By Garrett Vickrey
It’s here. Christmas. Joy to the world! The Lord is Come!
What will we see now? We have been keeping watch for so long. Have our eyes grown red at the moment it is time to enjoy the fruits of their labor? Christ is come.
Watch. And see.
Franciscans and Eastern Orthodox Christians have always placed a greater emphasis on Christmas and the Incarnation of Christ than others. We have focused on Easter and the cross. But, these other Christian traditions remind us that the Incarnation was already the Redemption, because in Jesus’s birth God was already saying that it was good to be human, and God was on our side.
That is good news. That is gospel.
In the birth of Jesus we can know the truth of John 3:16. That God loves the world. So much that God has given us the greatest gift ― God’s life with us, for us, surrounding us. That’s a gift too good not to be shared. At Christmas we celebrate the unity of humanity with divinity. The earliest theologians stressed the incarnation not be seen as the descent of God to humanity, but the lifting up of humanity into the divine life. Be lifted today.
This gift lifts and invigorates every aspect of our life if we see through the incarnated lens of Christmas. The gift we celebrate this day uplifts every aspect of life, even the most humble or ordinary.
It’s a gift that makes us want to hold open doors for people a little longer. It makes us want to be a little kinder to strangers. That’s a gift that makes us want to be a little more truthful with our loved ones. It makes us want to be a little more generous with our time and money. All these gestures unfold the gift of this day and reflect its mercy. As Kathleen Norris says, “All that exists has the potential to reveal God’s truth and love.”
Keep watching. Keep waiting. In hope. In peace. In joy. Love. The gift is here. It is in us. It is around us. Do we see it? It is God. And it is good.
By Dan Jean
“‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.” I would be surprised if you haven’t heard these words already this season. They come from a beloved poem by Clement Clarke Moore and paint a romantic portrait of the power of Christmas to warm our hearts. This wonderful poem captures the preparation, imagination, and excitement that point to the arrival of Christmas, revealed in a flash to be St. Nicholas and his team on the new fallen snow. “The children were nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads.”
The fruits in today’s passage from Galatians are not exactly sugarplums. The Apostle Paul writes this letter to challenge controversy in the early church. His clear tone shows how important it is for people to embrace unity in Christ, no matter their differences. Paul describes a tree laden with fruits worthy of our dreams and visions. Can anything possibly be wrong with such fruits as these?
Love. Joy. Peace. These words so often describe Christmas. The faithfulness of family and friends bring kindness and goodness. Patience and self-control soothe stresses of the season – most of the time. Paul gives us both beautiful words and worthy ideals. Take a moment to receive Paul’s gift. These fruits are a clear vision of life in the Spirit of Christ. Tonight as you close your eyes and imagine the best Christmas can offer, let Paul’s fruits inspire and delight you. “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”
By Rubye Box
I Corinthians 13
The 13th chapter of I Corinthians is known as the love chapter. Many wedding ceremonies include this chapter because it is a perfect picture of what love should be. The final verse is a summary of the entire chapter.
“But now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
This verse has such deep implications for us all. All three are intangible. You cannot hold any of them in your hand and yet they are as real as you and me.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, had incredible faith. Faith in God, faith in what the angel told her and faith that the child she was carrying was indeed the Son of God. Oh, that we could have such faith!
Hope is what keeps us looking toward heaven. Hope is what kept those faithful Jewish believers praying that the promise of God would come true – the promise that a Messiah would be born and bring deliverance.
Love was the ultimate gift God gave mankind. It was there when God created the perfect place where his creation could live and thrive. His love was there with Adam and Eve in the garden. It was there with Moses as he led the Hebrew children out of Egypt. But mostly, it was there the night Jesus was born, when he lived among us and then when he died to save us all. No other love is greater than the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus offering himself for the sins of the world. May we all learn to love as our Heavenly Father loves us.
By Leo Parchman
We use the word “love” in many different ways. It can describe a feeling of compatibility among friends, or a “moonlight and roses” feeling of romance. It can also describe a feeling of enjoyment as in “I love apple pie”, or an expression of approval as in “I love your new hair style”. A seven year old boy has described love as what is in the room on Christmas morning after the presents have been opened. He is getting close to the meaning of the word “love” Jesus used in today’s scripture. In this passage the word is not used as a term to describe a feeling. It is a verb, an action word. It requires us to do something. Jesus even tells us what we are expected to do when he uses the phrase “as I have loved you”, and he is not so subtle with his statement. It comes to us as a command in simple understandable language. Jesus actions are the examples of how we are to love so that we will be recognized as followers of Jesus.
