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ADVENT DEVOTIONS

THURSDAY, NOV 25 – THANKSGIVING DAY - LUKE 17:11-19:

 

11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

 

 

“Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed,

turned back, praising God with a loud voice.”

 

            I have always loved the old tradition of going around the table on Thanksgiving Day and having each person share something for which they are grateful.  But what if each of us were to do that all year long, on a moment to moment, daily basis.  What if, like the one man in this story, we returned to Jesus and thanked Him for the blessings all around us, big and small.  What if we maintained a heightened spiritual awareness -- of the beauty of creation; the love that fills our hearts; the hope that allows us to face the future with Jesus’ arms around us; the knowledge that no matter who we are, have been, or will be, we are cherished by a God who tirelessly forgives and wants only the very best for us.

 

            All ten of these lepers were physically healed, but it appears that only one was spiritually healed and likely began a lasting relationship with his Savior.  Let us do the same.  Let us “prostrate” ourselves at Jesus’ feet and worship the God who gives us so very many little things and huge ones.  Let us never take those gifts for granted. 

 

What are you thankful for?  Let us be grateful on Thanksgiving Day and then live a life full of gratitude all year long.  You never know; if we do this loud enough, we might even show those other nine how to turn around and do the same!  Don’t we want that for everyone?

 

 

 

 

FRIDAY, NOV 26 - NEHEMIAH 9:16-25:

 

16 “But they and our ancestors acted presumptuously and stiffened their necks and did not obey your commandments; 17 they refused to obey, and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them; but they stiffened their necks and determined to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and you did not forsake them. 18 Even when they had cast an image of a calf for themselves and said, ‘This is your God who brought you up out of Egypt,’ and had committed great blasphemies, 19 you in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness; the pillar of cloud that led them in the way did not leave them by day, nor the pillar of fire by night that gave them light on the way by which they should go. 20 You gave your good spirit to instruct them, and did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and gave them water for their thirst. 21 Forty years you sustained them in the wilderness so that they lacked nothing; their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell. 22 And you gave them kingdoms and peoples, and allotted to them every corner, so they took possession of the land of King Sihon of Heshbon and the land of King Og of Bashan. 23 You multiplied their descendants like the stars of heaven, and brought them into the land that you had told their ancestors to enter and possess. 24 So the descendants went in and possessed the land, and you subdued before them the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, and gave them into their hands, with their kings and the peoples of the land, to do with them as they pleased. 25 And they captured fortress cities and a rich land, and took possession of houses filled with all sorts of goods, hewn cisterns, vineyards, olive orchards, and fruit trees in abundance; so they ate, and were filled and became fat, and delighted themselves in your great goodness.

 

                       

“But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger

and abounding in steadfast love, and you did not forsake them.”

 

            Reading the Old Testament, we might be tempted to think of the ancient people as particularly sinful.  The descriptions are all here in these verses: stiff-necked; presumptuous; disobedient; worshipping false images; oblivious to the wonders God performed all around them - downright clueless, you might say.  Certainly not like you and me, right?  Wrong!

 

             I can only speak for myself, but I have been, I am, and in spite of my best efforts I probably will continue be all of those things.  I’ll leave it to you to do your own self-examination. Which brings us to one of the most famous verses in the Bible: …“you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love …”  And aren’t we fortunate that He is.  We have a God who never turns his back on us, no matter how we fail Him.  He didn’t in ancient times, and He doesn’t now.  Instead of washing his hands of the whole lot of us, God made another way.  He sent us a tiny baby who would live a human life besides us, share with us all the good and bad of a fallen world, and offer us a life we could never have had without Him.

 

            As we await the blessed birth of this baby, let us never forget how He grew up to be our teacher, our friend and our brother, who would suffer, die, and rise again so that you and I could be made right with God, fully and forever.  The baby whose birth we will celebrate again this season did that for us, and there is no more steadfast love than that!

 

 

 

 

SATURDAY, NOV 27 – PSALM 25:1-10:

 

1 To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
2 O my God, in you I trust;
do not let me be put to shame;
do not let my enemies exult over me.
3 Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame;
let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.

4 Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
5 Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all day long.

6 Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
7 Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!

8 Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
9 He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.

10 All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.

 

 

“Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.  

Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God

of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.”

 

            Like so many of the Psalms, this one flows like a beautiful song.  You can almost hear King David singing as he sought to walk in the paths and ways that God asked him to.  Few of the faithful in the Old Testament tried harder than David.  He certainly had his share of hardships and made his share of mistakes, but through it all, David kept his eyes on God.  He asked God ceaselessly in prayer to lead him and to teach him.  We need only read the Book of Psalms to see David’s devotion to the Father.  He prayed and prayed, and prayed some more, and then he waited.

 

            In this season of Advent, we are waiting too.  Like King David before us, we too need to be taught the Lord’s ways and guided on his paths.  Let us maintain an earnest desire to learn God’s will, by spending time with Him in prayer and Scripture every day.  Let us use this time to get closer to an understanding of whom God wants us to be.  Like David, let us keep our eyes on the Father while we wait for his Son.

 

 

 

 

SUNDAY, NOV 28 – LUKE 21:25-36

 

25 There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

34 “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.

 

 

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the

earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and

the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming

upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they

will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”

 

            My goodness!  Distress, confusion, roaring seas, people fainting from fear and foreboding.  At first glance, this hardly sounds like an appropriate reading to begin a season of hope such as Advent!

But maybe there is actually a different way to look at it.  Perhaps we need to understand that Jesus is about to do the very thing He’s always doing – turning everything upside down.  Because within this apocalyptic language is hidden a giant measure of hope.

 

            Because of Jesus and his abiding love for us, we no longer have to fear end times. He cherished us enough to lift away our confusion and foreboding and allow us to look forward to his second coming with joy instead of confusion, with hope instead of fear, knowing that we are already redeemed.

