
in that still soft cry?

Pre Chorus
It was a silent night until the Angels sang
Under a holy light and now we sing

Glory to God in the highest
Praise be to the Lord
Come and worship the newborn King
With His angels adore
Glory to God in the highest
Rejoice Emmanuel!

Verse 2
I will believe that You are the King
That You are true beauty and majesty
Now I can see the change is in me
You’ve shown me the light

Written, Recorded and Produced by Jon Gerten