Each year, HOPE creates an Advent Devotional for our families to share with those who visit our website or Facebook page. In the past, the Devotional has focused simply on one aspect of preparation for the Christ Child’s birth. Because it is through Christ who brought us hope, faith, love, peace, and joy, we focused our hearts on those aspects to contemplate and to prepare for His birth. Another year, we spent the season contemplating the prophecies which foretold His birth through the ages. Still another year, we simply focused on the awesome Christmas story. This year, we will follow the trail of the Advent wreath itself.
Our preparation will follow the candles to the manger. Each week through Scripture, we will focus on just one aspect of preparation. As we light the first candle, we will begin with the HOPE candle which embodies Israel’s long wait for its Savior- the Messiah or Christ. The second week begins with the lighting of the second candle- the PEACE candle. For when Christ enters our hearts, Christ’s peace takes hold of our lives. The third week of Advent opens with the lighting of the third candle- the candle of JOY. Joy does not diminish. It never wavers, but it is the quiet constant light which glows inside of each believer for it does not depend on the outside forces of life. It depends on the faithful God who gave us the light. The final week of Advent begins with the final candle on the ring which represents LOVE- God’s love for us. In the center of the wreath stands the tall, stately white candle which is called the Christ candle. When the Christ candle is lit, the wait is over, and we celebrate Christ’s birth. It is Christmas Day, beginning the 12 Days of Christmas.
HOPE’s devotionals continue through the 12 Days of Christmas culminating on January 6. On January 6, the Epiphany, many in the Christian world mark the day when the Wise Men worshipped the Christ Child so long ago. We hope that you will join us as we explore the different aspects of God’s guiding Hand as we journey throughout this Christmas season.
In my wrestling and in my doubts
In my failures You won't walk out
Your great love will lead me through
You are the peace in my troubled sea,
You are the peace in my troubled sea
In the silence, You won't let go
In the questions, Your truth will hold
Your great love will lead me through
You are the peace in my troubled sea,
You are the peace in my troubled sea
I won't fear what tomorrow brings
With each morning I'll rise and sing
My God's love will lead me through
You are the peace in my troubled sea,
You are the peace in my troubled sea,
My Lighthouse, my lighthouse
Shining in the darkness, I will follow You.
My Lighthouse, my lighthouse
I will trust the promise,
You will carry me safe to shore.
Safe to shore
Safe to shore
Safe to shore
Please join us this Advent season as we explore God, our Light.
Hebrews 11:1 (ESV)
11 “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Hebrews 11:1 is called the faith chapter of the Bible.In it, the author reminds people that many, many others have waited with anticipation for God’s promises to be fulfilled.Some promises were fulfilled within the person’s lifetime while others were not fulfilled until many years, centuries, or millennia later, and still other promises are yet to be completed.The chapter is filled with people such as Sarah and Abraham who prayed for a son even though they were past child-bearing years.At 99 and 100 years of age, their son Isaac was born.At the age of eighty, Moses led the children of Israel from Egypt through the desert to the Promised Land.At 120 years old, Moses was not permitted to enter the land God gave to the Israelites; however, he was able to see the wonderful country from afar.These are just two of the examples listed in Hebrews 11.Each person who is listed had a story; each had answers to their prayers within their time on earth, and each had to wait for other promises to come to pass.The list of faithful people, male and female, goes on and on.
When we pray, God takes notice.If our request is important to us, it is important to God.He knows, and He cares.Hope is waiting with trust.
Genesis 49:10 (ESV)
10” The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler's staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;[a]
and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.”
From the beginning, God had His plan in place.Throughout the Old Testament, God spoke to mankind through Abraham’s descendants, His chosen people.Through those prophets, God gave directions, words of wisdom, encouragement, justice, punishment, and promises.Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, became one of the chosen men.At the end of his life, Jacob, then known as Israel, spoke a blessing to each of his sons.In Genesis 49:10, Israel was speaking to his son Judah.It would be out of Judah’s family line that the Messiah, the Savior would come.Though the promise was to one family group, it is through that one family that all people would be blessed.