 

            On Christmas morning, we will celebrate the day Jesus came here as a baby.  When we see Him again, “coming in a cloud, with power and great glory”, it will be to establish a new heaven and a new earth -- the eternal kingdom of God.  And as believers, we will already have a place reserved for us.  We have nothing to fear.  What an awesome day that will be!

 

 

 

 

MONDAY, NOV 29 – 2 PETER 3:3-15

 

… in the last days, scoffers will come, scoffing and indulging their own lusts 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since our ancestors died, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation!” 5 They deliberately ignore this fact, that by the word of God heavens existed long ago and an earth was formed out of water and by means of water, 6 through which the world of that time was deluged with water and perished. 7 But by the same word the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the godless. 8 But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. 9 The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed. 11 Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? 13 But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home. 14 Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; 15 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation …

 

“…with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand

  years are like one day.  The Lord is not slow about his promise,

  as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any

  to perish, but all to come to repentance.”

 

            In this second letter to the early Christians, Peter reminds us that, although we can be sure there will be a second coming of Christ, we don’t know when it will happen, so we must be ready when it does. His words seem especially poignant given the times in which we’re living -- unrest everywhere; refugees of war with nowhere to go; climate change causing superstorms, floods and wildfires; racial injustice; tribal politics threatening our democracy; so many people without homes; viruses spreading over the whole planet; gun violence in our streets -- lions and tigers and bears!  One day is like a thousand years to God? A thousand years are like one day?  I don’t know about you, but I’m ready now!

 

            I can only thank Peter for also putting some hope in these words -- that God isn’t being slow, He’s being patient, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repent. It’s hard sometimes to trust that God knows what he’s doing, especially when our world is crumbling around us and it seems like He’s nowhere to be found.  But maybe that’s not the problem.  Perhaps it’s time for us to look in the mirror.  Maybe we’re the ones who have work to do.  For what it’s worth, this world was pretty perfect when God gave it to us.  If there are this many things wrong with it, we have only ourselves to thank. Maybe this Advent it’s time for you and I to start asking ourselves some honest questions: How can I make a difference?  Who needs my love and respect?  How can I help those in need?  How can I take better care of God’s creation?  Why can’t we find a way to disagree without hating each other?  Who is being cast aside?  Who have I hurt?  Who have I treated as different, and therefore not worthy?  Where have I built walls that should never have been there? Who is God longing for me to be?  How can I be more like Jesus?

 

            If God is being patient so that all of us can have time to repent, then I wouldn’t doubt He’s waiting for us to get busy. We surely can’t sit around for another thousand years waiting for God to fix the world, when we’re the ones who broke it!

 

 

TUESDAY, NOV 30 – JOHN 1:35-42

 

35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42 He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

 

 “When Jesus turned and saw them following,

  he said to them, “What are you looking for?”

 

Jesus’ initial words to his first two disciples weren’t, “How can you be of use to me? or “What are you good at?”, or “How much Scripture do you know?”, or “Leave me alone; I’m here for more important things.” His words weren’t even, “Are you sure you’re up to this?”  That’s not how Jesus operates.  He greeted his first disciples with only one question: “What are you looking for?”  No self-interest, no condemnation, no demands.  All Jesus wanted to know was what he could do for them.  He asked only that they search their hearts and put their needs into words so that He could fulfill them.  And that’s all Jesus wants from us as well, to share with Him our deepest longings, so that He can love them into being.   

 

In this season of waiting for the coming of the Christ child, He is asking us the same question.  As you look forward to following Him anew, spend some time pondering this.  What is it you are looking for?  What is missing from your life?  What is it that you need help with?  What is it that would finally make you whole?  Jesus doesn’t promise to give us everything we want, but He will never fail to provide what we truly need.

 

So what are you looking for?  Is it love? Joy? Fulfillment? Meaning? Comfort? Strength? Understanding? Compassion? Forgiveness? Peace?  However you define that hole in your heart, you can be sure it’s shaped like Jesus, and the only place you will ever fill it is in his arms.

 

 

 

 

 

WEDNESDAY, DEC 1 – PSALM 90:10-17

 

10 The days of our life are seventy years,
or perhaps eighty, if we are strong;
  even then their span is only toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.

11 Who considers the power of your anger?
  Your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.
12 So teach us to count our days
   that we may gain a wise heart.

13 Turn, O Lord! How long?
   Have compassion on your servants!
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
   so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad as many days as you have afflicted us,
   and as many years as we have seen evil.
16 Let your work be manifest to your servants,
   and your glorious power to their children.
17 Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
   and prosper for us the work of our hands—
   O prosper the work of our hands!

 

 

“So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart…

Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us

the work of our hands…”

 

            We’re already counting the days until Christmas, and looking back at all the Christmases with which God has blessed us, but it is still helpful to be reminded by the Psalms to “count our days” and, perhaps even more importantly, to make our days count.  Each day of our life is so very precious, and so often we spend them chasing after treasures that are both fleeting and meaningless.  The days that have lasting value are the ones we spend in Jesus’ name, contributing to the kingdom of God by the work of our hands.  All of our collective hands have so much work to do, and God has gifted every one of us in some way to do that work.  God doesn’t leave a single one of us without some gift, and the reward of joy that comes from using it to glorify Him.

 

            So count your days and consider their value: What is your gift?  We all have at least one.  What do you do well that you love doing?  How can you use your gift to bless the world – to help build the church, to bring comfort to others, or to point someone toward Jesus?  What is God’s vision for you?  Christmas will be here soon.  What a perfect time of year to give your gifts some thought and then wrap them up with a big bow and give them to a world in need. 

 

Almighty God, prosper the work of our hands! 

 

 

 

 

 

THURSDAY, DEC 2 – LUKE 1:68-79

 

68 Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
   for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
69 He has raised up a mighty savior for us
   in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71 that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
   and has remembered his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
   to grant us 74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness
   before him all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
   for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
   by the forgiveness of their sins.
78 By the tender mercy of our God,
   the dawn from on high will break upon us,
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
   to guide our feet into the way of peace.

