Advent Devotional: God is With Us

written by Ginny & Fred Karnas narrated by Anita McCarty

Scripture: “A virgin will become pregnant and have a Son, and He will be called Immanuel” (which means, “God is with us”).  (Matthew 1:23).                

For God has said, “I will never leave you; I will never abandon you.”  (Hebrews 13: 5b)

MeditationA pilot friend of mine told me a story of how he was flying in a storm somewhere over Florida.  The storm had gotten so bad that he had lost his bearings—he didn’t even know where he was.  But his radio contact with the tower stayed strong, and his air traffic controller did know where he was and was able to guide him safely to an airport.

Today the storms of this world threaten to destroy our inner peace and undo us.  The anxiety index has been off the chart with daily political upheaval, the existential threat of climate change, a deadly opioid epidemic, and endless war after endless war.  So how can we experience inner peace in the midst of all of this, even as Christians?  We must focus on the fact that, even when we are lost in the storms of life, God’s radar is still working. God knows where we are at all times and in every situation. God knows how His plans for us will be implemented.  Immanuel has come. God is with us and will never abandon us.  

When I wrote this devotion in 2002, Fredericksburg and northern Virginia were consumed by the terror of sniper indiscriminately shooting unsuspecting and innocent people.  I believe that part of God’s plan during the sniper crisis was that of calling millions of people, many who habitually pray and many who seldom or never do, to pray for the families of the victims, for those who were wounded and needed healing, and for the apprehension of the killers.  I believe God used the power of that prayer to put it into the mind of the witness or witnesses in Washington state to make the unlikely connection of a possible link to the shootings.  I believe that prayer power aided the truck driver at a Maryland rest stop to spot the snipers’ vehicle and call it in.  In fact, a small article in The Arizona Republic reported that the same truck driver had met just a week earlier with 50 of his fellow truck drivers to pray that the snipers would be caught.

The day after September 11th I sat gazing out the window of our Arlington, Virginia apartment which overlooked the Pentagon from which smoke continued to float into the air.  As I prayed, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done,” I wept to think how far it seemed our world was from God’s kingdom coming or God’s will being done.  Then I remembered the words to the familiar hymn by Martin Luther which many thousands of people were probably pondering for comfort:

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;

Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:

For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;

His craft and power are great,

And, armed with cruel hate, on earth is not his equal.     (verse 1)

And tho’ this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,

We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:

The Prince of Darkness grim—we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure,

For lo, his doom is sure; one little word shall fell him (verse 3)

Prayer:  God of all goodness and all might, grant us peace in the knowledge that You are in control, even when much of life seems to be in chaos.  Amen.  

Advent Devotion: The Journey to Wholeness

written by Ginny & Fred Karnas narrated by Fred Karnas

Scripture:  He helps us in all our troubles, so that we are able to help others who have all kinds of troubles, using the same help that we ourselves have received from God.  Just as we have shared in Christ’s many sufferings, so also through Christ we share in God’s great help. (2 Corinthians: 4-5)

MeditationMy father was an alcoholic. I have never written those words before.   It has taken me over 50 years to be able to acknowledge that hurt and shame in my life.  My father was a caring man with one of the best senses of humor on the earth, but he wrestled with demons for nearly all his 84 years.  To see him at work as a middle-class government bureaucrat one would not have sensed the brokenness in his life, or for that matter the brokenness his drinking brought to his family.  Brokenness is not often used to describe those of us in the middle class.  No, we reserve it for the poor, the sick, and the homeless.  But the journey to Christmas is about God’s reaching out to heal our brokenness.  The gift of Christmas is Jesus’ promise of healing, peace, and hope for all his children, no matter their status in life. 

Christ House is a medical recovery facility for homeless men and women in inner-city Washington, DC.  On the first floor of the facility is an all-purpose room used for meetings, dining, and worship.  On this day, the Easter Sunday worship was just beginning.  Crowded into the room was an array of God’s children…rich suburbanites and poor inner-city residents, old black patients and young white volunteers, healthy neighbors and sick guests.

As the service began, Pastor Allen Goetcheus asked the community’s spiritual counselor, Sr. Marcella to say a few words.  Her words were simple but direct, and there wasn’t a soul in the room who did not instantly understand how profound they were.  Looking out on the congregation of men and women battered but unbeaten by life, she smiled and said. “If you don’t believe in resurrection you haven’t spent any time at Christ House.”

The gift of Christ House is that resurrections, big and small, are a daily occurrence.  For some it is one day of sobriety after decades of alcohol use. For another it is the report that the HIV once consuming his body has been slowed to a stop, and for others it is the once unimaginable news that he is well and there is a home to move into.  