Promises are important.If a person makes a promise, it should be carried out, but, quite often, it is not.Circumstances get in the way, and plans change.As my children grew up, I was always honest with them.They grew up trusting my word.I would tell them, “We’ll see,” or “Lord willing,” because I never knew what tomorrow would bring.I never wanted to be a promise breaker.Promises were special.If I said, “I promise.”, my children knew that I would move heaven and earth to accomplish whatever the rare promise was.
God never says, “Lord willing.” For if He makes a promise, He is willing to fulfill it.His promises are true and just.The fidelity of the children of Israel wavered from time to time, but God remained faithful, and His promises held true.The world had to wait many centuries for the Messiah to be born. God followed His plan, and Mary, a descendant of Judah, bore the Messiah.
7 “I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.”
When I was about three years old, I ran away from my brother, sister, and father.We were in a rather large department store in the middle of a medium-sized city amid the hustle and bustle of a busy shopping day.My father was the head accountant of the store where we were choosing a new dog collar for our new family dog.In those days, department stores had everything from a butcher’s shop and grocery store to wedding dresses and fur coats and dog collars.As the youngest of the three children, my contribution to the collar conversation was ignored and heatedly rebuffed by my oldest sibling.My tiny feelings hurt, I chose retreat and ran away.Thanks to an obliging adult, I ran out the heavy outer doors onto the busy street crying all the way.I knew not to cross the street, but which way to go: to the left or to the right?I ran to the left- in the direction of the Public Safety building. A kindly young policeman stopped me in front of the building.I refused to go upstairs to meet “a nice policewoman”- you never go anywhere with strangers.However, I did permit him to lead me out of the traffic and into the open front area of the building where he placed me on a windowsill to wait.I have no idea how long we waited together, but I do remember the man introduced me to the other officers and firemen on duty.He kept me talking and sometime later, my distraught and anxious parents appeared in the fire engine bay door calling my name.I remember my father coming forward to pluck me from my perch.The kindly officer made sure that the man was my father before releasing me to their care.However, it did not matter what the officer thought.My daddy knew me as soon as he saw me, and he came to claim me.In the same way, God our Father claimed His Son, Jesus, centuries before He was ever born.
Isaiah 7:14 (ESV)
14” Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”[a]
When we travel, many of us turn on the GPS.A GPS, Global Positioning Satellite, is a machine which uses satellite information to track your progress from one location to another.The GPS can be programmed to take you on the shortest route or the fastest route.If you have GPS tracking on your smart phone, you can use the two instruments simultaneously.What is amazing is that the two machines, which are programmed with the same information, will not necessarily take you on the same roads.However, if you use a printed map, the route will always be the same.The map always takes you from point A to point B by the same route.As with the GPS, the map will only take you to your destination if you faithfully follow the given directions.
The Torah, Israel’s Holy Scriptures were God’s directions for His people to follow.In Psalm 2:7, God claimed His Son.In Isaiah 7:14, God gave another directional marker which pointed directly to His Son.The Son’s Name would tell everyone Who He was, Immanuel- God with us.
Isaiah 9:6 (ESV)
6 “For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon[a] his shoulder,
and his name shall be called[b]
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
There is Someone that I would like you to meet.Originally, you would find Him in the Promised Land, but today He is as near to you as your prayers.He is always available for you to talk to.He will stop what He is doing and give you His full attention.His name is Immanuel.I am sorry; I might not be available to travel with you to meet Him, but I will describe Immanuel to you so that you will know Who He is.Neither His hair and eye color nor His height and weight are considered important, but you will know Immanuel by these signs.The One you are looking for is male.Though He does not live in a palace and He is not dressed in regal attire, you will know Immanuel by His bearing.Disregard His earthly age, for Immanuel is ageless.When you meet Him, you will notice how Immanuel shoulders responsibility with kindness, wisdom, and justice.When you are near Him, you will be surprised by His sincere comforting attitude; yet you will never doubt His strength and power. Because you are in Immanuel’s presence, you will know that He is unlike any earthly Father, for He is your Father forever, and, finally, your heart will be at peace.
