Today begins the final countdown to Christmas. If you bought the book Oriens: A Pilgrimage Through Advent and Christmas but haven't started it yet, you can start today! December 17 is the first day of the novena to Christmas. We switch gears to hearing the infancy narratives from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Familiar places take on a new meaning when you are walking by them on pilgrimage. I hope you will find new meaning in these familiar stories.

Holiday vacation time, traveling, having all the family home, etc, can make prayer extra difficult. I find when I'm home with family there's always a temptation to let go of my routine of daily prayer, exercise, etc. But I also find if I plan ahead and keep my eyes open, there's always a slot available, even if it's just 15 minutes of quality time with God. If you have worked to build a habit of a consistent prayer place and time, you will find that your good habits will help to carry you through. And if you are really struggling, put the book by your bedside and it least crack it open and read the scripture each day.

You will also probably find that you are noticing God's presence more in your daily life. Some of the biggest blessings of your pilgrimage will probably happen outside of prayer time. When we watch and wait for Jesus, discover that he is already here with us. The waiting and watching opens our eyes to his everyday presence which we may have missed before. Watch!

We have 117 people signed up for the Virtual Bible Study which meets Thursdays at 10:00 AM Central Time (16:00 UTC). Sign up by sending a message with your name and Bible Study in the body.

Small Group Outline

In addition to the daily prayer time, some folks might want to meet with friends or family for an in person or their own virtual group. Here is an outline to facilitate such a meeting.

  1. Opening Prayer
    The leader opens the group with this prayer or with a prayer he or she has composed themselves. "O God, you have loved us from all eternity and are loving us today. Open our hearts to our King, who humbled himself to free all men and women from sin, Satan, and death. Bless us with a deeper awareness that you are Emmanuel, God-with-us, in our daily life. Thank you for being here with us in our Bible study today."
  2. Group Check-In
    Go around the room and share a burden and a blessing you experienced this past week. Where did you see Jesus, or who were you Jesus to this week?
  3. Suggested Discussion Questions
    1. If you meet early in the week, you can draw on some of the questions from week three.
    2. Tell us about your favorite or most moving prayer time this week?
    3. How has God been working in your own family tree, or your personal history or recent family life?
    4. Have you experienced God interrupting your Advent and Christmas plans to give me something different, as Joseph did? How did you respond to the interruption?
    5. Zachariah didn't expect God to do great things in his life; perhaps he had been too often disappointed. Has God wanted to do more with us than I was open to receiving?
    6. What does the Annunciation to Mary tell us about God? About us?
    7. Have you experienced a moment of Joy on this Advent journey?
    8. What are some ways that you have experienced Emmanuel, God-with-me, this week?
  4. Group leader should not feel pressure to get every question answered. Allow people the space to say anything and to have an honest, fruitful discussion, while also being mindful of the time allotted. It is important to end the formal part of the Bible Study at the time agreed upon by the group.
  5. Close with a prayer. Ask the group what they would like prayers for. Then conclude by praying an Our Father together.