As puzzled as a virginal teenaged Mary must have been by the angel’s announcement in Luke 1:30-33, she readily accepts her role as expectant mother of the long-awaited Messiah. In Luke 1:46-48, she pours out her song of joy, praise, and gratitude to God in the beautiful Magnificat.
When given this scripture to ponder for an Advent devotional, I was reminded of a great Christmas joy that my family experienced on Christmas Eve, 2015. My daughter Julie and her husband Chris were a little tardy joining us for the Woodland service (occasioning a few choice glances at the saved seats from the assembling crowd). When they did arrive, each had an excited but stunned countenance. “Is everything okay?” I queried. Julie whispered with tears in her eyes, but joy and awe in her voice, “We just got a phone call on the way here. We’ve been chosen. We are getting a baby girl in January.”
Having experienced several miscarriages and failed pregnancies, they had prayed and grieved but became involved in the lives of many children and families in ways that would not have been possible had they had their own child. They had been on a waiting list for an adoption for almost 3 years and were feeling discouraged, but not abandoned by God. So, while it was not an angelic announcement, prayers were answered on that holy night! The entire family spent that service with tears of joy, “glorifying the Lord” and rejoicing in the “blessings of God our Savior.”
Our precious Avery will soon be four years old. We remain humbled and in awe of the marvelous gift that the “Mighty One” brought us in the form of this miraculous baby girl. Julie and Chris have told me that had God answered their prayers sooner, they would have never had Avery in their lives. Now, they would not have changed anything. Indeed, we are blessed. “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
“Peace, this I leave with you. My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” John 14:27
Oh, what comforting words to live by knowing that, in all situations one encounters, all we need to do is recall these words. The presence of the gift of peace that overshadows our circumstances will give us the strength to move forward AND CLOSER TO GOD.
There is a hymn I recall which we’ve sung for many years — it keeps running through my mind — even singing it.
“Peace, Peace, Peace on earth and good will to men.
This is the time for love, this is the time for peace.
Now let us all sing together
Peace, peace, peace on earth and good will to all.”
As we embark on this Advent season we know the gifts of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love that were given to us through the words in the scriptures.
We recall the time when Christ entered this world as an infant, the population was waiting for a Savior — the gift of peace He brought to all mankind.
Today we pray for “world peace”, yet the internal need for peace exists in all of us.
Thank you, Jesus!
The Week of Joy
At the birth of your Son, you whisper to our hearts, Father, as you fill us with the joy of our salvation. We thank you. Amen
Weekly Advent Prayers by Betty Claire Jackson
By Kay Dabney
“The Word became human and lived here on earth among us. He was full of unfailing love, grace and truth. We have seen his glory, the glory of the only son of the Father.” John 1:14 (NLT)
This is one of my favorite scriptures of the Advent season. To better understand the miracle of God’s Word becoming flesh in the form of Christ we turn to John 1:1-2: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” Jesus was sent by God to live among us. He came to show us God’s love and his grace and to show us the truth. Living among us, Jesus understood us, he identified with us, he felt our pain, and he hurt. He was “despised and rejected” by some. And yet, through all of it, he proclaimed the gift of grace.
God’s glory shone brightly through Jesus as he lived among us. People could see God’s presence through Him. They saw the importance of God in their lives. John recorded seven miracles that declared the glory of God. Among them, the feeding of the 5,000, the healing of the lame and the sick, and the turning of water to wine at the wedding at Cana of Galilee. John tells us that “He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him” (John 2:11 NIV).
Jesus stepped down from heaven, coming for you. He brings with Him the amazing gifts of grace and truth. He is the One present we can’t live without. Christmas is celebrated as the beginning of the Word becoming flesh in the birth of Jesus Christ. Let the person of Jesus be the greatest gift we celebrate this Christmas.
The Week of Peace
As your peace rules in our hearts, we give thanks to you, Lord, and rejoice in the birth of the Prince of Peace. Amen
Weekly Advent Prayers by Betty Claire Jackson
By Linda Mason
I have always loved bicycles. When I was about five, we moved to a three-room farmhouse a long way from town. There was a small fenced area for a garden where my mother grew the most delicious vegetables. We thought she grew them because she knew we loved them; little did we know it was part of the basic survival package. Upon our arrival, I discovered an old rusty bicycle, sans tires and other working parts, leaning against the garden fence. I sat on that bicycle for countless hours over the next few years, pretending to ride wherever I desired. I never asked my parents for a bicycle; I think I just knew it wouldn’t be possible. Then, when I was 11, right before Christmas, there was a fire at the Western Auto Store in town. My mother went to the store and got one of the charred bicycles, cleaned it up and purchased new tires and handlebar grips. On Christmas Day, it would have been near impossible to distinguish who was more overjoyed, the giver or the receiver of that phenomenal gift.