Jeremiah 29:11 (ESV)
11” For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare[a] and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
Disaster!For their disobedience, the Northern Kingdom of Israel was carried away by the Assyrians.Death and destruction followed Israel’s choice not to follow her one true God, for the Assyrians were hard taskmasters.Though the Southern Kingdom of Judah remained more faithful to the God of their Fathers, they too made poor choices, and, in time, Judah to fell to the Babylonians.Things could not look worse for the Children of Israel.Life looked hopeless, if people only looked at the situation around them.But God is not a God who leaves His people without hope.The punishment would end, for God was working behind the scenes to change hearts.Again, restoration depended on Judah’s choices- who would they serve?Would they serve the phony gods made of clay, wood, bronze, or gold, or would they serve the one true God- YHWH (Jehovah)? God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah again.This time when God spoke through Jeremiah, it was not about Judah’s downfall; it was to encourage Judah.God had plans for Judah- plans which were for “a future and a hope.”
The plans God had for Judah are the plans He has for you and for me-- “a future and a hope.”Do you feel discouraged?Are you frustrated?Are your plans not working out?Perhaps your plans are not the best plans for you.Perhaps your plans, like Judah’s plans will lead you to death and destruction.God will permit you to go your own way, but why walk a painful path?Look to God, for His plans are much better than you or I could ever imagine.Instead of walking away from God, get to know Him, talk to Him, tell Him your aspirations, walk with Him, and listen to His wise counsel.Then follow God’s way, for His way will lead you to “a future and a hope.”
Micah 5:2 (ESV)
2 [a] “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
from ancient days.”
Remember when I told you about Immanuel? I described Immanuel for you because it is important for you to meet Him. Now, you need to know where to find Him. Throughout history, many other people have searched for Immanuel too. A long time ago, God had His prophet Micah give the original location where Immanuel could be found. When Micah foretold the place to find Immanuel, he was very specific. Immanuel would be found in Bethlehem Ephrathah. Then, as now, Bethlehem was a village north of Jerusalem. There were men from Persia and beyond who searched for Immanuel, and using Micah’s prophecy from 700 years earlier, those men were able to find Immanuel quite easily.
But that does not help you, does it? Wait, yes, it does! The clue for you and me is in the word “Bethlehem”. Immanuel is no longer a Baby born in Bethlehem, but “Beth means the House and the Hebrew word Lehem means of Bread.”; Bethlehem means “House of Bread”. Bethlehem was Immanuel’s birthplace. It was the Messiah’s birthplace- home of the “Living Bread”, Jesus. Found in the New Testament, Jesus fulfilled Micah’s prophecy stated so many years before Immanuel was born. In John 6:35, “35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” For a time, Bethlehem housed the “Living Bread”, Jesus- Bethlehem became the literal “House of Bread.” Now you know Who you are looking for: Jesus, the Anointed One.
Today when you meet Jesus, you do not need to go into a church building or to move to Bethlehem or to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, for Immanuel is where you are. Immanuel is with you now. Jesus is waiting for you to talk to Him. All you need to do is to speak to Him, for Jesus is never pushy. He is waiting for you to talk to Him- to invite Him into your life- to be your Lord and Savior.
Joshua 1:9 (ESV)
9 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
At times, life can be difficult, but it is through those difficult times that we grow and mature.Often, it is during those times that we feel so alone, unloved, and forgotten.Like most of you, I have gone through those difficult times too.I want you to know that there is hope, there is victory, and there is peace. Years ago, I went through a very trying time.I had a lovely family, a job that I loved, and a loving husband.I had accepted Christ as my Savior and been baptized in the Holy Spirit.Though money was not plentiful, we were hardly starving.I literally had “it all.”Yet, pressures from without and within begin to build inside of me.That worthless feeling began to grow ever larger.“Friends” began to pick at me with unkind words and actions.I was in the depth of despair, and I could not find my way out of the dark hole where I found myself.