 

 

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you

 will go before the Lord to prepare his ways… the dawn from on high

 will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness…”

 

            In these verses, called “the Benedictus”, Zechariah is rejoicing over the birth of his newborn son, John the Baptist.  He is filled with hope and joy, that his child will be called a prophet and will prepare the way for Jesus, the Savior of the World.  We cannot help but feel the passion in Zechariah’s words at the dawning from on high of a new day that will give light to those in darkness.

 

            As we move into this season of celebration, let us not get lost in the things of this world: the balls and tinsel and wrapping paper; the Santas and reindeer, the cookies and candy canes, and all the other flashy things that will be gone by New Year’s Eve.  Let us remember that, like Zechariah and his son John, we too are called to be prophets.  During this Advent and beyond, let us remind a world lost in “Xmas” trappings that this season is about so much more.  It is about the Son of God, who was willing to leave heaven and be born a baby, human like us, to show us how to live a life worthy of God.

 

            So together let us sing and shout like Zechariah, proclaiming the dawning of a new world in which we are all loved and cherished, and can be forgiven of all our failings; a brand new world where no one – no one – need sit in darkness ever again!

 

 

 

 

FRIDAY, DEC 3 – PHILIPPIANS 1:18B-26

 

18 What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice.  Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance. 20 It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. 23 I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; 24 but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. 25 Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, 26 so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.

 

 

“It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in

any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be

exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death.

For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.”

 

            Paul has always impressed me as one of the most fascinating characters in the Bible, a man so lost in evil and hatred that he spent half of his adult life pursuing and persecuting the very people Jesus had saved.  He went against everything Jesus stood for. And yet in an instant, through one sudden interaction with Jesus, Paul’s sorry life was completely and eternally transformed.  He is the ultimate “bad boy” turned good!  After that, he spent the rest of his days working tirelessly to plant and nurture seeds of faith in thousands of lives.  Through hardship, imprisonment, and humiliation, Paul persevered, and with the other Apostles built the early Christian Church.  And finally, in his later years, he wrote the words that make up a great deal of the New Testament, words that, through the centuries, have inspired countless others to open their hearts to Jesus. Surely Paul’s was a life well lived!  Surely, he was a willing instrument of God!  Paul’s story is living proof that there is no life that cannot be turned around, no one who is unlovable, no one who is beyond hope, and no amount of evil that will ever win.  Not when Jesus is involved. 

 

Like Paul, who went before us, we will all receive an amazing gift on Christmas morning, the only gift worth living and dying for.  Let’s not keep it to ourselves.  Let’s find those around us who are still in darkness, and show them the light.  Let’s demonstrate to the world that “living is Christ.” Like Paul, we are called to do our part.  God is still at work; let’s exalt Him!

 

 

 

           

 

SATURDAY, DEC 4 – LUKE 9:1-6

 

Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. 3 He said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic. 4 Whatever house you enter, stay there, and leave from there. 5 Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” 6 They departed and went through the villages, bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere.

 

 

“He said to them, ‘Take nothing for your journey, no staff,

nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic.’ ”

 

            Well this is embarrassing.  Jesus must have had me in mind when he said these words.  “Take nothing for your journey”? LOL!  When my husband and I go away for a week, he might bring a single bag.  I invariably bring three or four.  Even if I changed clothes five times a day, I probably couldn’t use them all.  At last count, I had at least twenty bottles of nail polish and upwards of fifty pairs of earrings, and no one has ever seen me go whistling past a clearance sale!  A loving God has given me every single thing I need in this world. Why can’t I say no to the hundreds of other things I want?

 

            But perhaps Jesus gets me. In these words, He tells the disciples (and me) that all of the stuff we drag around with us is meaningless.  It slows us down; it takes our eyes off the ball; and it gets in God’s way. It’s high time to get rid of our excess baggage and make what matters to Jesus matter to us. We have only one job to do our whole life-long: love God, and love our neighbors as ourselves.  One job. That’s all He asks us to do.  It doesn’t require three suitcases, and He couldn’t care less what earrings we’re wearing!  

 

 

 

 

SUNDAY, DEC 5 – LUKE 3:1-6

 

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
5 Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’

 

 

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’”

 

            As we embark on this journey toward the birth of our Savior, we hear the voice of the Prophet Isaiah, and we are reminded of John the Baptist, who so devoutly completed the work these words call us to do.  John ceaselessly followed the call to prepare the way for Jesus to make the paths straight.  Granted, he did it in his own rather strange way.  I’m not convinced that John wouldn’t be arrested in 2021.  But he gave it his all, and his all set many a sinner on a path straight to Jesus.

 

            Those of us who are believers already know that path.  It’s likely that at some point in our life, we have been shown the way by someone who cared enough to guide us.  As such, aren’t we called to do the same?  During this hectic, crazy holiday season, how about taking the time to tell someone your story.  How about clearing a path through the wilderness and reminding others what this season really means.  This tiny baby who’s coming soon will rescue a fallen world and show us the way to God.  There are so many people who haven’t yet seen that awesome light, who haven’t yet grasped the promise that is there for the taking.  Jesus is coming!  He is coming indeed!  Let’s make sure no one is lost in the wilderness and misses it!

 

 

 

 

MONDAY, DEC 6 – ROMANS 8:22-25

 

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

 

“For in hope we were saved.”

 

            The state of today’s world is certainly enough to make us groan.  It feels sometimes as if there is no end to the craziness and turmoil around us.  “Labor pains” is a great description; all we want is for them to stop!  Although we all feel this from time to time, it’s important to realize that for some folks the pain doesn’t come and go, it comes and stays. Many folks are dealing with more than their share of pain and sadness, especially during the holiday season.  Perhaps they’ve lost a loved one during the year.  Perhaps the holidays are a reminder of a past loss and bring that pain back year after year. Perhaps they’re lonely, and the season’s celebrations all around them, full of families and friends, exaggerate that feeling.  Perhaps they suffer from depression, illness or addiction, and feel as if hope is out of reach, while everyone else seems so happy. 

