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 Aaron Tyler
For God so loved the world
Seven days He rested.
Good He saw, but restless
Pursuit of a broken
Image quickly ensued.
For God so loved the world
I ran. Without rest, He
Watched for my return,
Hoping to Embrace.
For God so loved the world
Wrestling Jacob He
Limping in wakeful search
For lasting redemption.
For God so loved the world
Word incarnate, He came
Stillness where chaos slept
To Live, die, live again.
For God so loved the world
Run no longer. Return.
Limping, I slow to rest
Relying on a new
Image: repaired, restored.
In Christmas we find rest
For God so loved the world.
By John Tompson
Psalm 98:1 begins with the admonition to “Sing to the Lord a new song.” I believe this new song is a song of praise, of adoration, of awe, of love. Too often when I pray, it is not a new song. I find myself using the same old tired phrases. Even more often what I would like to pass off as worship is simply a recitation of what I want God to do for me.
The theme of these advent lessons is rest. I need to concentrate on the person of God—to rest in Him and in His providence. He knows my desires and my needs. He really doesn’t need me to remind Him. I believe he would rather have my praise and heartfelt worship than my begging prayers.
We should sing and praise God with a new song because He has done marvelous things. For ancient Israel, the marvelous things were in the exodus and occupation of the land. It was in the deliverance from the exile in Babylon [depending on when this was written]. For us His marvelous things are given to us in, and through, Jesus our Savior. He is the strong right arm that has given the victory to God. The right hand is the place of honor and authority. Stephen says: “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” Through Christ, God has made His victory known more powerfully than the psalmist could imagine.
In verse 3 we read of his faithfulness to Israel. Christ came as the fulfillment of all that God had promised in the law and the prophets. He came in such a way that all the earth has seen His victory. Further, He came to those who were not included in the covenant with Israel. Christ extended His new covenant to all men—for which we should give thanks and praise and worship. And…we should rest in the sure knowledge that we are secure before God: John 10:28-30: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand .” This should be reason enough to offer unending praise to God and rest in His love.
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 Jennie Mayes
“There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master.” (The Message)
How fitting that the verses assigned to me have at the core of their message, do not worry. I have worried about things from my very first memory in life. Sometimes, I worry about the big things we all do, like a family member who is ill or a friend who is struggling through hard times. But most of the time I worry about things of no consequence at all: Will I hit all the red lights on the way to work? Will my team win Amazing Race this season?
The shepherds who were tending their flocks that holy night were doing what we all do: their job. Their profession was not one of glamour or status, but was necessary and needed. While going about their typical routine, they had an encounter that would change their lives. Were they like me and worrying about problems big and small? And how did their view of problems change after their interaction with the angel? Though they were fearful in that moment, were they able to change their lives moving forward with the knowledge that God and now Christ would be with them always?
There have been moments in my life when God has captured my attention and my soul. In those times, I’m reminded that I don’t need to worry. I can rest in the knowledge that the love of God will carry me. I pray that you too will be able to fear not and rest this Advent season.
By Cameron Vickrey
Jesus had just gotten through feeding the five thousand with 5 loaves and 2 fish. The disciples had been looking for him the next day, hoping for more miraculous food. They remembered that in the wilderness with Moses, God provided manna from heaven. Naturally, they assumed this is the next installment of God’s miraculous provision of bread for the people that follow God’s prophet. But Jesus clarifies that this is not the same thing. The sustenance he provides is not just to fill them until the next mealtime. In verse 26-27 he says “You are looking for me…because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”
I think we love the idea of being provided for. To have our nourishment rain down from heaven, or multiply out of a small bit of food sounds really great. As someone in a phase of life where I am feeding five mouths, 3 times a day (plus snacks), every day without end, I relish the chance to go back to my own mother’s house and be fed for a while. Being provided for is a gift, it is restful. And isn’t rest what we are seeking in this season?
But Jesus says no… don’t seek temporary provision from me. What Jesus brings is more than that. He doesn’t just bring bread to us, he is the bread of life. “For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Jesus brings us so much more than our next meal. He brings us life!
In a season so focused on celebrating through food, let’s pause to be grateful for the gift that the bread of God brings to us. Life bread, bread that sustains us for eternity. I will gladly rest in that this Christmas.
