By Sandra Peters
John 3:16 For this is the way God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. (NET)
Oh Father God, as we listen to the words and music of Handel’s “Messiah” on this Christmas morning, we are overwhelmed by who You are! We are awed by the gift You have given to the world: Your perfect Son, Jesus! How can we, who are sinful humans ever wrap our minds around this amazing fact?
Over two thousand years ago, You offered the people of this world the Perfect Gift all wrapped up in the person of Jesus, Your perfect Son! Your incredible act of forgiveness that gifts us with perfect love forever in Your presence!
The gift is for now! The gift is for eternity!
Shout Halleluiah! You are King of Kings! You are Lord of Lords! You are Prince of Peace! Halleluiah! Praise to You, Oh Lord in Heaven on High!
By Ed Twedt
What a powerful, reassuring passage of scripture is this short chapter in Isaiah. This entire little chapter is a psalm of thanksgiving. Isaiah speaks of salvation in three ways, beginning of course with God. God IS our salvation. God HAS BECOME our salvation, and we are told we will DRAW WATER from the wells of salvation, and we will DRAW IT WITH JOY.
For those of us who have read John’s story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman, here is a reminder that God has living water to give to all who ask. There are also three different references to God in the original Hebrew which send us an important message. In verse two the general Hebrew word EL is used, which speaks of the enormity of God. Later in the same verse, the very personal name for God is used, but with a little poetic twist it uses the short form YAH followed by the full form YAHWEH, almost as if the writer were stuttering over the word. On the contrary, however, this rather unique combination gives even more emphasis to the personal closeness of God to God’s people.
In verse 4, the personal name YAHWEH is used again where we are told to give thanks to YAHWEH. Then in verse 5, we are told to sing praises to YAHWEH. Finally Isaiah closes this beautiful little psalm in verse 6 with his signature use of THE HOLY ONE OF ISRAEL to tell us that this HOLY ONE dwells in our midst with greatness.
As we celebrate this traditional Christmas Eve, it is such a blessing to be reminded of our God’s closeness to us and God’s undying love for us. We sit poised on the eve of the traditional day when we celebrate the entrance of God Incarnate into our world, YAHWEH, THE HOLY ONE OF ISRAEL, who with greatness came and pitched his tent among us. Let us all give thanks to God and sing God’s praises.
By Shirley Smith
1 Corinthians 13
Close your eyes and picture yourself in a new country, no family, new customs, a different grocery store with unknown food items, and a new language. People are rushing and talking all around you, but you only recognize a few words. This is such a scary, uncomfortable feeling for so many people new to our city.
This past January, Woodland began a new mission adventure—English as a Second Language (ESL) classes for adults. ESL began with approximately 20 students. We are now blessed to have close to 50 adult students from 16 countries.
Our congregation is so blessed. Many Woodland members have taken on this mission. I am one of the privileged teachers. This is truly an ecumenical ministry as we have some teachers from the community.
Our students have taught us so many wonderful lessons. These students are so dedicated. They come to class for 3 hours a day, 4 mornings a week and some also attend night classes. In their previous lives, these students have been doctors, physical therapists, fashion designers, chefs, technology experts, nurses, and even one woman owned a motorcycle shop.
It doesn’t matter what country, gender, or religion. These adults display great respect and love for each other and for their teachers. The love can be seen through the help they offer one another, the sharing of life stories, and the sharing of food from their countries. They live the love described in I Corinthians 13. As you are around these students, you will hear their laughter, see their passion for learning, and their compassion for each other.
During this special time of year, many of these students are so far from family members. Please take time to read I Corinthians 13 and seek out these new faces. Let these special people enter your life. Share your Christ love with these strangers. They may be angels among us!
By Ben Newell
1 Peter 1:8
1 Peter 1:8 says, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.”
We have been blessed with three (3) wonderful children during our nineteen (19) years of marriage. Each birth experience was unique, spiritual, and overwhelming too. For a first time Dad, like me, the birth experience was scary and long in coming. I had to trust in my God that the process He determined so long ago, birthing of a baby, was a joyful thing.