 

            This can truly be an unbearable time of year for so many people -- it’s quite possible that someone like that is in your midst right this moment.  Hope can fill us with such joy when we can grasp it, but it can leave a very painful emptiness when we can’t.  Let’s keep these folks in mind as we pass through these days until Christmas.  Let’s take some time to look around us for someone who needs hope.  You and I know that our hope is in Jesus, in the love and mercy and peace that He offers us.  Let’s find the people who cannot see that right now.  Let’s tell them that we notice, that we care, and that we’ll listen.  How can we treasure the hope of Christ that’s in our hearts and not pass it around?  “For in hope we were saved.” Just imagine if each one of us were to create one moment in which someone in need suddenly saw Jesus in us and experienced the hope that would save them too. 

 

 

 

 

TUESDAY, DEC 7 – 2 PETER 1:2-15

 

2 May grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

3 His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature. 5 For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, 7 and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. 8 For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For anyone who lacks these things is short-sighted and blind, and is forgetful of the cleansing of past sins. 10 Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble. 11 For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you. 12 Therefore I intend to keep on reminding you of these things, though you know them already and are established in the truth that has come to you. 13 I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to refresh your memory, 14 since I know that my death will come soon, as indeed our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.

 

 

“For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith…”

 

            I cannot imagine who would put every effort into getting himself into perfect health only to suddenly stop exercising, start eating junk food again, and throw away their multi-vitamins.  But isn’t that what we tend to do with our faith?  We get to know God, and accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, and for a while we’re “on fire”.  But then we get lazy; we take our faith for granted, and soon we stop growing.  A faith that isn’t increasing will soon begin to decrease.  The protection with which it guards our soul will fall away, and the world will soon take us back.

 

            In these verses, Peter is reminding us to work continuously on our faith, so that it is constantly increasing, getting stronger and more resilient, and providing us with the hedge we need around us to be “in” but not “of” the world.  This doesn’t happen on its own.

 

            So how do we do this?  We exercise!  We practice all the things Peter lists: goodness – do at least one act of goodness every day; knowledge – read at least one Bible verse each morning and live it all day; self-control – walk away from temptations; endurance – say a few extra prayers; godliness – it may be corny, but make it a habit to ask yourself, “What would Jesus do?”, and do it; mutual affection – obey the Golden Rule; and love – find the person who most needs God’s love and share it, freely and generously.  Somewhere amidst all the craziness of the Season, let’s make the time to practice the daily exercises that will result in a stronger faith. 

 

 

 

 

 

WEDNESDAY DEC 8 – LUKE 7:18-30

 

18 The disciples of John reported all these things to him. So John summoned two of his disciples 19 and sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 20 When the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’” 21 Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. 22 And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. 23 And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

24 When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 25 What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who put on fine clothing and live in luxury are in royal palaces. 26 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 27 This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’28 I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater than John; yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” 29 (And all the people who heard this, including the tax collectors, acknowledged the justice of God, because they had been baptized with John’s baptism. 30 But by refusing to be baptized by him, the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves.)

 

 

“ When the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist

has sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come,

or are we to wait for another?’”

 

            I have always found this story to be a source of comfort and encouragement along my Christian walk.  Here we see John the Baptist, God’s choice to be the faithful forerunner of Jesus, who apparently recognized Him even when they were both inside their mother’s womb.  John, who spent so many rugged days in the wilderness proclaiming his certainty that Jesus was coming and was Lord of all.  John, one of the most radically confident prophets in the Bible.  And even he had doubts!  Of course, in John’s case, it took imprisonment to shake his confidence, but even he wondered what in the world Jesus was doing. Sitting in a cell, John must have asked himself where Jesus was – wasn’t He the mighty warrior king who came to free the captives?!  This certainly wasn’t the way John expected things to unfold. 

 

But don’t we all have moments like John did?  The 2020s are full of them; time and time again, we look around us and wonder where Jesus is and what He’s doing.  So what are we to do when our doubts outnumber our certainties, and we question whether Jesus really is who He says He is.  What are we to do?  Perhaps, like John, we are to ask Him, and be confident that He will understand, have compassion, and reassure us the same way he reassured John.  Jesus wasn’t angry with him; He wasn’t disappointed; He didn’t even rebuke him.  In fact, Jesus chose that moment to remind everyone there of John’s greatness.  

 

            Even the greatest of prophets had doubts when faced with life’s trials, and so can we.  Jesus didn’t think any less of John, and He won’t think any less of us.  After all, Jesus knows full well what it’s like to live a human life, and, thank God, no one understands us better than He does.

 

 

 

 

THURSDAY, DEC 9 – 2 CORINTHIANS 8:1-15

 

We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; 2 for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, 4 begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints— 5 and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us, 6 so that we might urge Titus that, as he had already made a beginning, so he should also complete this generous undertaking among you. 7 Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking. 8 I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. 9 For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. 10 And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something— 11 now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. 12 For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. 13 I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between 14 your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. 15 As it is written, “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.”

 

 

“As it is written, “The one who had much did not have too much,

and the one who had little did not have too little.”

 

            Oh, what a wonderful world this would be!  A world where no one would starve from lack of basic food and water; where no one would die because they lack common medicines; where every child would have a toy; where no one would have to lay their head down at night on concrete; where no one’s potential would be wasted because good schools are only for some children; where no one’s life would be considered less important than another’s.

 

            In his second letter to the early Christians in Corinth, Paul describes the pattern of giving that was practiced in the early Christian Church. Congregations that had more than enough gave to those in need, and then, when needs shifted, they gave back.  Everyone shared everything.  Why was this so possible for them and so seemingly impossible for us? -- Especially we who claim to follow a Savior who gave up the riches of heaven to live a meager human life and die alone, just for us -- the ultimate in giving.

 

            Paul is not speaking in extreme terms; no one is being asked to impoverish himself.  Paul is merely suggesting that we not be so darn greedy! -- That we take a good hard look at how much more we have than we actually need.  What better time than Advent to give a little bit more of what we have to someone who needs it so much more than we do!

