By Marilyn Gladson
“The true bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
Today is a special day for me. My father was born on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1926. Once, when I was a child, I asked him if he got combined Christmas/Birthday gifts when he was growing up. “What gifts?” was his reply. He was the third of three brothers and had three younger sisters. It is safe to say their family was quite poor. My grandfather was a jack-of-all-trades who made his living by doing a variety of jobs. He even did some preaching along the way. Yet, he always provided for his wife and children. And not all gifts come wrapped in pretty paper, ribbons, and bows. Daddy had the gift of a loving family who nurtured his faith, taught him to sing the old hymns of praise, and showed him how to be a fine man, husband and father.
He learned those lessons well. While his teacher/preacher salaries did not always stretch to the end of the month, our family of five was never hungry, always had clothes and shelter, and managed to put a dollar each in our Sunday School envelopes every week. The “true bread of God,” Jesus Christ, was as familiar to me as my aunts, uncles, and cousins. I cannot remember any time in my life when I did not know about our loving God and our salvation through faith in Jesus.
So, today I celebrate not only the human birth of Jesus in tiny Bethlehem, but also the birth and life of my dad. Both have given me life and love and joy.
By Elizabeth Pruitt
Have you seen this advice on social media or received it from a well-meaning friend? Sometimes when I hear those words, I think “Really, you don’t understand what I am going through. Seems too easy. Seems a little trite.”
Psalm 40 verse 16 says, “But all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who long for your saving help always say, The LORD is great!”
This Psalm is about David being in distress, praying to be rescued, waiting (and waiting) for God, to lift him from his trouble, and then giving God praise for saving him. We’ve all been in our own pit of trouble: an unwelcome diagnosis, the loss of a job, disappointment, death of a loved one, a broken relationship. The list could go on and on. We can be comforted, that our joy is not contingent on our situation, for our joy is grounded in the Lord. Romans 5 verses 10-11 confirm this, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
I guess as believers, we have “Chosen Joy”. This deep-down joy comes when we are reconciled to God through faith Jesus Christ.
This Christmas, and always, let us remember that we can rejoice regardless of our circumstances because of Christ within our hearts.
I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy
Down in my heart (where!?)
Down in my heart (where!?)
Down in my heart.
I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy
Down in my heart (where!?)
Down in my heart to stay.
By Gina Garrison
One of my favorite folk songs, recorded by Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem, is titled “Ready for Joy.” The song expresses the dark places in our lives, when we feel downtrodden, tied to the ground, or surrounded by midnight. Throughout these hardships, the lyricist speaks enthusiastically of his or her anticipation of joy. “I wanna be ready when joy comes back.”
In what could have been a time of great despair, Mary expresses her overflowing joy and gratitude for God’s blessings. Despite the challenges she was facing, she was ready for joy. In this advent season, may we all make room in our hearts for the anticipation of joy. May we all be ready for the darkness to turn to light, our crying to turn to laughter. I want to be ready for the joy of Christmas and the birth of the Christ Child.
Holy Father, As we prepare for Christmas, may you delight in our joy and anticipation.
By Daniel Zamora
Increase your Joy and Rejoice!
Have you ever tried to walk in the darkness, at least a few steps to reach the closest light switch or perhaps when the power is out during a big storm, and are trying to reach your cell phone or any other source of light? We tend to do it very slowly to avoid bumping into furniture or stumbling on a toy or rug. Suddenly, you reach the light switch or the power is back. Can you picture yourself with a big smile on your face?
Yes, after struggling with limited or no visibility, the light is back on and we can see everything around us making it easier to walk or returning to our previous activity with a joyful attitude. It has been said that people who live in areas with limited lighting tend to be sad and depressed while those living in sunny places all year round have a more cheerful mood. If one light gives us that much joy, two or more lights can bring us lots of it.
In Advent, we light a candle to symbolize each of the gifts that God sent with Christ: hope, peace, joy and love. These presents are not part of a menu from which we choose from but, they come altogether. Thus, the light coming out of these candles increases every week and finally, on Christmas Eve, the Christ candle is lit giving us the better perspective of what the prophet Isaiah referred to seeing a great light.