As school ended for the summer, I realized that I was a crossroad.What should I do?Should I quit my job?What was the core issue? Was there hope where I saw none?I felt trapped.I prayed and prayed.I read my Bible, and I began to read a book by Charles Swindoll Hope Again.While at my local Bible Book Store, I stumbled across some rings.Each ring had one word engraved upon it.The only ring that fit my finger was engraved with HOPE.Each time I looked at that ring, I could feel hope surge through me.Though Charles Swindoll’s book dealt with the section of the Holy Bible called First Peter, the first Scripture that resonated with heart was Joshua 1:9.God cared for me, and He was with me wherever I went.I cried.That Scripture was the first pinhole of light in the darkness that held me enthralled.All throughout that summer, I read the Bible; I read Swindoll’s book twice; I prayed; I cried, and I listened to music both Christian and Classical.I learned a lot about myself, but, more importantly, I learned about God.I learned that He cared for me.I learned that He loved me.I learned that no matter what I was going through God was with me.I learned to look outside of myself and help others.Finally, I learned that I cannot control how others treat me, but I can control how I respond to that treatment.I learned that forgiveness is a key component to growth and peace.Though the difficulties continued for a several more years, how I responded to the pressures was, for the most part, different than before.
Sometimes, the darkness tries to reclaim me, but today I fight back- with Scripture.Joshua 1:9 is usually the first Scripture that comes to mind.Joshua 1:9 “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”I have learned to trust God, for His promises are true.As you go through life, your journey will be your journey.However, if you find that you are struggling reach out to God. He is with you wherever you go.
Psalm 55:22 (ESV)
22 “Cast your burden on the Lord,
and he will sustain you;
he will never permit
the righteous to be moved.”
At this time of the year, most people carry heavy burdens.Some of the burdens are very, very real, while still others are imagined.Whether real or imagined, the burdens are heavy.An illness in the family is a very real concern, but whether the Christmas lights work is an imagined burden.In a perfect world, every single light would shine brightly, but ours is not a perfect world.In my little world, I have a friend who has suffered for the past month with a very painful virus.Because it is a virus, there is no medicine which will help her.The pain continues.On the other hand, my husband loves Christmas lights.In his world, lights not lighting is a very real problem.The top of our large artificial pre-lit Christmas tree will not light.It does not matter how painful the process was physically, my husband took every light out of its socket, tested them and retested them twice.No matter how many times I tell him it is okay, it is not okay with him.Real or imagined, the burdens are heavy.The lovely thing about God is that He does not care what type of burden you are carrying.He only cares that you give your burden to Him.Why?He loves you and me.As a parent, God wants you to go to Him with your problems and difficulties.We have questions, but He has the answers.When we talk to God and give Him our burdens, we give Him permission to work that problem out.When we give Him our burdens, the problem will not disappear, but our reaction to the problem changes.Since it is no longer up to us to solve the difficulty, peace can flow into our hearts and minds.The more we give to God the more confident we become in His ability and His desire to carry our burdens.In return, we feel freer.The tense muscles and anxiety dissipate, and we are free once again to enjoy life.
“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3
Has your heart ever been broken?Have you looked at the shattered shreds of your heart and wondered if you could ever be whole again?If we are truly honest, we all have been there.However, what breaks one person may not break another person.Indeed, what broke your heart as a young child may not break your heart as an adult.A broken heart is one of the worst wounds to heal, and no one is immune.
I have had my heart broken- shattered might be a better description.I was decimated body, soul, and spirit, but I did not permit myself to heal.I hid myself away until I felt safe, but I did not heal.The broken heart remained, and the wounds festered.Yet, I thought I had healed.I thought that until I was in need of guidance and was talking with my pastor.I told him much of my past.When I finished, he considered me for a moment before saying, “You have never healed.You never let God heal you.”My pastor encouraged me to let go and let God.I tried.I prayed, read devotionals, read books from godly men and women, but nothing seemed to help.How do you heal?It was only after I stopped trying in my own power that God was able to begin the process of healing me.He told me to write my story.To write one’s story requires one to go back to each instance that God brings to mind and write it down.Not something I wanted to do, yet I noticed that as I wrote out the shattered parts of my heart, I felt a release.Tears that I never cried stung my eyes, but this time I heard God’s voice through the situation saying, “I have something better for you.This might hurt now, but this too will pass.Trust Me.”It was almost as if the sting from those memories lost its power over me, for God was using the writing to heal my heart.I may not be fully healed yet, but I am healing.