A retired nurse has told this story:
Many years ago I got to know a little girl named Liz who was suffering from a rare and life-threatening disease. Her only chance of recovery in the short me she had left appeared to be a transfusion from her younger brother. He had miraculously survived the same disease and had developed the antibodies needed to combat the illness. The doctor explained the situation to her brother and asked the little boy if he would be willing to give his blood to his big sister. He hesitated for only a few moments before taking a deep breath and saying “Yes, I’ll do it if it will save her.”
As the transfusion progressed he lay in bed beside her and smiled, as we all did, seeing the color returning to her cheeks. Then his little face grew pale and the smile faded away. He looked up at the doctor and asked with a trembling voice “Will I start to die right away?” Being so young, the little boy had misunderstood the doctor. He thought he was going to have to give his sister all of his blood in order to save her, AND YET HE DID IT ANYWAY.
By the way, Jesus even doubled down on this command by repeating it in a different way in John 14:21. During this Christmas season let us ask God anew to teach us to love one another as Jesus loved us.
By James Higdon
1 Peter 1:8
Today’s devotional passage focuses on an aspect of love that we don’t often consider, although it is something of which we are certainly conscious and aware. None of us has “seen God” like we see our friends and acquaintances at work, at social gatherings, at church, etc. Nor do we really consider the fact that we often do not treat our invisible Lord as well as we treat our visible friends. We can touch and feel each other when we interact, but obviously we can’t do that with our Lord when we interact with him. We often “feel the Lord’s presence,” but it is not a presence that we can touch and feel in the same manner as with our spouses, children, and close friends. We love and serve a God we cannot see, that is invisible, yet visible in what we see he created. We help our friends in showing our love for them, and often see the tangible results of doing so, but it is difficult to measure our attempts to have a similar relationship with Jesus. Love is the best way to declare and show the invisible God our belief in Him, and our actions of love declare and demonstrate our faith in the God we cannot see. So, although we don’t visually see the Lord in the same way we do our friends, we deeply believe in Him and know in our hearts that we are truly having a “material relationship” with Him, and, in fact, feel that “inexpressible and glorious joy” that Peter is referring to. Even though we don’t “see God” as we do our friends, because we love him, we are filled with “an inexpressible and glorious joy” through which we experience Him, experience His presence, and experience His Love.
By Daniel Zamora
Today’s passage is known as the Song of Mary, the “Magnificat,” a spontaneous hymn identified through the centuries as the first canticle recorded in the New Testament. It contains the praises that Mary expressed while being with her relative Elizabeth, once the angel had told her about some strange and incredible announcement.
Mary was overwhelmed. First, she was visited by a heavenly being, the angel Gabriel; second, the angel’s message was that in spite of her not being married, she would have a baby and his name would be Jesus, the Son of the Most High; third, when the angel was gone, she ran to another town the tell Elizabeth the shocking news. She was pregnant and her baby jumped out of joy after listening to the awesome tidings. After that, Mary began singing full of joy and gratitude. In this canticle, Mary worshiped for what God is, for what He had done for her and the many blessings and mercy extended to generations to come.
How do we react when receiving wonderful news? Our responses may range from simply smiling to deeply crying out loud and, including but not limited to, shouting, screaming, jumping, hugging, calling loved ones to share with and thanking those who made it possible or were involved closely in the message received.
At over two thousand years of distance, let us praise God this Advent season by singing Mary’s words “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
By Chris Langford
Where do we place our hope when others cause us pain?
This is a question I often seem to ponder and perhaps one that King David reflected on. Our human nature many times may drive us to lash out at those that try to hurt us, furthering a vicious interpersonal cycle of pain and grief. Or we may decide to seek support from close friends or help from mental health professionals. While there may be value in these two options, restoration for ourselves and others will not occur without reaching out to the Lord and placing our trust in him.
We read in Psalm 40 about how King David put all of his hope in the Lord and cried out to him earnestly asking for help (40:1). He developed many enemies over the years often times as the result of his own sins and shortcomings. The Lord delivered David from the filthiness of sin that had enslaved him (40:2). Although David was a new man in the sight of the Lord, the same did not hold true in the eyes of his fellow man. His previous wrongdoings caught up with him (40:12). David’s enemies continually wanted to do him harm by revisiting his past sins and wrongdoings (40:14-15). He could have denied any past mistakes, or succumbed to the negativeness circulating around him, but instead David calls on the Lord’s love and compassion to protect him (40:11).