Through the brokenness of those with whom we worshipped at Christ House, those of us whose lives had our own trials and tribulations were allowed to confront the dark and hurting places in our own lives and to share resurrections with people who, on the surface at least, were very different from us.  It is impossible to worship with the poor and sick at Christ House and say you cannot deal with your struggles.

The journey to Christmas is the journey to hope and wholeness and, ultimately, peace.  

“This is the blood of Jesus,” Leland whispers to me as he hands me the communion cup.  In that moment the gift of Christmas is mine, for no distance separates the middle-aged, middle-class white man from a tiny Canadian border town and the formerly homeless black man with AIDS.  We have each seen our brokenness, and through the gift of Christmas Leland and I share God’s love and healing. 

PrayerLord, help us to reach out to those whose trials and victories teach us about the healing gift of Your love.  Amen.

Advent Devotion: Making Room in the Inn

written by Ginny & Fred Karnas narrated by Kaeo Burgess

ScriptureAnd Jesus concluded, “In your opinion, which one of these three acted like a neighbor toward the man attacked by the robbers?”    The teacher of the law answered, “The one who was kind to him.”  Jesus replied.  “You go then, and do the same.” (Luke 10:36-37)

MeditationA few years ago, I attended a meeting in Cincinnati and decided to spend the night sleeping in a shelter run by a close friend of mine.  For nearly two decades, my friend Buddy had reached out to the homeless men and women in that city.   Buddy was one of the most gentle and caring people I have ever known, unless you were a city official bent on redeveloping his beloved Over-the-Rhine neighborhood and displacing the poor and struggling families living there.

No matter who came to his door, no matter how dirty or confused or inebriated, Buddy put his arm around him and welcomed him into his shelter.  

Tom was one of those men who somehow found their way to Buddy’s doorstep.  The night I stayed at the shelter, Buddy asked Tom to give me a tour.  Tom spent a little time showing me the various programs and residential portions of the building, but mostly Tom took me on a tour of his life.  

He told me how he was abused as a child, how he quit school and got into trouble, how his marriage fell apart and he lost his family, and how drugs and alcohol consumed him for years.  He said, “I have a Master’s in drugs, and a Ph.D. in trouble!”

“But,” he proudly continued, “because of this place and the people who cared about me, I found hope and the strength to change my life.  I have been sober for 10 years.  I have my children back in my life.  I have a job I love, working with others who are struggling with addictions.  And most of all, I know who I am.”

It is clear that Tom’s life was changed by the programs which helped him deal with some very difficult personal issues and by his own willingness to choose hope over hopelessness.  But what really saved Tom’s life was the gift of hospitality — an unconditional acceptance of the stranger in our midst — provided by Buddy and his staff.

Henry Nouwen describes hospitality this way:

Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place…It is not a method of making our God and our way into the criteria for happiness but the opening of an opportunity to others to find their God and their way… hospitality is… a friendly emptiness where strangers can enter and discover themselves as created free; free to sing their own songs, speak their own languages, dance their own dances.. Hospitality is not a subtle invitation to adopt the lifestyle of the host, but the gift of a chance for the guest to find his own.

Prayer:    Lord, help us to reach out to the strangers in our midst, to offer love, hope, comfort, support, and a safe place to find their own way.  Amen.

Advent Devotion: Sticky Kisses

written by Fred and Ginny Karnas narrated by Judy Fiske

Scripture:   Jesus said, “Let the children come to me and do not stop them, because the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.  (Matthew 19:13-14)

MeditationAs I pulled my car into the parking lot at the shelter, I saw another car follow me into the small lot.  The car was crowded with children and belongings.  It looked like the family had endeavored to strap every last possession on the car’s roof, and the trunk strained with the remaining items.  As I sat and watched, three children climbed quietly out of the car, but it was clear that another child remained inside the car.  He was engaged in an animated conversation with his parents.  All of a sudden the car door swung open and the young boy burst out, tears streaming down his face. He was barely 12 or 13 years old. He began to walk briskly down the sidewalk, screaming and crying that he did not want to stay at a shelter, asking his parents, “How could you do this to me?”  As he walked away his shattered and defeated parents stood with their heads bowed, holding back their own tears.

Parents know how tough the years of a middle-schooler can be as they seek to venture out on their own and gain the acceptance of their peers. Can you imagine being a young boy living in a shelter? How do you invite your friends over after school?  How do you even tell your friends where you live?