The above Scripture says that God “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”What hurts do you need to offer to God to heal?He is waiting for you to lift up your broken heart and your wounded spirit and say, “Here, Lord, take it.Heal me.”Two thousand years ago, our Heavenly Father looked down on a broken and wounded humanity and sent His Son Jesus to heal our hearts and bind our wounds.This Christmas, will you let Him into your heart?Will you let the healing begin?
“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in You.” Isaiah 26:3
Peace!How we long with every fiber of our being for peace!And when do we long for peace most?Usually, we long for it in the middle of night when we should be sleeping, but we are not.Instead our minds have decided to engage in hyperdrive, and every thought, every action, every word swirl through our minds.Or, our minds have decided to play the “What-if” game.Every situation that we might face in the coming days, weeks, months, or even years ahead assails us with “what-ifs.”Rather than sleeping peacefully, our minds feel like a boat rocking on the turbulent sea.You know the drill… If only, you had not said this or that.If only, your spouse was more considerate.If only, I had not lost my temper again.If only, we had done more for someone.If only, his boss let him have yesterday off.What if I do not get the promotion.What if my child never marries?What if my sibling never speaks to me again?What if my spouse dies?
“Stop!!!!” your heart screams.Very rarely do we take those thoughts and throw them out the window where they belong.Unfortunately, we very rarely do the only thing we are meant to do with worries and cares: give them to the Father.Throughout my adult life, I have struggled with having peace, and this is why Isaiah 26:3 is so important to me.When I permit God’s peace to envelop me, nothing bothers me. I handle situations so much better, and I sleep better too.Every night before I go to sleep, rather than playing the “what if” game.I pray what I like to call the “I give You….”It goes something like this: Lord, I give you my family.I give you my husband and children.I give you __________________.I systematically give every single thing that I can think of over to God.Do you know that many times I fall asleep even before I finish giving everything to God- because unknown to me, I already gave it over to Him.This Christmas, try your hand at having a steadfast mind by giving each and every worry over to the Lord.You will like the outcome, and I bet that your mind will not be a rickety boat on the tumultuous ocean but a solid lighthouse on solid ground.Go to the Prince of Peace, and you will find that the Prince of Peace has come to you.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present your requests to God.And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7
The Christmas season has arrived!Did your blood pressure increase?No, let me help you with that.The Christmas presents need to be purchased…money is not an object.After all, the perfect gift must cost thousands of dollars.Friends and family invite you to various Christmas parties.Host gifts need to be purchased, and side dishes need to be made.Relatives are staying at your house, and the entire house needs to be cleaned from top to bottom, inside and out.
How is your blood pressure now?What is that you say?You are feeling anxious?Why on earth would the most wonderful time of the year make you anxious?The house is in shambles, and money will not stretch for the expensive presents?You have multiple Christmas parties to attend on the same day, and not all of the relatives staying at your house get along?Keeping up the Joneses is no longer an option?No wonder you are so stressed; you have forgotten what Christmas is all about.
In all of the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, it is easy to forget: God sent Jesus, the Prince of Peace, to earth.He came not to a palace, nor to a big city, but to a simple carpenter and his virgin wife in a small sleepy village known as Bethlehem.Take a moment to allow that to sink in: God sent the world Peace in the form of His Son, not because we deserve Him, but because we need Him.We need peace.Rather than rushing hither, thither, and yon this Christmas season, slow down.God knows what you need to accomplish, and He knows all of your needs.Ask God to show you what to do, then let His peace fill you and His joy and thanksgiving envelop you.Find the good in the little things; sing Christmas carols at the top of your lungs.Make decorations out of pinecones, glitter, and glue- messy, sure, but why not?Sit down with a mug of hot cocoa and watch a Christmas movie surrounded by your loved ones with a fire crackling in the fireplace.Even better, listen to Christmas music and read the Christmas story once again slowly, allowing Jesus to fill every fiber of your being.How are you feeling now?Peaceful?Joyful?Grateful?Now, let the world see the peace, joy, and thanksgiving that God gave you this Christmas season….and should you become anxious again…talk to God about it, thanking Him for turning your anxiety to peace.