During this season, let every light be a reminder of increasing our joy and rejoicing before the Lord.
by Dan Jean
“The whole assembly then agreed to celebrate the festival seven more days;
so for another seven days they celebrated joyfully.” 2 Chronicles 30:23
The anticipation of the big day is a memory. The gifts have all been unwrapped. The guests have gone home. It is time to take down those decorations. The Christmas season has come to an end, and a new year is here.
As the tree comes down, the cards are read one last time and thrown away, and the wreaths and tinsel go back in the closet, the season of joy comes to an abrupt end. The house looks bare and drab after the sparkles and bright colors are put away. There is a sadness that wants to creep in and unravel our experience. It is too easy to “pack and label” our Christmas joy and good will, and put them away until next year. I don’t think it has to be this way. Here is why…
First, the “label” is wrong. The trappings of Christmas are NOT Christmas, but only symbols of it. We don’t celebrate a decorated tree. We don’t anticipate eggnog and lighted houses. Yes, we enjoy them. Yes, they add to our experience. I urge care that we not “label” these icons incorrectly, and give them too much importance. Christmas is about the birth of a savior and the joy that birth brings to all people. Worship, the re-telling of the important stories of our faith, is a joyful component of Christmas. The church celebrates weekly, not annually. The Christ in Christmas promises to be with us always.
Next, we can continue to feast. Our gatherings with family, friends, and loved ones over a meal are not rare events, or at least they don’t need to be. A shared meal is always a celebration. Most of us eat two or three times a day! Re-label “dinner.” Call it a “feast”. Invite a friend. Talk. Laugh. Celebrate! Don’t pack away the joy of sharing a meal.
Also, for me, a component of extending the Christmas season for twelve months involves not “packing and putting away” the joy and good will we long for. Keep joy. Keep good will. The most spirited part of the brightest Christmas sweater – the detail that makes it stand out – is the bright smile just a few inches above the collar. In fact, that smile may be one of the best decorations on display throughout the season. You can pack that sweater away for another year, but your smile is in style all year long. It is joy you long for. Don’t pack it away.
Remember that Jesus’ birth is not something that happened “to us” a long time ago, but is something that happens “in us” always. Continue the celebration. Let the joy of the savior shine from within all year long.
Pastor Dan Jean
A Pastor’s Letters, 2014
This is from a collection of articles Dan Jean wrote to his congregation, New Hope United Methodist Church. Republished with his permission.
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 Edgar Twedt
1 Peter 1:8
6 In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, 7 so that the genuineness of your faith – being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
The first thing that came to my mind when I read this verse (in bold letters above) was what does this have to do with Advent. Then I tried to turn my doubting mind away from its cynical bent, and take a deeper look. The passage is a message from the Apostle Peter to those who have not actually seen the Lord physically as Peter had. When we look at it in the overall picture of Advent through Resurrection and finally seeing our Lord face to face, it makes remarkable sense. Just as we have not seen our Lord face to face, and just as we do not see him now, still we love him, believe in him and rejoice with what Peter calls an indescribable and glorious joy. And the same is true of the Advent of his Incarnation. None of us was there, none of us saw the event personally, but we believe in him who came and dwelt among us, and we continue to rejoice with indescribable and glorious joy at the oft repeated story of the Advent of his coming. In a very important sense our first meeting of our Lord was one of indescribable and glorious joy, and so every time we celebrate ADVENT it reminds us of the first time we met him. No wonder we are filled with awe and wonder as we move into the season of ADVENT. It isn’t just the holly and the ivy, the trimmed Christmas tree, the stockings all hung by the chimney with care, or the beautifully wrapped presents so neatly displayed around that tree. It’s the indescribable and glorious joy of our relationship to the living Christ.
By Nora O. Lozano
Psalm 40 is full of contrasts. On the one hand, the Psalmist writes about his own difficult experiences:
Being in a desolate pit, and a miry bog (verse 1)
For evils have encompassed me without number; my iniquities have overtaken me…; they are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails me (verse 12)
The Psalmist is in a desperate situation. I cannot remember how many times I have recited and prayed this Psalm. In fact, at a certain point in my life, it was one of my most constant prayers. Perhaps you have had similar experiences where you felt, too, that you were in a desolate pit and a miry bog.