Lucas was our first son. I don’t think, or at least I don’t remember with truthful memories, that our first pregnancy experience started off joyfully. Sickness, tiredness, and the unknown punctuated the experience at first. Then eventually the unknown became familiar and not so scary. Eventually we worked as a team. Things became a little more enjoyable. My job was to take care of Mom’s every wanting wish and to sing to little Lucas as he grew in his mom’s tummy. The daily song time became joyful beyond measure (unspeakable). It was a connection for Lucas and myself. Joy was realized by me, and I think by Lucas himself while in the womb, in a way that was unexpected. The process as well as the birth became undeniably joyful.
Peter is telling us that we can have “unspeakable” joy through faith in Christ even before we meet Jesus in heaven. Even though we cannot see him, we love him. Even though we can’t hear, him we believe in Him as Savior. The process of our salvation can be as joyful as our objective of eternity with Christ in heaven.
May you experience this unspeakable joy that comes through trusting and loving Jesus our Savior this Christmas season. May the process of Christmas be as joyful as the day of Christmas, as we remember His birth, life, and death for our salvation.
By Garrett Vickrey
Pregnancy isn’t easy. Sleepless nights where you just can’t get comfortable. Endless shopping for everything the baby might need until she goes to college. Binge eating. Guilt for said binge eating. And this is, of course, just the experience of the prospective father! Who could possibly imagine what the mother-in-waiting goes through?!
Cameron, my wife, is due to give birth on March 1. So it has been an interesting experience for her to be pregnant during this Christmas season. There’s so much to do to prepare for a baby. We have had to make space in our house, in our car, and in the roles we play in our family. We all make room together. We all have to put on a new identity as father or mother or sister to this new child.
Thank God we have had a little time to prepare. The arrival of a child should be marked by love. And love takes intent. Intent demands preparation. Which is why we prepare each Advent to receive God’s gift of love again.
We must make room. And we do so not just by clearing out things in our life that need to be let go of, but by taking on the fruits of the spirit that lead us further into communion with God. Colossians describes this by saying, “Clothe yourself in love which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
We try to do that at Christmas. We give presents. We practice compassion through financial contributions and service. And we humble ourselves at the foot of a manger. Worshiping where goats and sheep feed.
Love is born when we clothe ourselves in these things: compassion, kindness, humility,
meekness, and patience. We’re going to need all of these graces to make it through the
holidays. If we do, then we just might catch a glimpse of God working to bind everything
together through the gift God gives this season.
By Susie Edwards
In only 17 verses, Psalm 40 seems to capture the essence and our impression of King David:
Things start out well – he waits patiently for the Lord, who brings him out of the proverbial pit, putting a new song in the king’s heart, who “delights to do Thy will and keep Thy law within his heart.”
Life goes south – “evils beyond number” surround him and his own iniquity “more numerous than the hairs on [his] head” overtakes him to the point that he cannot even see.
Joy returns – God meets David’s deepest need and here’s where we find today’s passage.
“Let all who seek Thee rejoice and be glad in Thee;
Let those who love Thy salvation say continually,
“The Lord be magnified!”
I didn’t realize David and I had much the same story.
For 61 years life was good. My birth mother chose adoption rather than abortion; my adoptive parents loved me and provided for me abundantly; my husband and family continue to be blessings at every turn. In all things I was thankful and rejoiced in nearly every situation.
March 1, 2013, our life went south. A cancer diagnosis brought our “good life” to a standstill and things as we knew them changed in an instant.
Joy. I have always loved that word. Just saying it brings a smile. Ask a 5-year-old girl what brings her joy and she might say chocolate ice cream; a 10-year-old boy might say a video game; a teenager might name a new car; a new mother would say her infant baby; a grandmother might say the hugs of her grandchildren. At different times in life, our view of joy changes.
On March 1, joy was not the first thing that came to mind when my doctor called. However, joy has returned. In verse one, David says he “waited patiently for the Lord.” Well, waiting patiently is a very hard thing to do and many times I have failed that part of this cancer journey. But we have learned so much about faith, trust, and yes, joy! It is interesting that in my first 61 years when life was “good” I didn’t practice much faith and trust. But like so many facing serious illness, these become much more important. I still hate the cancer but I love the joy we are discovering and claiming along this path.