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.And be thankful.” Colossians 3:15
I love how God works.Originally, the words that I was going to write sounded nothing like this, but God had a different plan.As I write this, “A Thankful Heart” from The Muppet Christmas Carol is playing in the background; it literally came on when I started writing this devotional.What does this have anything to do with letting the peace of Christ rule our lives and hearts? Read the words of the first verse of the song that Paul Williams wrote for Michael Caine’s Ebenezer Scrooge to sing as he has learned to love, truly love people:
“A Thankful Heart”
With a thankful heart, with an endless joy
With a growing family, every girl and boy
Will be nephew and niece to me
Will bring love, hope, and peace to me
Yes, and every night will end and every day will start-
With a grateful prayer and a thankful heart
Did you notice anything?Joy, love, hope, peace, grateful prayer all appear in the lyrics.Now look at Colossians 3:15 again: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.And be thankful.”Peace and love appear in the Scripture too.I find it most remarkable that love permits all of the other aspects or fruit of God to flourish.When Ebenezer Scrooge permitted love-the love of Christmas- to enter his life, he also permitted joy, hope, peace, and thankfulness to enter his life.This Christmas, we too can be like Ebenezer Scrooge and discover how amazing life can be when we live in the peace of Christ and are thankful for every blessing that God has given us.
“Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” Hebrews 12:14
Growing up, I had two brothers and one sister.Needless to say, peace was at times more elusive that at other times.Most of the time, my siblings and I got along well.Sure, we had our disagreements, but they generally did not last long.I do remember a six-month period of time when I was about ten when we were at each other’s throats all the time.Now, to be fair, during that period of time one of us was fighting off some kind of illness, but still we bickered over everything.I am sure that my mother felt like she was in the midst of The Bickersons radio program from the 1930s and 1940s.No matter what was going on, one was of us was unhappy with another sibling, and peace was long gone.
Looking back, I can understand why my mother finally took us all to task, and my father gave us all a punishment that had us giggling and annoyed more than anything else.That scolding and punishment did it…after that, we all reverted back to being cordial and amicable with each other.I wonder though how much our actions and attitudes grieved the Lord.We had so much: a loving family, a roof over our heads, more food, clothes, and toys than many people see throughout their entire lives, yet we chose to only see the negatives.As adults, we tend to be the same way: hassles of life throw us curveballs, and the complaints start.Pretty soon, our peace is gone too.This Christmas season, let us make every effort to live peaceably with our fellow men- those with whom we get along and those with whom we disagree, those we love and those we dislike.Christ came that we might have peace and live in right relationship with God the Father and our fellow man.Would not one of the best Christmas presents we could give Jesus be to live as He has called us to live: at peace with everyone?
“Nehemiah said, ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some of those who have nothing prepared.This day is sacred to our Lord.Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10
While reading this Scripture, I was simultaneously struck by two images that God gave me.First, I saw my future wedding reception with flowers, white tablecloths, decorations, people rejoicing, and plenty of food to share.Second, I saw future HOPE: children laughing as they joyously serve food to the less fortunate in the community; other children happily wrapping presents for those who might not otherwise receive a gift; and still other joyful children singing as they put together some Christmas entertainment for the senior citizens in the community.What connected all of these images?Joy—joy connected each and every one.
When Nehemiah spoke to the Israelites, it was a time of great rejoicing because the Israelite remnant was finally back home in the Promised Land.Ezra the priest read God’s law to the people, and they were reminded whose they were.The Israelites had done their share of weeping as they were exiled from their home for several generations, yet God faithfully brought them home.I do not know about you, but I sometimes need a reminder that God is faithful to do what He promised.Sometimes, I need a reminder that God sees the longing of my heart, and those visions He gives me remind me that the joy of the Lord is my strength.The aforementioned things have not physically occurred yet, but with God they are a done deal.I will choose to rejoice because God is faithful.Within those images is another message: when we give of ourselves, we too are blessed.Our joy is made complete.