But there is hope! With God there is always a sense of expectation and anticipation as Christians wait for divine intervention.
In this hope, the Psalmist narrates God’s actions on his behalf:
I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry (verse 1)
You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you (verse 5).
…the Lord takes thought for me. You are my help and my deliverer; (verse 17).
Having experienced life’s vulnerabilities as well as God’s mighty deliverance, the Psalmist rejoices and invites us to do the same:
…may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation say continually, “Great is the Lord!” (verse 16).
For Christians who have witnessed God’s deliverance, joy is a deep state of mind and heart. Even though we may be experiencing problems and difficulties now, we rest in joy because God will act again on our behalf, just as God did in the past.
The topics of joy, deliverance, rest, and salvation continue into the New Testament, yet they find new expressions. As we anticipate the miracle of the incarnation, let’s rejoice because Jesus’ birth represents a fresh and powerful expression of God’s love, salvation, and goodwill towards humanity. Life is difficult, but there is rest in our triune God’s nature and actions Amen!
By Dan Jean
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
If you are like me, the busyness, pressures, and deadlines of this season can be unsettling. I hope for peace and joy, but often find unrest and tension instead. The Christ child seems to be hidden somewhere in the crowd of shoppers, the plates of cookies, and the big day looming ahead on the calendar. Where is the joy I desire? How can I find peace and rest while truly enjoying all the season has to offer?
A popular term describing the mental state of a person totally immersed in an activity for its own sake is “flow.” People verbalize their flow experiences using the metaphor of a water current carrying them steadily along. Athletes and artists describe such special moments in a very positive way, characterized by energized focus and real joy. The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous contentment. Even when facing a competition or a deadline, a person in flow is energized and calm, at peace.
Paul’s passage from Romans invites us to a lifestyle of flow, with good pushing evil aside and clearing the way for the focused and passionate practices of devotion, honor, zeal, and spiritual fervor. The fruits? Joy, patience, and faith. Joy is a passionate state where life flows and energy is abundant and contagious. Patience – not anger – overcomes difficulty. Faith fuels a natural and regular practice of prayer.
Christmas is about the great love God has for us flowing into this world. The son of God came to light the way for all people. Today Jesus lights the path to abundant life for each of us. Let’s begin to imagine and live a life as Paul describes, love flowing. The joy that flows from sincere love will propel us forward – joyful, patient, and faithful.
By Lance Mayes
The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish. John 1:14 The Message
Moving. It is an overwhelming task and most of the time a huge headache. Packing up boxes. Cleaning. Unpacking boxes. Change of address forms. Remembering to drive to a new place! After our last move, Jennie told me I better like our house and neighborhood because we are never moving again!
David and Lauren Bass made a big move in October 2015. Following God’s call, they moved to Cambodia to serve as CBF Field Personnel. Can you image that kind of move? Selling many of your things including cars and home. Boxing up everything and deciding what goes with you, what goes to family, and what is given away. Then, you still have to learn a new culture and language.
David and Lauren find ministry in the middle of language school. David shares in their blog on April 27, 2016, “What is ministry if not living life alongside people, learning how they see the world, allowing yourself to be vulnerable with them, all in order to display God’s love.”
David’s description of ministry sounds like what Jesus did when he moved into our neighborhood. Can you imagine that kind of move? Here was King Jesus present before creation (and even participating in creation) currently reigning in his kingdom. He became as vulnerable as a baby having to be taken care of and taught. As he grew, he displayed God’s generosity and love. He continued to reflect God’s glory in his death and resurrection.
What joy we find in our humanness because of Jesus. You might not be called to be CBF Field Personnel, but you do have a calling. Find the joy in moving into the calling God has for you.
The Offering for Global Missions supports CBF Field Personnel like David and Lauren. You can find more information online at woodlandbc.org/ogm. Our goal is $40,000 and for every person at Woodland to contribute — from the youngest to the oldest.
You can follow David and Lauren at davidandlaurenbass.com.