David, being freed from his former life of sin, cannot contain the joy he has and his praise for God (40:3). Nobody can separate him from the holy reassurance he has in the Lord. When everything else is crumbling around him, David places his faith in the Lord and urges others to do likewise. David concludes Psalm 40 by urging those who seek the Lord to rejoice in him and the salvation he offers (40:16). While humans continued to rebel against God, he sent his Son to die for us, that by his sacrifice we might receive the Holy Spirit, be cleansed, and live as new creations. This is God’s love, this is his faith in us.
We are called to forgive others their trespasses if we are to expect God’s forgiveness of our own (Ma hew 6:14-15). Perhaps one of the greatest measures of faith is praying to the Lord and believing that he will transform the hearts of those that do us harm. Perhaps one of the greatest testaments to that faith is living a life that reflects such a transformation in ourselves. Like David, let us place our hope in the Lord. A hope that through our forgiveness of others’ misconduct towards us that we find forgiveness of our own shortcomings, a hope that we find peace for the pain that others cause us, and a hope that others will find the love of Christ through our actions and they will experience the miraculous transformation that only the indwelling of the Holy Spirit can provide.
By Bridgette Langford
What does it mean to have Joy?
Christ shares with us that in order for us to truly seek Joyfulness, our love must be genuine, we must hate evil, and should be devoted to loving one another above ourselves. We must have great energy and keep our spiritual passion for serving him. We must be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer.
As I read this passage I began to think what does it mean to be joyful in hope, be patient in affliction and what does it truly mean to be faithful in prayer?
We have a desire for certain things to happen, but sometimes that waiting is hard. We all go through experiences in our lives. Some are good other are bad. No matter what life hands us we are to persist in our praying. This can be hard, depending on what is currently going on in your life. We must remain joyful as we wait upon the lord.
I must confess that the waiting part is hard. I often wonder how the prophets felt before Jesus came to earth. They shared with the world he was coming. They remained joyful in hope, even when they received affliction by those who did not believe. They remained faithful in prayer as they waited. This is a good example to us. We must do things with joy, passion, love, hope, and patience while remaining faithful in prayer.
I ask you to take a moment and think about the last time you were truly joyful in hope, patient in affliction and faithful in prayer. When was the last time you let your joy shine in loving others? As we are in this period of advent and drawing closer to celebrating the birth of our Savior, I find great Joy in knowing my hope is found in Him and I hope yours is too. I want to encourage you if you have not already done so today to smile and be the light of Joy to all those you see.
Father, thank you so much for being our Joyful hope, help me to remain faithful in prayer in times of joy and sorrow. Allow me to be your servant, not just during this me but always. Thank for using me for your glory. God grant me peace in knowing I am doing your will for my life. Amen.
By Bob Morrison
You just cannot begin John’s first Chapter at verse 14. You have to begin at the beginning… “In the beginning was the Word…” Genesis comes alive to us again. He was there. Jesus was there. In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. That light shines in any darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. And I puzzled over it until verse 14: “… the word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The Word was still distant to me until Eugene Peterson’s Message, made it understandable, made it come alive: The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood – He was here, right next door. I could be with Him; knock on His door, any time. And it is still true today! May we renew our strength because of Him and His proximity as once again we renew this Christmas season! Amen.
By Emily Delgado
I have had to sit with this Advent devotion for a long me. As much as I love the Christmas season, I have felt unable to capture the Spirit in my writing, and, as a result, have found myself feeling more and more like Scrooge. It seems that everywhere I turn I am confronted not with joy, but with stress and fear of judgment. Perhaps I find it so hard to write about joy because I have developed a pattern of letting this stress crowd out the moments that bring me joy each day. I am so blessed, but somehow I’ve closed my eyes and my ears to God’s messages of joy.
I should have known then, that, just like Scrooge, my moment of clarity would not arrive until it was almost too late. But, as I sit here reading these Psalms for what seems like the hundredth me, I may have finally stumbled upon my truth: to keep joy at the center of my life, I must turn away from fear, leave the judgment to God, and return my focus to my purpose—being a beacon of His love to others. So, just as with Christmas, I will honor joy in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.
Dear Heavenly Father,
As we gather again to celebrate the joy of the Christmas season, I find myself drowning within a sea of judgment. Help me to keep the joy of this season foremost in my heart, both now and throughout the year. When I am tempted towards judgment, remind me that you alone are the expert in righteousness. When I am preoccupied by the judgment of others, reveal to me instead the wonders that surround me. Let us, the creatures of the earth, focus on joy and leave the task of judgment to you. Amen.