 

 

 

FRIDAY, DEC 10 – ISAIAH 12:2-6

 

2 Surely God is my salvation;
   I will trust, and will not be afraid,
for the Lord God is my strength and my might;
   he has become my salvation.

3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. 4 And you will say in that day:

Give thanks to the Lord,
   call on his name;
make known his deeds among the nations;
   proclaim that his name is exalted.

5 Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
   let this be known in all the earth.
6 Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion,
   for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

 

“Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid …”

 

            During Advent, the fall colors have faded into black and white, the dark nights are longer, life seems particularly hectic and exhausting, and often the world seems clouded with bad news.  It’s a tough time of year, especially for those of us who suffer from depression, and it can be really hard to shake off the gloom.  Despite Isaiah’s words, above, holding onto trust and feelings of well-being can be a challenge.  I often turn to Christian contemporary music to uplift me.  I almost always find that the inspiring words and the beauty of a melody will help me dig out from under the funk:

 

 

"The Same God" by Hannah Kerr

The same God who makes the planets spin
Tells the tide when it should rise, put the color in my eyes
The same God who makes the seasons change
Knows the number of the stars, every secret in my heart
All my doubts, all my questions, and every fear I have about what might happen
You're the same God; you're with me in the middle of it all, God
You're catching every tear as it falls; I know You'll never change, even when I'm feeling far away

You're a God of grace and empathy
You know how it feels to cry, because You lived a human life
You're not afraid of anything; even darkness is a light, there's no reason I should hide
All my doubts, all my questions, and every fear I have about what might happen
You're the same God, You're with me in the middle of it all, God
You're catching every tear as it falls; I know You'll never change, even when I'm feeling far away

Even when I'm running, When I feel ashamed, even when I'm breaking, Still, You love me
Even when I'm lonely, When I lose my way, when I don't believe it, still, You love me the same, God
You're with me in the middle of it all, God
You're catching every tear as it falls, I know You'll never change, even when I'm feeling far away
You love me the same, God; You love me the same, God; You love me the same!

 

 

 

 

I don’t know about you, but, with all the uncertainties in this crazy world, I will praise with all my heart the God who never changes, who is always there, and who always loves us the same. Somewhere deep in this song, today, I suddenly realized that God hadn’t gone away at all - - I had!

 

 

 

SATURDAY, DEC 11 – LUKE 1:57-66

 

57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. 59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. 60 But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.” 61 They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.” 62 Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. 63 He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And all of them were amazed. 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. 66 All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.

 

 

“All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this

child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.”

 

            We all know the joy that comes with a baby’s birth, and the baby in this reading is John the Baptist.   His parents are quite old when John is conceived, and because Zechariah doubts that it can even happen, he loses his ability to hear and speak.  This is an unusual conception and a very special baby indeed!  Many friends and relatives join Elizabeth and Zechariah on the joyful occasion of John’s naming.  But when the time comes to name the baby, rather than follow the strict tradition of the day, naming a son after his father, Elizabeth says, “No, he is to be called John”.  Because this will bring shame to Zechariah, everyone turns to him and offers him the opportunity to correct this.  But Zechariah writes, “His name is John”, and at that moment, his speech and hearing are restored.  Elizabeth and Zechariah have faithfully followed the specific instructions from God that had been given them by an angel.  They have chosen to break from old customs in favor of God’s will.  The name John means “God has been gracious”.

 

            Because of the obedience of Elizabeth and Zechariah and their steadfast trust in God, an ordinary ceremony became extraordinary, and those who witnessed it saw clearly that it was God himself who had decreed the name and the destiny of this child.  As a result, everyone present pondered who John would become and were convinced that the hand of the Lord was with him.  And God was glorified.

 

We too are often presented with similar choices – to conform to what the world expects us to do, or to follow the will of God.  Everything good that takes place in our lives comes from God’s infinite mercy.  Elizabeth and Zechariah knew that and did the right thing.  Will you?

 

 

 

 

 

SUNDAY, DEC 12 – PHILIPPIANS 4:4-7

 

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

 

 

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,

  will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

 

            No one ever said that following Jesus would be easy, but we can only imagine the persecution experienced by the new believers of the early Christian Church in Philippi.  With these verses, Paul is encouraging them to rejoice in the Lord; let their gentleness be known to everyone; and pray, pray, pray, to let their requests be made known to God.

 

            Although most of us living today have a limited understanding of true persecution, it’s not an exaggeration to say that our world can also be a difficult place to maintain and proudly wear a hopeful faith. Certainly these last few years have been difficult in lots of ways!  And this time of year can present more than its share of challenges.  So Paul’s words encouraging prayer are welcome advice for us as well.   I would invite you to turn off the TV, put down your cellphone, and dedicate some time each day to pray.  Identify a peaceful place you can go: your favorite chair, a warm bath, your back yard, or a walk in the park.  Give thanks to our generous God for the amazing blessings He has given you.  Perhaps start a gratitude journal.  Ask God for all of your heart’s secret desires.  Tell Him all the things that worry you and make you sad.  Pray for others, that they may find peace and wellness.  This daily practice is so rewarding.

 

            God has never promised to grant us our every request, but as Paul says, when we spend quality time with God, when we rejoice in his love, and when we give Him all our worries, hopes and dreams, his peace “will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus”.  And in our most trying times, his peace will most assuredly “surpass all understanding”.  The peace of God is truly the gift that goes on giving!

 

 

 

 

MONDAY, DEC 13 – HEBREWS 13:7-17

 

7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 9 Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings; for it is well for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by regulations about food, which have not benefited those who observe them. 10 We have an altar from which those who officiate in the tent have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12 Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood. 13 Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. 15 Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. 17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls and will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with sighing—for that would be harmful to you.

 

 

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

 

            Sometimes when I wake up in the morning, the possibilities of the day ahead seem almost like a crap-shoot.  What new problems will arise?  What new part of the world will start falling apart? What new bad news will be announced?  What new worries are right around the corner? Some days it seems as if there are darn few things in life we can depend on to be constant. 