A hymn that means so much to us, “How Can I Keep from Singing,” expresses it well:
My life flows on in endless song; above earth’s lamentation,
I hear the sweet though far-off hymn that hails the new creation.
Through all the tumult and the strife, I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul — how can I keep from singing?
By Daniel Zamora
Today’s reading calls us to be joyful in hope. That is a very nice invitation assuming that whoever reads it or hears about it knows where to find joy and how to replenish it once it wears out. Getting joy is not like buying groceries or clothes or shopping for a car or a house, and certainly there is no such place as the joy station.
Joy is defined as a feeling, one of great pleasure and happiness. Every time the Scripture mentions it is in connection with a big event happening in the lives of those referring to God. As we read earlier this week, an angel announced to the shepherds, “I bring you good news of great joy.” Later, in the letter to Galatians, joy is described as one of the nine elements known as the fruit of the Spirit.
On the other hand “hope is a feeling of expectation and desire for certain things to happen.” We probably have hope in many things but, as Advent is a season preparing our hearts for a major occasion, let us fully enjoy and rejoice as we look forward to celebrate the birth of God’s Son, anticipate His second coming and expect His presence in our lives every day.
By Gina Garrison
John begins his Gospel by introducing us to The Word. He writes that The Word was there in the beginning, before anything else. The Word was with God, and The Word was God, and all that was created was done so with The Word.
Then, this astonishing statement: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” Something powerful and eternal, something holy and beyond personhood, full of grace and truth, became human. Thousands of years ago The Word gave up heaven to live with us, first as a tiny baby born in humble circumstances. Today, The Word lives with us and in us whenever and wherever there is an open heart.
Holy God, we come to you in prayer today, awed by your power and by your willingness to live among us, fully human and still fully divine. During this Advent, may we fully experience the Joy of the coming of The Word.
By Jean Rodman
Psalm 98: 4-9 encourages man to “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music.” It reminds me of standing beside a fast running stream in the beautiful mountains of New Mexico or walking along the scenic coastline of the ocean in Maine. Nature exploding with joyful rhythms.
Isaac Watts was inspired by these verses to write the hymn, “Joy to the World!” Watts (1674-1748) wrote many hymns that focused on the life aimed toward God. The four verses of “Joy to the World” speak of joy when the King is received, joy when the Savior reigns, joy when the sinner repents, and joy when the Truth Rules With Grace. The hymn became associated with Christmas years later because the message in the song can be applied to Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem. It is one of the best loved hymns of the Advent season.
Music helps us see the significance of what the psalmist was trying to say. Joy beyond bounds can exist in our daily life when we focus on the renewal that occurs in nature and in our life when we praise God. The completion of God’s love is found in the joyous event of Christ’s birth.
How then might we prepare ourselves to receive joy? Recognize that God is everywhere. Accept that the power of God and the gift of his son have significant bearing on the fabric of our life. Realize above all that Joy is not in things, but that Joy is in Us.
Then we can truly shout with joy!
By Lance Mayes
That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.”
Fear — seems like we have a lot of that in today’s world. Every time we turn on the television we are being warned of something to fear. Fear ISIS. Fear Ebola. Fear immigration. If we are honest we really don’t need any help finding things to fear. Fear illness. Fear the future. Fear the unknown. We have all been afraid.
I’ve never been afraid of heights, but something happened several years ago. On a high ropes course, I could not get to the top of the pamper pole (a telephone pole you climb, stand on and jump to a trapeze). I was shaking so hard I just could not get on top. I’ve done it many times before so why the fear now? Well, I was now a father. Even though I knew in my head that I was completely safe since I was wearing a harness, I was still afraid. There was more at stake now than before.
The shepherds were terrified of the sudden appearance of a bright light and a mysterious being. They were not paid enough to deal with this. Lions, bears, thieves and wandering sheep were enough. Then they heard these reassuring words, “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.” Their fear turned to curiosity, wonder and eventually joy, praise and sharing.
Pause for just a moment, take a deep breath and let it out slowly. What are your fears? Really think about it. Now hear these words. Don’t be afraid. Good News is here. Be filled with joy for Jesus is Emmanuel — God with us.