Homelessness is hell for children, and it shapes their lives for years, if not for a lifetime.  A study by the Interagency Council on the Homeless (now the U.S. Interagency on Homelessness) revealed the sobering statistic that more than a quarter of all homeless adults had been homeless as children, and many others had experienced similar childhood traumas of abuse, foster care, or institutionalization.  Every day that we allow children to be homeless on our city streets increases the likelihood that they and their children will find themselves on those same streets years from now.  We must find a way to imbue this generation of children with hope for a future, or their hopelessness will consume them and diminish us.


We pray for children 

who bring us sticky kisses and fistfuls of dandelions,

who sleep with the dog and bury goldfish,

who hug us in a hurry and forget their lunch money,

who cover themselves with Band-aids and sing off key,

who squeeze toothpaste all over the sink,

who slurp their soup.

And we pray for those

who never get dessert,

who have no safe blanket to drag behind them,

who watch their parents watch them die,

who can’t find any bread to steal,

who don’t have any rooms to clean up,

whose pictures aren’t on anybody’s dresser, 

whose monsters are real.

By Ina J. Hughs

Advent Devotion:

Written by Ginny & Fred Karnas Narrated by Jerusha Tiller

The Puppy in the Pocket

Scripture:  Yet we who have this spiritual treasure are like common clay pots, in order to show that the supreme power belongs to God, not to us.  We are often troubled, but not crushed; sometimes in doubt, but never in despair; there are many enemies, but we are never without a friend; and though badly hurt at times, we are not destroyed.”

II Corinthians 4:7-9

MeditationIn the mid-eighties I volunteered as a receptionist at the St. Vincent de Paul medical clinic for the homeless in Phoenix.  It was my first real introduction to those who lived on the streets.  At that time it was mostly single men sleeping in the streets or in shelters.  Then, as now, about 25% were mentally ill and about 50% were substance abusers (although this number is often disputed to be both higher and lower than 50%).  At the present time in some cities, over half the homeless population is made up of family members, including children; and approximately 10% are now single women, almost all of whom have suffered from some sort of violence or abuse.  Thus, the demographics have changed since the mid-eighties.  

But in my work as receptionist these categories of “mentally ill,” “substance abusers,” etc. did not occur to me nearly so much as other questions in my mind: “How can any of these people have any hope about the future?  How do they keep going?”  

Then one day I was not prepared for the simple sight that touched me so deeply – a man came in wearing a coat for the cool weather, and in one very large pocket he carried a puppy!  Now what else does a puppy bring to mind but joy?  And how could I believe that this man had no hope?  I had to think that he was betting on life, as opposed to despair, for his puppy and himself.  

That day several of my misconceptions about homeless people were shattered.  I learned that they aren’t all hopeless just because they’re homeless.  And I learned that they are a little like me – they love puppies!  I can imagine that Tabernacle’s have shattered many misconceptions of church members regarding homeless persons, and vice versa.

Jesus always bids us to choose life over death and hope over despair.  Sometimes, even with all the blessings of my life, I lean away from hope towards despair.  In those times I need to recall the man with the puppy in his pocket.

Prayer:  Forgive us, Lord, when we think of the world’s problems, or our own personal ones, and leave You out of the equation.  Help us to build hope from the wise truth that “God is all we have and God is all we need.”  Amen. 

Introduction to Ginny and Fred’s Devotion Series

Advent Devotion: The Good Work of the Church

Written by Fred and Ginny Karnas Narrated by Sarala Kennedy

The Good Work of the Church

Scripture:   And so I am sure that God, who began this good work in you, will carry it on until it is finished on the Day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6)

MeditationThe late Elizabeth O’Connor was a founding member of the Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC and a great influence on my life.  Her thoughtful teachings on the meaning of call and the importance of Christian community continue to be grist for much contemplation on my role in the Kingdom.   In her wonderful book Cry Pain, Cry Hope she writes:

Every single one of us has a “good work” to do in life.  This good work not only accomplishes something needed in the world, but completes something in us.  When it is finished a new work emerges that will help us to make green a desert place, as well as to scale another mountain in ourselves.  The work we do in the world, when it is true vocation, always corresponds in some mysterious way to the work that goes on within us.

With each new stage of life a new work emerges in us.  In all likelihood it was there from the beginning, waiting to be claimed for the development of our personalities and of our gifts.

Because Elizabeth was a firm believer that the Church was made up of a collection of gifts, I believe she would have said the same thing about the church body, that, “with each new stage of life a new work emerges in us.”

Such is the Christmas journey, a trip toward a new understanding of who we are as individuals and who we are as a church community.  We see the possibilities for exciting new work at Tabernacle Baptist Church with those this society has left behind.  This new work does not diminish the work that has been done in the past, but rather builds on it, calling each of us to determine whether it is time “to scale another mountain in ourselves.”  What a wonderful Christmas gift it is that God has entrusted us with this new challenge to bring hope to a suffering world.