 

Perhaps that’s why this verse stands out in Scripture like a rock!  Through all the ups and downs; goods and bads; highs and lows; happies and sads; trues and falses; and sicknesses and healths; these ten words are such a welcome reminder that there will always be one constant in our life that we can count on – Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.  He always was, He is now, and He always will be.  He is the same today as He was yesterday and will be tomorrow, and in this roller-coaster of a ride, that is a blessed promise!  We can believe it, we can trust it, and we can wrap our whole life around it!  Jesus is the one who will never fail us -- the port in every storm; the light shining in the dark; the one place we can always be certain to find perfect love, forgiveness, hope, and strength.

 

            So when pieces of your orderly life start falling apart (because they probably will), when this world gets down-right alarming, or you start feeling lost or adrift, remember that you are a believer and you live by faith.  Run straight to Jesus – the One who loves and protects you; the One who understands; the One who never changes; the One who is forever.

 

 

 

TUESDAY, DEC 14 – ISAIAH 11:1-9

 

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
  and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
2 The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
   the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
   the spirit of counsel and might,
   the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3 His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
   or decide by what his ears hear;
4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
   and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
   and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
   and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

6 The wolf shall live with the lamb,
   the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
   and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze,
   their young shall lie down together;
   and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
   and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
9 They will not hurt or destroy
   on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
   as the waters cover the sea.

 

“The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.”

            I often feel as if all we do these days is argue with each other. There seems no end to the issues that give rise to opinion and dispute: politics, mask and vaccination mandates, climate change, economics, sexual preference, gender identification, racial diversity…  It’s a wonder we aren’t arguing over what shade of blue the sky is.  Day by day, we seem to get more and more divided, as if we’ve forgotten that we’re all in this together.  It’s enough to make you want to crawl into a hole!

            But that’s surely not the answer!  The answer may well be in these words of Isaiah, which remind us that the mighty knowledge of God, at work in the hearts of our children, can truly change the world.  What does it take for a wolf to live with a lamb, a leopard to lie down with a kid, and a cow to graze with a bear?  It simply takes a little child, full of the knowledge of the Lord.

            Although Isaiah may be describing a world after Christ returns, we’re clearly not supposed to hide in a hole until then!  Why not take a break from yelling past each other, teach God’s word to the children around us, and live a life worthy of their emulation?  Slowly but surely, we could nurture a whole new generation of believers with a deep love for the Lord and a passion for living his Word and loving their neighbor.  It won’t happen overnight, maybe not even in our lifetime, but a knowledge of the Lord is an awesome instrument of change. In this season of Advent, while we’re waiting for another little child to be born, let’s stop arguing, nurture our children, and begin anew. 

 

 

WEDNESDAY, DEC 15 – LUKE 7:31-35

 

31 To what then will I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep.’  33 For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon’; 34 the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ 35 Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by all her children.

 

 

“To what then will I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like?”

 

            We can almost hear the frustration in Jesus’ voice.  Even after all that John the Baptist had done to lead the way to Him, and all that Jesus had done to lead the way to salvation, the Pharisees and Scribes and many of the people still refused to recognize God’s presence in Jesus.  No miracles, no divine wisdom, not even Jesus’ abiding love would penetrate their hearts.  Instead, they acted like a bunch of brats, complaining because Jesus and John weren’t following all of the do’s and don’ts that they had made up.  Jesus was not the kind of Messiah they were expecting, so they took their marbles and went home.  Jesus was never going to win hearts that refused to believe, and thus many sinners missed their only opportunity for grace.

 

            So what about us?  If Jesus was frustrated with his generation, imagine what He thought when He got a load of ours!  No matter how much Jesus has done and still does for us, there’s always that little something we wanted and didn’t get, that little problem he didn’t fix for us, and that darned thing about loving our neighbor.  When we try to put Jesus in a box built with our plans, we often fail to see God’s plan. 

 

The Jesus we expect may not always be the Jesus we get, and there’s a good chance He won’t play the game by our rules. We may know what we want, but God knows what we need, and his rules will always be better than ours.

 

 

 

THURSDAY, DEC 16 – HEBREWS 10:10-18

 

10 And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11 And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, “he sat down at the right hand of God,” 13 and since then has been waiting “until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.” 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. 15 And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying,

16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them

     after those days, says the Lord:
    I will put my laws in their hearts,
    and I will write them on their minds,”

17  he also adds,

    “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

 

 

“And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified

through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

 

           

            Whom do you love?  Do you love anyone who is completely undeserving of your love?  Do you love anyone who has nothing to give you back?  Do you love anyone who might not even appreciate your love?  And if you do, do you love them enough to die for them?  To be humiliated and beaten and hung on a cross?  Are you capable of that kind of love?  Jesus is, because God the Father is.  A love that is utterly unconditional.  A love that is perfect in every way.

 

            When I look back at my life, I am convicted in the truth that no matter how “stiff-necked” I was, Jesus loved me that much.  No matter how many times I failed Him and disappointed Him; no matter how many times I denied Him; no matter how far I ran away from Him; even when I was neck-deep in sin and death, Jesus took on all my guilt and wiped it away.  He died on that horrible cross to save my sorry soul.  That kind of love doesn’t come from this world. The human mind can’t even grasp it.  It surpasses anything we can imagine. And yet Jesus gives it freely to all, no matter who they are, where they’ve been, or what they’ve done.  It’s a love that performs miracles, transforms hearts and changes lives.

 

The question for us during this season of Advent is this: Can we accept such an awesome gift and then just sit back and bask in an undeserved freedom?  Isn’t a gift like that worthy of a kinder response? Aren’t we called to give away some of that love to someone else?  Perhaps without deciding first whether we think they’re worthy?  Maybe this Advent we are to find someone who is as lost as we once were, and point them to the only place where they can be truly healed.  Jesus will do the rest.

