It was Thanksgiving Week of 1972 when I flew into National Airport to report to my first duty station, Ft. Meade, MD, after completing basic training. I had just turned 18 the previous May and was going to spend my Army stint as a trumpeter in the First US Army Band. Coming from Texas, I had dressed in a warm weather uniform and overcoat, but it was in the 70s when I arrived. I was hot and a little scared in a new land without anyone to guide me. My instructions were to catch the Greyhound Bus from National Airport to Ft. Meade, but the bus drivers were on strike, so I walked a mile or two with my duffle bag to the Continental Bus Terminal which took me to Laurel, MD, where I took a cab to the post. 

After this long, lonely day of travel, I arrived at the First Army Band barracks to find out the band was on blanket leave for Thanksgiving and only one soldier was there and he didn’t know what I was supposed to do, so he found me a barrack’s room that was being used as a supply closet. I’d never felt so lonely and sad as that first night. I took out the Living Bible my mom had given me for graduation from high school and started my first read through of the entire Bible (not in that one night!!). 

My first holiday season away from home was hard enough, but to be in a foreign land with strangers all around made me feel isolated and alone. I believe God answered my prayers in two specific ways that made that Advent season memorable. 

First, my youth director from Texas had a sister living in Northern Virginia whom I had met when she visited her brother. She drove to Ft. Meade on Thanksgiving Day to pick me up and take her to her apartment where she and some friends were celebrating the holiday. It was little uncomfortable, but I was with people – and great Christian folk! 

Second, my uncle and aunt in my hometown had a favorite pastor who had moved to Maryland to pastor a church outside Rockville, MD, and they gave me his phone number. That pastor told me there was a Naval officer stationed at Ft. Meade that drove the 45 minutes to the church and he would be glad to bring me to services. After one or two weeks of going with that family, I purchased a used car and was able to drive myself. After Christmas, that Naval officer received orders to move and I never saw him again. I believe God put him at Ft. Meade just for me J. 

That church became a home for me the almost 3 years I was stationed to Ft. Meade. Knowing that God loved me gave me hope during a time of deep loneliness and God’s faithfulness during that Advent season strengthened my faith which I pray still grows stronger each year. 

Mark Cooke, 2023 

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Advent ’23 Entries

Advent23: December 24

A Musical Advent As the Communications Director for Haymarket Church, I get the opportunity to see and read all of the Advent (and also Lent) devotional entries before anyone else. Well, Pastor Brian receives some of them via email before I do … but you get the…

Advent23: December 23

“A shoot will grow up from the stump of Jesse;      a branch will sprout from his roots.  The Lord’s spirit will rest upon him,      a spirit of wisdom and understanding,      a spirit of planning and…

Advent23: December 21

Christmas Breakfast When I think of Christmas, I think of breakfast.  Since I was little, the most central element of my family’s Christmas celebration has been eating a big breakfast together on Christmas morning.  When I was young, it drove me crazy.  We’d come…

Advent23: December 20

Were there Hobbits at the Nativity?  It is no secret in the Bryden household that J.R.R. Tolkien (of the Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and Silmarillion fame) is my favorite author. While I am not an avid reader, I couldn’t put his books down once I started – with the…

Advent23: December 22

On Sunday in worship, our preacher, Rev. Shannon Hendricks, preached about the story of Mary and Elizabeth (Luke 1:26-56).  In her sermon, she referenced a song called “The Canticle of the Turning.”  This song is a reinterpretation of the song Mary sings…

Advent23: December 19

The Rebel Jesus  One of my favorite Christmas songs is Jackson Browne’s “The Rebel Jesus.” It’s not quite a traditional song, but every year, when it’s time for us to start reading Chapter 1 of Luke, there’s something about this song that just – well, I think this…

Advent23: December 17

What must it have been like to be Mary?  Her life got turned upside-down when an angel told her that she was going to give birth to God’s son.  It almost ended her marriage.  It must have strained relationships with family, friends, and neighbors –…

Advent23: December 16

Mary Did You Know? Thirty-plus years ago, my husband, daughter and I were living in Bonn, Germany; at the time Germany’s capital. Bill had been offered a position in Bonn by his employer and we both thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to live in Europe; and…

Advent23: December 15

Mary, Did You Know? Between my husband’s side and mine, we each have 2 siblings who each have at least two children. But while mine are all in Baltimore, Sean’s all live closer to us. We used to split the day of Christmas, Thanksgiving – and all other holidays that…

Advent23: December 14

Finding Home  “Are you going home for the holidays?”  This is a question that I hear many times.  It’s a friendly inquiry but it has taken me years to answer honestly.  I did used to go “home” to CA for the holidays.  When I was married, we…

Advent23: December 13

Where Is The Love? When I was in the last semester of my senior year of high school, I decided to take an online English class. At the time, this was a brand new option; it sounded exciting and easy to just do this class on my own at home on our family computer…

Advent23: December 12

The Sounds of Christmas (A Group entry by our High School Small Group) _______________ Every year on Christmas Eve, ever since I was little, I have watched the Trans-Siberian Orchestra movie with my dad. It has always been the soundtrack to my Christmas and…

Advent23: December 11

For at least a 20+ year period of my life, I had beef with the shepherds from the Nativity story. It all started in the early 2000’s when I was an 11 year-old youngster. As a young, gay, Pentecostal pastor’s kid, my chances for dressing in shiny and bejeweled…

Advent23: December 10

On the second Sunday of Advent, we are talking about John the Baptist.  Advent is kinda weird, in that we prepare for Christmas (at least during early Advent) by telling stories that happened when Jesus was an adult.  We get ready to celebrate the birth…

Advent23: December 9

Over the last week or so, there’s a song I’ve been listening to quite a lot.  It’s called “Thou Who Wast Rich” and the version I’ve been listening to is performed by a group called “Ordinary Time.” There’s nothing fancy about the song – it’s just a hymn, and I…

Advent23: December 8

I love keeping family traditions, especially around Christmas time. Some traditions we have in our family include not listening to Christmas music until afterThanksgiving (although I think one of our daughters starts earlier each year), dipping pretzels inwhite…

Advent23: December 7

“A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices”  This line from the popular Christmas song, O Holy Night, carried me through the Christmas of 2021. As the world continued to isolate due to COVID-19, I was navigating a challenging diagnosis. By December 2021, my…

Advent23: December 6

Be warned: today’s Advent devotion includes some profanity.  First, an explanation: Advent is a season that is traditionally associated with the biblical genre of apocalypticism.  Apocalypticism (or “apocalyptic” or “apocalypse”) is a genre of literature…

Advent23: December 5

Growing up in Michigan, one of my favorite things was coming out of the Christmas Eve service to a light blanket of snow on the sidewalk. It happened pretty much every Christmas and is a very special memory for me. So, when I moved down to Virginia, I had the…

Advent23: December 4

Every year in December, my Mom would bring out the “Christmas Lamp” to mine and my siblings excited delight.  The vintage 1957 Econolite motion lamp, pictured here, is a paper lantern sitting on a base with a light bulb.  Between the light and…

Advent23: December 3

Advent is a counterintuitive season. It ends with joy joy – joy to the world, joy beyond our ability to fathom it. At the end of Advent comes Christmas, when we celebrate the Light of the World entering into our darkness, the Prince of Peace overcoming our…