By Sandra Peters
Hallelujah, it’s Christmas Eve and we are celebrating the Present of presents! King of kings! Lord of lords!
Yes! Jesus Christ!! The ultimate Present from God!!! Thanks be to God!!!!
Think about all that has happened in 2016. God through His Beloved Son Jesus has granted us gifts of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love through our church family, our families, a multitude of caring friends, and people we do not even know. We see His Presence everywhere we look
Today our church family joins Christians across the globe, whether in church or at home, to give thanks for God’s Present of Jesus Christ our Lord. Jesus, in turn, gives us His presents of Hope, Joy, Peace and Love!
By Becky Upchurch
The setting for today’s text is the Upper Room where Jesus and his disciples have their last meal together. Judas has left to do his traitorous work. Jesus first tells his disciples that He will be glorified and God will be glorified through Him. Then He tells them that where He is going they cannot come. It is at this point that we find our text: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
It appears the disciples may not have even heard Jesus say these words about this new command and love because the immediate response from Peter is “Where are you going”? After a short conversation with Peter, Jesus reassures the disciples and tells them He is going to prepare a place for them. Thomas replies, “We don’t know where you are going.”
Unlike the disciples, we know where Jesus went – to the cross. We know what happened – He died and He overcame death. And we know where He is – He ascended into heaven and resides with God His Father. And because we know these things, we are able to focus on His words about love. We know, because of where He went, just how much He loved us. We know, because of what happened, that our sins are forgiven. We know, because of where He is, that He is truly the Son of God. And because of Who He is and His extreme and unending love for us, we are challenged each day to follow His new command: “As I have loved you…so you must love one another”.
By Ellen Di Giosia
Here is how the world gives: “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”
This is how Jesus gives: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith.”
Here is how the world gives: “The world belongs to the energetic.”
This is how Jesus gives: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”
Here is how the world gives: “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.”
This is how Jesus gives: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find.”
Here is how the world gives: “You can’t expect something for nothing.”
This is how Jesus gives: “Consider the lilies of the field. They do not toil or spin.”
Here is how the world gives: “God helps those who help themselves.”
This is how Jesus gives: “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
Here is how the world gives: “This nation is going to hell in a handbasket, and fear is your only option. Follow me – this party/leader/ideology/denomination is the only one who can save us.”
But this is how Jesus gives: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
What a spectacle those shepherds witnessed the night Jesus was born!
Picture them out on the hills, minding the flock, perhaps chatting among themselves. Suddenly the entire sky was filled with light! The light of heaven, the glory of God, blazed down on them. Maybe they stood in astonishment, looking at one another as if to say “Can you believe this?” Maybe they fell to their knees, or hugged the ground in fear and awe. But the show had only started!
An angel appeared, announcing the birth of the Messiah. Then a great company of angels appeared and began singing a heavenly chorus, praising and glorifying God. Can you even begin to imagine what that sounded like? A perfect composition, sung in perfect harmony by perfect voices. Every note, every phrase perfectly shaped, every moment so exquisite that there was no past, no future, only the all-consuming now. It must have seemed as if time stood still.
But time did pass, the composition came to an end, the Conductor put down His baton and the angels returned to heaven, taking with them the spectacular light. I imagine the shepherds needed a few moments to adjust to the reality of the dark night, the quiet hillside. They must have talked excitedly, saying “Did you hear…?” and “Did you see….?”
Then I picture them gathering their robes above their knees, sprinting to Bethlehem, the flocks forgotten in their excitement. Laughing, crying, stumbling and tumbling, they found their way to the humble stable and the manger where the Messiah lay.
Holy Father, thank you for the wonderful gift you gave the world that night so long ago. Open our hearts to your glory and splendor so we too will be excited, awed, and humbled by the birth of the Christ Child.
By Randy Edwards
I cannot hear this passage without also hearing in my head and heart an extraordinary solo written with this very text by Dan Goeller. The melodic line, sung by a mezzo soprano, is deeply rich and utterly passionate.
“O Lord, You are my God, how I long for You! How my soul thirsts for you in a dry and weary land. You are my God, so I will bless You as long as I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name.”
The violas and celli lead the lavish accompaniment, followed gracefully by the violins, double basses, and oboe.
The result for me is goose bumps on my arms and cold chills around the gills!
But the holy shiver down the spine happens only if one has actually been in that spiritual valley where one absolutely yearns and profoundly longs for God’s presence in a me of stress, loss, grief, pain, suffering, despair, or disconsolation.
Over the past few years, we have heard a lot of talk about “first-world problems.” A first-world problem (as opposed to a third-world problem) is one where our internet is running slower than usual, or the iTune player in the car is acting up, when our cell phone battery discharges, or when we are delayed having lunch by an hour or two. First-world problems, when compared to third-world issues – such as no clean water, very little food, no shelter from the storm, and no shoes – seem rather lame and frankly are rather lame when compared to third-world crises around the world.
You and I can become so first-worldly that we actually never long for God the way the Psalmist did. Our always-under-control, well-scripted lives can actually barricade us from ever really longing for the Messiah.
Such was not the case in Ancient Israel. Such is not the case in the hearts of those who deeply long for Jesus today. We realize that, without the Savior, we are utterly desolate, parched, hungry, thirsty, exposed, and alone.
Keep watch! Salvation is closer than you might think!
By Diana Bridges
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
In Isaiah 7:14, God gives embattled King Ahaz a sign of hope, whether he wants one or not. As followers of Jesus, we see in these words the foreshadowing of the Incarnation. These aren’t really words of hope to us because we live on this side of the good news that is the life of Jesus. That particular hope has been fulfilled. Our Advent hope is focused instead on the coming of God to us, our families, or our church in new, transforming ways, and also on the Second Advent.
When we’re experiencing a time of uncertainty or crisis, as the Israelites were in Isaiah’s day, we might have an acute need for words of hope. We might be constantly scanning Scripture or other resources, listening to sermons, or grasping for meaning in the events and conversations of our days for assurance that all will be well.
Our hope doesn’t rest in words, however, but in the one who utters them. Thomas Merton said, “We can either love God because we hope for something from Him, or we can hope in Him knowing that He loves us.” Our hope isn’t finally dependent on prayers being answered in a particular way or in circumstances that make life easier. Our Advent hope is deeply rooted in the God who loves us — always, completely, unconditionally — and has vowed never to leave us, even after the final promise has been fulfilled.
This Advent, may our hope be renewed in the One who loves us.