 

 

 

 

FRIDAY, DEC 17 – ISAIAH 42:10-16

 

10 Sing to the Lord a new song,
   his praise from the end of the earth!
Let the sea roar and all that fills it,
   the coastlands and their inhabitants.
11 Let the desert and its towns lift up their voice,
   the villages that Kedar inhabits;
let the inhabitants of Sela sing for joy,
   let them shout from the tops of the mountains.
12 Let them give glory to the Lord,
   and declare his praise in the coastlands.
13 The Lord goes forth like a soldier,
   like a warrior he stirs up his fury;
he cries out, he shouts aloud,
   he shows himself mighty against his foes.

14 For a long time I have held my peace,
   I have kept still and restrained myself;
now I will cry out like a woman in labor,
   I will gasp and pant.
15 I will lay waste mountains and hills,
   and dry up all their herbage;
I will turn the rivers into islands,
   and dry up the pools.
16 I will lead the blind
   by a road they do not know,
by paths they have not known
   I will guide them.
I will turn the darkness before them into light,
   the rough places into level ground.
These are the things I will do,
   and I will not forsake them.

 

“Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise from the end of the earth!”

            Isaiah had a magical way with words.  This reading flows like poetry; a beautiful song of praise.  And rightly so!  Who God is and what He does is so glorious we can’t help but sing!  We sing for what has come to pass and what is yet to come.  We sing for all the blessings God gives us as well as the struggles He helps us to overcome.  Everything around us sings to God: the rain, the thunder, the ocean, the birds, and the wind.  All of creation sings.  We have a God who is always doing something new: saving, intervening, answering prayer, and working miracles.  There is no end to God’s gifts.

 

            The old year is soon to be done and a bright new one will be here.  The birth of the baby Jesus will be celebrated anew.  Let us sing a new song this Christmas, a song full of love and joy, overflowing with gratitude for all that God has done in our lives.  We all have songs to sing, a new one each and every time God touches our heart and fills our soul.  Let’s sing them together.  Let’s sing them loud and clear, so the whole world looks up and sees what an awesome God we have!

 

 

 

 

SATURDAY, DEC 18, LUKE 13:31-35

 

31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32 He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ 34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

 

 

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those

who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together,

as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

 

            Try to imagine the amount of weight Jesus carried on his shoulders during his days here on earth.  Job Description: Save the World!  God gave Jesus a daunting task, and yet, by the time He ascended into heaven, Jesus had laid the foundation for a historical movement of indescribable power that has survived and indeed remained strong until this very day.  It is impossible to overstate what Jesus accomplished, but in these passages we see that dealing with a bunch of pig-headed human beings was far from a piece of cake!  It must have broken his heart.

 

            And I doubt that we make it any easier today.  We too want to run the show and have things just the way we want them.  We listen to false prophets who tell us what we want to hear, and we shun the real ones, because they tell us the inconvenient truth.  Like a mother hen, Jesus keeps gathering us under his wings, and we keep running out from under them.  Scrambling this way and that, chasing after empty treasures and meaningless alternatives to the only grace that will ever save us.

 

            This last week of Advent might be the perfect time to take stock of where you are.  Are you constantly running out from under Jesus’ wings?  What are you chasing after that could possibly be better than the love and protection He wants so desperately to give you?  Jesus never stops offering us shelter, but He will not force us to accept it.  It’s up to us to take another look at those amazing wings and run back to where we belong!

 

 

 

 

SUNDAY, DEC 19 - LUKE 1:46B-55

 

46 And Mary said,

  “My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
   Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
   and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
   from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
   he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
   in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
   to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

 

 

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…”

 

Mary’s beautiful song of praise is commonly called “The Magnificat”, from the Latin word for magnify.  With her words, Mary so eloquently magnifies God, proclaiming his greatness and rejoicing in Him as her Savior. She begins with God’s actions in her own life, for in choosing her to be the mother of the Messiah, God has indeed “done great things” for her. She realizes with awe that all future generations will call her blessed.

 

And yet, the blessedness Mary celebrates is in stark contrast to the world’s view of things. By our standards, she’s a nobody, a poor peasant girl from a small village. Her friends and neighbors will see her as a disgrace because she’s pregnant and unmarried. Joseph will never understand!  And she will soon learn that being the mother of the Messiah will be a mixed blessing at best. She will bear unspeakable grief, watching as her son is rejected, shamed, and crucified. Yet despite all this, Mary praises God for honoring her and is steadfast in accepting God’s plan for her life.

 

As Mary sings her song of praise, she is, for us, the personification of gratitude, a shining example of how to accept God’s will.  She shows us how to move past our fear that we’re unworthy, and be the one God made us to be -- his very presence in the world.

 

God has chosen you too. You have a special calling just as Mary did.  Does your soul magnify Him?  Does your spirit rejoice in Him?  Are you singing with Mary?  As we celebrate the coming birth of our Savior, let’s consider anew the great things God has done for us, and let’s be the ones He chose us to be!

 

 

 

 

MONDAY, DEC 20 – COLOSSIANS 1:15-20

 

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

 

           

“He is the image of the invisible God … For in him

all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.”

 

            Paul wrote this letter to the early Christian church at Colossae in the Greek language. Although some of the cadence was lost in the translation, it still reads like poetry, and it has been described as a “song of praise”.  It certainly is, and the verses make it crystal clear just who Jesus is – God Almighty in human flesh.  Jesus was full of God; not a single part of God was missing. God put all that He had and all that He was into Jesus, just so that we could get to know who God is.  And as such, Jesus presents for us the ultimate example of how to live a Godly life on earth.  Walking beside Jesus, we can learn everything we’ll ever need to know about serving the Father and bringing Him glory.  Jesus modeled a perfect life for us, and then He died in our place, with all of our failings on his shoulders, so that we could be free to start over.  Only God could love like that.

 

            As we wait the next few days for the birth of Jesus, let us be aware of exactly who He is.  It is God himself who is born on Christmas morning – the Almighty, in flesh like ours.  Because of that, we’ve been taught precisely how to love, share, forgive, pray, and serve others as God does.