PrayerLord, thank You for the gift of Tabernacle Baptist Church.  Be with us as we discern Your will for our role in the church’s ministries.  Amen.

Advent Devotion: In the Cry of a Tiny Babe

Written by Fred and Ginny Karnas Narrated by Jonathan Barton

In the Cry of a Tiny Babe

ScriptureThe Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has chosen me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed and announce that the time has come when the Lord will save his people.  (Luke 4:18-19)

Meditation:  One of my favorite Christmas songs is by Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn.  It is far from a traditional Christmas song, but, as you can see in the verses below, it reminds us of the incredible gift of Jesus’ birth and life on earth.

Like a stone on the surface of a still river

 driving the ripples on forever,

Redemption rips through the surface of time

 in the cry of a tiny babe.

There are others who know about this miracle birth.

The humblest of people catch a glimpse of their worth.

For it isn’t to the palace that the Christ child comes,

 but to shepherds and street people, hookers, and bums.

And the message is clear if you’ve got ears to hear,

 that forgiveness is given for your guilt and fear.

It’s a Christmas gift you don’t have to buy.

There’s a future shining in a baby’s eyes.

Sadly, today on our city streets there are scores of people who have not caught that glimpse of their worth.  They struggle each day to find any meaning in life, often making it hard for us to reach out to them.  Ma Curtis was like that.  She was a homeless woman for whom you had to work very hard to find sympathy.  She was dirty, crude and almost always drunk.  She had been through every social service program in the city of Portland and was now mostly “persona non grata” at every one of them. 

After 30 years of drinking and riding the trains, no one could see a future for Ma, except a sad and miserable death on the streets…no one, that is, but Michael and the staff at Baloney Joe’s shelter.  Somewhere in this coarse and disheveled alcoholic they saw the image of God.  For years Michael invited Ma into his shelter, kicked her out when she broke the rules, and invited her back, saying, “Ma, you are always welcome here when you want to work on your problems.  We care about you.”   

Not even Ma knows why one day, when she was nearly 60 years old, she woke up and made an incredible change in her life.  She says she remembers only that in her early morning daze she said to herself, “What am I doing?  There are people who care about me and I am acting like this.  What is wrong with me?  I’ve got to change.” Then she literally crawled to a place where she could detox from decades of alcohol abuse, and she never drank another drop.

For the next six years until her death, if you met Ma Curtis, you never forgot her.  She was, as they say, “a piece of work.”   She had an infectious but crusty laugh, the product of those decades of drinking and smoking. And she could regale you for hours with stories about riding the rails and her colorful past. But more importantly she traveled across this land telling everyone she saw never to give up hope on anyone. She would say, “No one deserves to be homeless.”  She became one of this nation’s most eloquent speakers on homelessness. She challenged everyone she saw not to forget that every sleeping form on our city streets is made in the image of God.  To meet Ma was to know that, and to know she had “caught a glimpse of her worth” and found hope in a hopeless life. 

Prayer:    Lord, help us to see Your image in our lives and grant us the patience and wisdom to see Your image in all who journey with us.  Amen.

Advent Devotion: The Gift of the Stranger

written by Ginny & Fred Karnas Narrated by Donna Soyars in 2019

The Gift of the Stranger

Scripture ReadingShe gave birth to her first Son, wrapped him in cloths and laid him in a manger – there was no room for them to stay in the inn. (Luke 2:7)

Meditation:   It was my first night as a volunteer at the new Salvation Army shelter, opened to address the growing needs of homeless men in downtown Phoenix.  I had never worked with homeless people before, so I sat nervously at the registration table asking each man a few questions as he signed in.  As I got more and more into the flow of the job, I became more mechanical in my duties, soon failing to look up before asking the next man in line his name. As I crouched over my clipboard, I called out for the name of the next person in line.  A voice quietly said, “My name is Joseph.”   Continuing to stare at my clipboard, I asked, “And your occupation?”  Joseph quietly answered, “I am a carpenter,” and then he disappeared into the crowd heading through the shelter door.    

At that moment, just a few days before Christmas, I was jolted out of the complacency of my “official” role.  I realized I could not ignore these men. I could not fail to give them the simple dignity of looking them in the eye. If Joseph were there, could Jesus be there also?   And what if I missed the opportunity to grasp God’s outstretched hand and His invitation to journey with Him in service to the world?  