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 Randy Edwards
Believing in Jesus is the most counter-cultural thing you and I will ever do.
While the world chases down instant gratification,
demands quick solutions,
politicizes cut and dry platforms,
preaches morality in black and white sound-bytes,
and invests itself in endless Facebook debates,
we as believers are called to get quiet,
pray without ceasing,
Really? Well, isn’t that lame and lazy?
Just sit around and do nothing, you say?
Resting need not be confused with accomplishing nothing. It is not a substitute for productive work, nor does it connote a couch potato. Resting is not the opposite of labor. In fact, one can rest and strive all in the same motion. Rest need not infer weakness, passivity, spectatorism, acquiescence, blind faith, or shifting one’s brain into idle.
The way I read the Bible, I believe resting means actively “faithing” God’s eternal process, which, most of the time is not the common habit of humanity (or, at least, it certainly does not come naturally for me). Our ways and our thoughts demand the quick fixes, clichéd one-liners, glib come-backs, fact-checked truths, and the meaning of life reduced to the 140 characters of a tweet. Keep it simple, we say.
Alas, if we demand that our belief system be utterly simple, totally obvious, and always clear, then that’s a pretty good sign we have created a religion god in our own image. Having tried to eliminate the mystery from our belief system, we have thereby lost the very essence of belief itself. Knowing and believing are not synonyms. They are, in fact, opposites.
A pastor I served with thirty years ago would often say from the pulpit, “I know that I know that I know that I know.” And the hyped-up congregation would pronounce a hearty, “Amen.” Sitting high and lifted up on the chancel near said proclaimer, I kept thinking to myself, “If you’re so sure you know, then why did you have to say it four times? Who are you trying to convince, us or yourself?”
If we know something, where is our need for faith? We know that 2 + 2 = 4. That fact requires not one modicum of faith in order to apply it. But to believe God even when we don’t feel God’s presence, can’t see the whole picture, or strongly disagree with a fellow believer on an important issue, now that is function of faith. And those faith functions are best exercised, not in isolation, but in community with one another.
“For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one hope for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.”
Rest means hoping rather than knowing.
Rest means trusting when we do not see.
Rest means accepting another when we cannot concur with his opinion.
Rest means “faithing” rather than proving.
Rest means relationship even when there is disagreement.
Rest means taking a deep breath and trusting God implicitly.
Rest means relaxing our fingers and dropping our judgment stones … all of them … in the dirt.
Rest means unclenching our fists to extends hands of friendship.
Rest means allowing the chasm between us to become holy ground.
Rest produces human compassion rather than self-righteous judgment.
Rest means finding a place peace, and celebrating it with everyone
within the reach of a warm and lengthy hug.
By Garrett Vickrey
If you were to put the book of Isaiah to a musical score there would be a whole rest between chapters 39 and 40. If this sacred book were a piece of music. There would be a gaping silence as the work moved between these chapters. The lament of the brass instruments would fade into silence as the minor riff gave way to the nothingness of rest.
The silence of the rest would house the anxiety of the people in exile. The silence would give voice to their uncertainty as to what would happen to them.
Isaiah 40 would begin with a sustained note. A note of hope coming from nowhere. Middle C surprises. A hopeful note. Add in the 4th and the 5th and now a joyful chord returns to our ears. The anxious rest is broken by harmonic hope.
“Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God.
Out of silence and brokenness, perceived chaos, God is speaking. God is creating again out of nothing.
A way appears in the wilderness. A straight path home. Every valley shall be lifted up, every mountain made low.
The glory of God is being revealed. All this from rest.
From quiet. From nothing.
In that rest are the seeds of the next measure. Without silence music is indistinguishable. Time and tone team together to draw us into melody and harmony. Even in rest there is a dynamic at work we cannot fully understand until the next moment. But, if we trust the composer we have hope that the beauty of the score will be revealed. And it’s the anticipation of that revelation that is almost as exciting as the revelation itself.
Frederick Buechner writes, “The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment.”
For now we wait. And in the terrible hope of our joyous anxiety we wait knowing that the end of this season redefines the contour and even the chaos of the present.