When I read the passage today from Isaiah 9: 6-7, I thought about gifts. The prophet is telling the people that there is hope. Their darkness is about to be vanquished by something so surprising, so miraculous, so humble, so supreme, so everlasting, the world will never be the same. God knew we would never think to ask for this gift, that we couldn’t earn it and didn’t deserve it. Our God who creates us, knows us, gives us this indescribable gift because He loves us.
As we reflect this season on reverence and celebration, I pray we will be in awe of all the things that are outside our control and celebrate that God, as usual, gives us the perfect gift.
By Becky Miller
Galatians 5:22-23 doesn’t sound much like Christmas, does it? No angels, no baby, no star, but then I remembered a rhyme I learned as a child and taught my daughters.
“What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I’d give Him a lamb.
If I were a Wiseman, I’d do my part.
What can I give Him, I’ll give Him my heart.”
Jesus wants my heart for Christmas, and He will accept it as it is. But am I satisfied with this gift? Am I content with giving good enough? I have always wanted to give perfect gifts; I have spent hours shopping, returning, and shopping again to give those I love the very best gifts I can. So when I assess my gift for God, can I offer Him any less than the best I can give? If God wants my heart, and I truly believe He does, I need to make it the very best heart I can offer: one filled with the fruits of the spirit.
And here in Galatians, I find all the instructions needed to perfect my gift: the gift I give to Jesus, the Lamb of God, and the source of my salvation. It is as if I asked God for a shopping list. I have always liked working from a list and checking things off, so for this Advent Season, I am going to make these verses my shopping list. My heart needs some work, but I like knowing what God really wants. I can work on love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. I like the specificity of this list-it is real, and with God’s help it is possible, not overnight, not all at once, but little by little if I keep the goal in front of me.
Father, it is good to know that I am yours no matter what, that your love is unshakeable, and not dependent on my effort. Grace is good. But shield me from complacency; remind me that although grace and total acceptance are already mine, you are worthy of so much more. Create in me a new heart this Christmas. Amen.
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 Rubye Box
I Corinthians 13
The 13th chapter of I Corinthians is known as the love chapter. Many wedding ceremonies include this chapter because it is a perfect picture of what love should be. The final verse is a summary of the entire chapter.
“But now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
This verse has such deep implications for us all. All three are intangible. You cannot hold any of them in your hand and yet they are as real as you and me.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, had incredible faith. Faith in God, faith in what the angel told her and faith that the child she was carrying was indeed the Son of God. Oh, that we could have such faith!
Hope is what keeps us looking toward heaven. Hope is what kept those faithful Jewish believers praying that the promise of God would come true – the promise that a Messiah would be born and bring deliverance.
Love was the ultimate gift God gave mankind. It was there when God created the perfect place where his creation could live and thrive. His love was there with Adam and Eve in the garden. It was there with Moses as he led the Hebrew children out of Egypt. But mostly, it was there the night Jesus was born, when he lived among us and then when he died to save us all. No other love is greater than the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus offering himself for the sins of the world. May we all learn to love as our Heavenly Father loves us.
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 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.
By Randy Edwards
1 Peter 1:8
As children, we gain lot of joy from receiving Christmas gifts. Gifts all wrapped up and placed carefully under the tree. Gifts about which we can wonder and guess and get all excited! Gifts which, on Christmas morning, we can tear into to finally discover all the fun stuff hidden in those beautiful, whimsical packages that have been teasing us for days or even weeks!
As we grow older, the fun of opening gifts may well remain, but the meanings behind those gifts begin to take on much more significance with age and maturity. We begin to understand that gifts are actually symbols of much larger, deeper expressions.
For instance, God’s gift to us on the first Christmas morning was not just a sweet baby boy names Jesus. The package wrapped crudely in the manger stood for SO much more than what was visible to the human eye. The gift was disarmingly humble, so simple, earthy, naked, exposed, and shivering both from the trauma of birth and perhaps from the nighttime outdoor temperatures. A newborn in a cattle feeder. How much simpler can it be than that?
And yet, that bundle of joy was also the very Son of God. Emmanuel. God with us. The divine symbol of that scenario has mystified God-seeking people throughout the ages, and it continues to stagger the imagination of young and old in 2013.
Re-read the little verse above from 1 Peter. Think about or discuss how it is that we can love God, believe God, and greatly rejoice in a Gift we have not seen with our eyes, touched with our fingers, or held in our arms.
May your hope be abundant. May your peace be profound. May your joy be inexpressible. May your love be complete.