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 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 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.”
By Lee Weems
Already busy shoppers rush about and bump into one another. Still others cut in front of others to grasp that gift away. Perhaps a brief, “I’m sorry but I was here first,” takes place but not often.The competitive spirit demands the most and the best in order to look good to others and to feel better than others.
The competitive spirit demands the most and the best in order to look good to others and to feel better than others. One upmanship occurs to feed our need of attention or control. What happened to the idea of peace and goodwill? Maybe after I get what I want?
Isaiah offers a picturesque image of the idyllic harmony. The natural enemies become a creation of acceptance and peace. Despite a world of chaos, the world and all of its beings can coexist on rare occasion. When a fire or flood sweeps across the forest, the fowl and animal claim truce for survival. No animal dominates or destroys another. They realize somehow that continual conflict in the craziness of disaster will destroy them all.
Human kind, God’s greatest creation, could learn from the rest of creation that we need one another in the tough times. Perhaps we could learn that Isaiah’s scene is the vision of God. Togetherness among diversity is an ideal that can be real.
The image of the Infant being close to the snake brings chills to my spirit. Yet Isaiah has this child, though in harm’s way, being safe and secure. Can this be? When will this be? Will we work toward Isaiah’s prophecy to become a reality?
The Holy One invites us to dream and work together with Him to be messengers and participants of peace where we can work with those who differ from us. Such is the Kingdom of God. And in this season of Hope, Love, Peace and Joy, a Child shall lead us.
By Edie Dutton
I think someone is trying to tell me something, I thought as received my Advent devotional assignment. This is the second time I have been given Philippians 4:4-7 duty. Now Philippians is my favorite book in the Bible and for a very good reason…I need to hear it!
Who has seen the National Car Rental commercial with actor, Patrick Warburton, striding through the airport to pick up his rental car? The first time I saw it, I nearly spit my drink out laughing. For those of you who have not seen it, Patrick Warburton says, “Some people call me a control freak, but I like to think of myself as more of a control enthusiast.”
Ok, I admit it. I am a control enthusiast. Detail is my middle name and I like everything scheduled, neatly packaged, and well planned. However, this can get quite tiring and ultimately is futile. I have learned the hard way that as “enthusiastic” as I am, I am not able to control my health, kids’ grades, finances, friends, politics, or even my own emotions. The only thing I can control is choosing to rest in the promises God gives us in this passage.
This Advent’s theme is “Rest.” Sounds simple right? However, rest is not so easy to achieve. The world tells us to be busy. I don’t know about you, but I often feel guilty if I am not doing something. Sigh. This Advent season let’s claim God’s promise of a peace that transcends all understanding…Rejoice! Show gentleness! Here’s the hard one…don’t be anxious about anything! Pray with thanksgiving! Receive peace in Christ Jesus!
By Conrad Navarro
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace! What incredibly comforting titles of their future king to the people of Judah! What incredible words of hope and true future peace! What a contrast to their present King Ahaz and his reign of war, distress, uncertainty, doom and gloom!
As I write these devotional thoughts we as a nation are in the midst of the ugliest presidential campaign I have ever witnessed in my voting lifetime. By the time we read these thoughts during the second week of Advent, the Week of Peace, one of the two major party nominees (barring something unforeseen) is our president-elect. Whoever that person is, due to the attitudes of both candidates, this inauguration feels more like a coronation.
During this election season I have experienced the entire gamut of feelings, mostly not good. Within hours inside of a day I have gone from not voting, to voting, to not voting again. In the end I know I will vote because the privilege of casting a ballot is so sacred to me. I just wish I could feel better about my vote. No matter what I do I feel I’m voting for King Ahaz.
Here’s what I do know and keeps me going, and encouraged, and hopeful; that no matter who wins this election it is King Jesus who is ultimately in control. He is the one that will bring true everlasting justice, and righteousness, and peace. It is King Jesus whose birth we celebrate again this year who will accomplish this.
I feel encouraged because he is my Wonderful Counselor…he gets me; he accepts me as I am. He is my Mighty God…he will work it all out in my personal life and the world. He is my Everlasting Father…he protects me, teaches me, and makes my hurts feel better. He is my Prince of Peace…in the midst of my storms and doubts I have peace that surpasses all understanding.
Hey! Whoever won this election whether it was your candidate or not…look up anyway! Because unto us the Prince of Peace is born!
By Barbara Higdon
We appear to be a nation depressed and angry. We cry out to God to “restore our fortunes.” We rail against the failures of our leaders in whom we placed our trust. Greed, corruption and power-lust have invaded many of our political offices. Many are voting in anger and disgust with those who made huge promises and failed to deliver. We turn against them and look for other saviors who promise to change.
In the midst of that anger, it is easy to lose hope and forget the One who promised “to do great things for us.” He has not failed us, but he has allowed us to believe that in man we can find relief.
My prayer today is that we can “sow with tears” and wait patiently for the harvest. Putting one foot in front of the other in the midst of despair of any kind is important. God has promised that we will “will reap with songs of joy” if we simply follow his path.
Moving forward in this season of Lent, we must remember that our responsibility is to sow the seeds, whether with or without tears. It’s God’s promise to restore our souls, and our walk to the Cross is a daily reminder of his faithfulness even in the face of broken dreams. Reading the Psalms reminds us that we are not the first, nor the last to cry out to God for help. Our Lord has faced everything we face or will faced, and he understands us better than we understand ourselves.
Prayer: Lord, we know we have duties as Christians and citizens of a broken world. Remind us daily of those duties and help us to sow seeds of love and peace wherever we find ourselves.
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 Brad Dutton
I have a problem. Actually several problems if you ask my close friends and family. The particular problem I’m thinking about now began 15 years ago. It was about the time we started the new millennium that I became a bread snob.
Store bought breads just didn’t seem to meet my needs anymore. Store bought tortillas? Are you serious?! I wanted fresh, homemade bread with lots of whole grains. If it was warm and unsalted butter was handy even better. It seemed my body was not satisfied by what was found in those twist-tied plastic bags you find on the bread aisle at HEB. I guess you might say that back then I started seeking more substance in my bread life.
The verse today tells us the bread of God came down from heaven to give life to the world. As I reflect on the season I find it interesting the Messiah came to us in about the same size as a loaf of bread you might bake at home. The next time I take out a bread pan I hope I will pause to remember the bread of God sent to us over 2,000 years ago to give life to the world. For me, “Good things come in small packages” comes to mind. Except in this case it wasn’t just a good thing but the greatest thing of all time.
Lord, forgive us for chasing after other foods in our lives in a futile effort to feed ourselves. During this season may we reflect with grateful hearts on the gift you sent to feed us and restore our spiritual emptiness. May we always hold fast to the truth that we can find peace and fullness when abiding in you.