 

            That is the Good News of Christmas! It’s the ultimate gift we can give our world, and because of Jesus, none of us can claim we don’t know how.

 

 

 

 

TUESDAY, DEC 21 – ROMANS 8:18-30

 

18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. 26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

 

 

“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not

worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.”

 

            “Mom, why do so many people have to get sick?  Why do we have floods and earthquakes, hurricanes and tornadoes?  Why must people suffer from thirst and hunger?  Why did my best friend have to move away?  Why did Grand-mom have to die?  Why did Daddy have to lose his job?  Kids can ask some tough questions.  I don’t doubt that you’ve wrestled with many of your own. Satisfactory answers don’t come easily.

 

            Paul is talking here about the suffering of his time, but ours is certainly no easier.  The whole history of creation has been marked by suffering.  People just like us have struggled for centuries with simply being human; being imperfect in an imperfect world.  The trials of growing up and figuring out what to do with our life. Dealing with so many uncertainties and our lack of control over them.  Maintaining a good marriage when finding common ground can be so hard. Getting along with others in a world where we can’t seem to disagree without hatred.  Growing old and facing loss and declining health. Might as well just say it – life ain’t easy!

 

            We do live in a fallen world, and like Paul says, we all “groan inwardly as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies”.    We don’t always understand what God is doing, but we can trust that He has chosen us to be his children.  And He does use all of the circumstances in our lives, the good and the bad, for his purposes.  As Paul reminds us, we must always hope for what we do not see and wait for it with patience, because the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with God’s glory.  His love for us is overwhelming, and his glory is about to be revealed – the promised hope of Christmas morning, when the Savior of the World is born.  Hallelujah!

 

 

 

 

WEDNESDAY, DEC 22 – EPHESIANS 2:11-22

 

11 So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision”—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— 12 remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

 

 

“For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one

and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.”

 

            In this passage from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he reminds us that Jesus’ cross destroyed, once and for all, the wall separating the Jews from the Gentiles, and created a brand new household of God, personified by peace and good will between all people.  That household is a place built on a new politics and a different kind of power, one that crosses all boundaries.  It breaks down all of the divisions we inflict on each other – divisions of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual identity, social status, and political party. It embraces the entire human family, and unites all of us into a suitable dwelling place for God.

 

            As Gentiles, we were once far off from God, but now we have been brought near.  Once Jesus had completed his work here on earth, the walls came down for all time.  So then why do we insist on building so many new ones?  Why do we insist on thinking in terms of “us” versus “them”, drawn toward those who are “like us” and away from those who are “different”?  We are all the same in Christ.  God wants us to see each other as full members of one family and full citizens of the kingdom of God.

 

There is a reason why the word “peace” occurs nearly a hundred times in the New Testament.  Our world is a wonderful rainbow of diversity, and we are called to celebrate it, together as one.  No more walls, no more “them”, simply “us”.  Because of Jesus, no one needs to be far off any longer.  Because of Jesus, we are one people, united by his love for us all.  This Christmas, let’s start living that way!

 

 

 

THURSDAY, DEC 23 – 2 PETER 1:16-21

 

16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” 18 We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

 

 

“This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.

We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we

were with him on the holy mountain.”

 

            As we know, Peter was one of the three disciples in Christ’s “inner circle”.  He walked with Jesus along the way, heard his teachings, and witnessed many of his miracles and acts of mercy.  Peter discloses here that his personal case for Jesus is simple: He saw Jesus’ majesty with his own eyes.  He is reporting as nothing less than an eyewitness.  He isn’t following someone else’s script; he is speaking from his own personal experience.  He knew that what he was saying about Jesus was the truth.

 

            Later, during the Transformation, when God’s voice came from the cloud, saying “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased”, Peter heard the love in God’s voice and knew in his heart the certainty of who Jesus was.  Peter and the other disciples were reliable witnesses to Jesus’ power and glory.  They simply reported what they saw and heard.  They answered Jesus’ call, witnessed spectacular things, and then reported those things to others.

 

            We have finally completed our journey through the season of Advent, and the birth of the baby Jesus is upon us.  As you celebrate the coming of our Savior, don’t forget that you too are a witness.  Jesus has changed your life too, has walked by your side and touched your heart with his love.  You too have seen Jesus’ majesty with your own eyes.  There are so many people who don’t yet know Jesus, and like the disciples, you have an amazing story to tell.  Why not tell it to someone who needs to hear it.  What an awesome birthday gift to give your Savior!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FRIDAY, DEC 24 – NATIVITY OF OUR LORD, CHRISTMAS EVE – LUKE 2:1-20

 

 

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. 8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

SATURDAY, DEC 25 – NATIVITY OF OUR LORD, CHRISTMAS DAY – PSALM 97

 

 

The Lord is king! Let the earth rejoice;
   let the many coastlands be glad!
2 Clouds and thick darkness are all around him;
   righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.
3 Fire goes before him,
   and consumes his adversaries on every side.
4 His lightnings light up the world;
   the earth sees and trembles.
5 The mountains melt like wax before the Lord,
   before the Lord of all the earth.

6 The heavens proclaim his righteousness;
   and all the peoples behold his glory.
7 All worshipers of images are put to shame,
   those who make their boast in worthless idols;
   all gods bow down before him.
8 Zion hears and is glad,
   and the towns of Judah rejoice,
   because of your judgments, O God.
9 For you, O Lord, are most high over all the earth;
   you are exalted far above all gods.

10 The Lord loves those who hate evil;
   he guards the lives of his faithful;
   he rescues them from the hand of the wicked.
11 Light dawns for the righteous,
   and joy for the upright in heart.
12 Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous,
   and give thanks to his holy name!

 

 

 

 

 

Alleluia!   A holy day has dawned upon us.

Our Savior is born! 

Come, you nations, and adore the Lord.

For today a great light has come upon the earth.  Alleluia!

 

 

A VERY BLESSED AND MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ONE AND ALL!

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