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 Kirsten Hancock
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
There is much to be afraid of in our troubled world. Reckless drivers. Drug and alcohol addiction. People who do not have our best interest at heart. Gun violence at concerts, churches and other places we assume we ought to be safe.
Will my body outlast my mind? Will I outlive my savings? Will I outlive my beloved spouse? Are my children safe playing outside? Will I have a job tomorrow? How long will I be unemployed? How am I going to make ends meet this month? How long will this physical pain last? How much longer do I have to live? There is much to trouble our hearts on this earth.
When I was a child growing up in the 80s and 90s, I played outside a lot with my younger brother. I also watched the evening news with my parents. I’m trying to remember when the news became something from which we protect our children.
I recently spoke to some parents in our Woodland Church family who said they don’t watch the news in their homes because the local news is too violent and the topics in our U.S. News are too uncertain. “It’s too stressful,” they said, “to race to the mute button or change the channel on the television to censor what goes into our children’s minds and hearts.”
The one thing we never have to be afraid of in this world is the absence of God’s Love. There was room in Jesus’ heart for us when He died on the Cross. There will always be room in God’s Kingdom for us to find purpose and rest. There was and is Room in the Inn for each of us to worship the Christ child. Don’t be afraid or let your heart be troubled. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you,” says the Lord. Amen.
By Conrad Navarro
As I sit writing this devotional I’m still feeling sick, still shedding tears, and still praying for the survivors and the family members of our brothers and sisters of this week’s massacre in Sutherland Springs. King Ahaz, facing an attack from Israel and Syria, asked Assyria for help. Assyria saved Judah from destruction but made Judah a vassal state. As good a king as Ahaz was, he could not bring about the kingdom described in these passages. After all, he was only human. The kingdom on earth that the prophet Isaiah described here, the reversal of the Original Curse due to Original Sin, will only be accomplished by the King of all kings, the long-awaited Messiah, Jesus.
Notice that this picture-perfect restoration of God’s creation is here on earth. It’s not in the by-and-by. It’s in the here-and-, and still waiting for the, now. God will defeat hatred, hunger, fear, illness, violence…evil! We will live in true peace with one another and in harmony with our environment. Some still wait for the Messiah, but we know that He has already come. He has come in our lives and in our world. There is always “room at the inn” for God in us and in His world.
Yet, we yearn and groan as creation does for our final redemption. At times like this, I can’t help but ask, “How long, Lord?! How long before we are rescued from ourselves?” And then, I force and remind myself once again, that in spite of the evil in this world, God is still in control of time. Then again, I remind myself that we are in a perpetual Season of Advent, still waiting for the final triumph of good over evil. There is “room at the inn!” Maranatha, come Lord Jesus!
By Barbara Higdon
There is a pervasive theology called the “prosperity gospel” or the “name it–claim it” gospel which says that wealth and physical well-being are what God wants for us. All we need is faith to believe it, positive speech to claim it, and we’re going to get it. It sort of makes God a vending machine: we insert faith and he’ll deliver security and prosperity.
Paul had a different take on this in today’s Scripture reading. He acknowledges that we may grow anxious, then he promises us the peace of God—not the removal of difficulties.
My online dictionary defines peace as “freedom from disturbance; quiet and tranquility.”
Is that possible when the world is wracked by mass shootings, terrorists driving into crowds, nuclear threats, and violent storms?
Is that possible when threatening illnesses strike our loved ones or us?
Is that possible when relationships dissolve, children do drugs, or spouses drink too much?
Paul was in prison when he wrote the letter containing today’s verse. After his confrontation with Jesus and conversion, Paul faced a lot of difficulties. He left a life of power to become a traveling missionary, persecuted as he had once persecuted. He knew the peace of God, and he knew it wasn’t going to change those hard circumstances. In fact, he found a way to rejoice in every circumstance. He wanted others to know that the peace of God would guard our minds and our hearts.
How? “…by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, we must present our requests to God.”
Requests for more money and security for ourselves?
Requests that we’ll never grow sick or die?
I don’t think so. Those fears and failed expectations are often what produce our anxiety.
If there’s room in my inn for Christ, He is going to help remove anxiety and replace it with peace. The Lord is near. Rejoice.
By Dena Dalton
“O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you…”
I am partial to Christmas Eve. We attend church. We have our Christmas dinner. We stay up late watching old movies, listening to music and wrapping last minute gifts. We celebrate European traditions and sneak around putting candy outside each other’s doors in empty slippers. But the best part, the very best part, is when the house is finally quiet and I am blissful in the calm that comes knowing my loved ones are safe and resting peacefully. My grateful prayers and ardent, soulful meditations are quietly offered up to God. “If day’s cares tempt us to forget God, it is well that night’s quiet should lead us to remember him. We see best in the dark if we there see God best.”
“On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.” Theologian John Gill wrote: “Whether David is writing about the wings of the cherubim stretched out over the mercy-seat, between which God was said to dwell; or to the wings of a bird, under which her helpless young ones have shelter, in all life’s dangers and difficulties we place ourselves under God’s protection.”
According to the NIV Study Bible: “The psalmist’s night meditations nurture his longing for God.” He waits for the morning trusting that God will watch over His people, provide for and protect them. Understanding the metaphors in scripture we know that darkness and light have many meanings. We have all experienced the many meanings of both. I choose to see light in the darkness. I look forward to my Christmas Eve meditation. During this Advent Season may you find hope, safety and peaceful rest in the protecting power and mercy of God.
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!