The Bible does not tell us why the innkeeper felt compelled to find a place for Joseph and Mary to sleep that night.  Perhaps it was the fact that it was clear that Mary was close to giving birth that moved him to compassion, but why had none of the other innkeepers felt so moved?  Maybe it was because the innkeeper had access to the cave where Jesus was born and no one else did, or perhaps it was simply a chance to make a little more money from the travelers visiting Bethlehem to pay their taxes. Or, just maybe, it was because by looking into the eyes of Mary and Joseph the innkeeper caught a glimpse of God’s love and chose to be a part of His plan for revealing that love to mankind. 

We will have to wait until we get to heaven to get the answer to that question, but what we do know is that the birthplace of Jesus is an important part of the revelation of God’s story.  Through His humble birth, Jesus was connected to the world of the broken, and through that was able to teach us about compassion and grace and hope.  As Thomas Merton reminds us:

Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for Him at all, Christ has come uninvited.  But because He cannot be at home in it, because He is out of place in it, His place is with those others for whom there is no room.  His place is with those who do not belong, who are rejected by power because they are regarded as weak, those who are discredited, who are denied the status of person, who are tortured, bombed, and exterminated.  With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in the world. He is mysteriously present in those for whom there seems to be nothing but the world at its worst… It is in these that He hides Himself, for whom there is no room.

Prayer:   Lord, thank You for the innkeeper who chose to be a part of God’s plan for the world.  Help us to be aware of those around us who need to find room in the inn – be it a place of physical rest or spiritual hope.  Amen.

Introduction to Ginny and Fred’s Devotion Series

Advent Devotion Introduction

The Christmas story is about journeys.  It is the story of a young expectant mother traveling to Bethlehem with her husband to pay taxes.  It is the story of the Magi following the stars in search of a King, and of humble shepherds taking leave of their sheep to find a Savior wrapped in cloth in a manger.

And so it is for all of us.  The birth of Christ marks the beginning of the journey to Easter and our personal journey from brokenness to wholeness.  For those who choose to listen, the Christmas story transforms each of us into a traveler on the road to reconciliation, redemption and hope.

Our personal journey has taken us to many places only God could have imagined, from the windswept plains of a North Dakota reservation to the sugar cane fields of south Florida; from a barrio in the desert Southwest to the hollows of Appalachia, and the streets of inner-city Washington, D.C.  Along the way we were blessed with a decade at Fredericksburg Baptist Church where we were nurtured, supported, challenged and uplifted.

In 2002, we were humbled to have been asked to share some stories of our journey with our fellow parishioners during Advent season.  And, this year, we are equally humbled to share these stories with our friends at Tabernacle Baptist Church. In the pages of this devotional you will hear the stories of those we have come to know as we have traveled…stories from our work with Native Americans, migrant farm workers, elderly persons and the homeless men, women and children.

Many of the people we will introduce to you in the pages ahead have led very difficult lives.  Most have overcome incredible odds and openly share their stories.  Others are more reticent, desiring to put the past behind them and grasp their new futures of hope.  In order to ensure that we did not compromise anyone’s privacy we have changed some of the details.

Additionally, to make it easier for readers (and the writers), we have chosen to refer to God as He, even though it our belief that God encompasses both masculinity and femininity.  All scripture references, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Bible in Today’s English Version, commonly know as the “Good News Bible.” 

A number of the readings make reference to Christ House, a medical recovery facility with 24–hour nursing coverage for homeless and formerly homeless men and women.  Christ House is an all-encompassing ministry with a social work department, a substance abuse recovery program, a worshipping congregation, and a staff who live in community on site.  Kairos House is a companion ministry nearby where former Christ House patients committed to recovery live in community. Christ House is located in the Adams-Morgan neighborhood of Washington, DC, and was part of the Church of the Saviour’s family of ministries. The Church of the Saviour is now a scattered community of independent churches.

As we journey toward the destination of Christmas, we must recognize that this journey is only preparation for a longer one.  Christ invites you on a longer journey into the life of your community to tell the story of Jesus and reach out to a hurting world.

It is our prayer that through our stories you will hear the Christmas story in a different way this year, and the people we introduce to you will challenge you to invest yourselves even more in ministry at Tabernacle Baptist Church and in the community.   As we begin our journey remember these words of Jean Vanier:

We are called to drink deeply from the heart of Christ, so that we, the church, can become a home for the lonely and the crushed of this earth. Christ puts into the arms of His church the suffering and the hungry of this world so that they may heal us, call us down from our pedestals of power and wealth and lead us into the wisdom of the beatitudes.

Please come with us as we travel to Christmas.

Fred and Ginny Karnas