The joy of the Lord is our strength.Let us live out that joy so that the world may know that God is the God of joy.Life may be difficult, but God is greater.Life might be unfair, but God is just.Life may be filled with sorrow, but God is our Comfort and our Joy.This Christmas, share the joy of Christmas with someone in need.A simple smile, an encouraging word, giving to a charity, donating some of your time to help a neighbor, making a meal for someone who is struggling, and the list goes on.No matter what you might be facing: God’s joy is yours; now go out and share His joy with others.
“In every province and in every city, wherever the edict of the king went, there was joy and gladness among the Jews, with feasting and celebrating.” Esther 8:17
Imagine the scene.Just months earlier, an edict from King Xerxes stated that your death was imminent; in fact, the date was set in stone.You and your neighbors…nay, everyone of your faith crept through the streets, mourning, avoiding eyes, watching warily, wondering if your neighbors might suddenly attack you prior to the decreed date.Suddenly, there was the clattering of hooves, and a royal official announces that the tables have been turned: the date set for your deaths is now a date when you and your people can protect yourselves with every resource the king has at your disposal.
Can you imagine the scene?Pandemonium must have reigned supreme as people hugged one another in the streets, and the tears of mourning rapidly turned into tears of joy.Your stoic neighbor ran from person to person shouting joyfully.Food that your friends stored away to keep for their escape from the city was now being baked, cooked, and made into a feast unlike the king ever saw before.Children danced in the streets singing, and adults joined in the celebration.
This is the joy that God promises each of us.You have been accused of wrongdoing, yet you are innocent.The world attacks you because of your faith, yet God has given you an unspeakable joy in the midst of the hardship.Your child’s incurable disease is miraculously healed.After losing so many children, the nurse puts the bundle of joy into your arms.Your house burned to the ground, and your neighbors took it upon themselves to help you rebuild.This is the joy that God gives, and this was the Israelites’ joy in Esther’s time.This is the joy you feel when Jesus becomes your Lord and Savior.Rejoice and be glad this Christmas.Celebrate like no one is watching; let your joy bubble to the surface and overflow on everyone you meet as you remind the world that Jesus came bringing glad tidings to the world.
23 To make an apt answer is a joy to a man,
and a word in season, how good it is!
We live in a snarky world. What is the definition for snarky?According to the dictionary, it means sharply critical; cutting; snide.Look at some of the synonyms for snarky.
acerbic · sarcastic · sharp · sardonic · satirical · scathing · cutting · razor-edged · incisive · penetrating · piercing · biting · stinging · searing · keen · caustic · trenchant
It seems that everyone wants to make other people feel badly.The illusion is that if I say I am just kidding or “pranking” you, everything is fine- we will all laugh and have a good time.However, kidding and pranking are not fine.They are mean and spiteful ways of treating your fellow man.In this angry world, God has a better way for us to treat each other- speak kindly or encourage one another.You be the one to find something good in a bad situation.
Years ago, I attended a wedding where the bride wore a trendy hat rather than a traditional veil.Unfortunately, the hat was not becoming to the bride’s features.A conversation began with unkind remarks regarding the young lady’s hat when one member of the group stopped the conversation with one softly spoken, simple sentence: “Perhaps, she really liked the hat.”Rather than looking at the negative, the young man looked at the positive side and redirected the conversation from negative to positive observations.I will never forget that moment.You and I have the power to change and bring joy our corner of the world by following God’s direction.You do not need to lie in order to speak kindly, for there is always something positive in every situation, if you are willing to look for it.Bring joy.Be the change; speak and act kindly.
Isaiah 12:6 (ESV)
6” Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion,
for great in your[a] midst is the Holy One of Israel.”
In Isaiah, Chapter 12 is titled The Lord Is My Strength and My Song.Can you imagine what the world would be like if everyone, each individual, made God their strength and their song?The first 5 verses read like this:
12 “You[a] will say in that day:
“I will give thanks to you, O Lord,
for though you were angry with me,
your anger turned away,
that you might comfort me.
(God comforts me.)
2 “Behold, God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid;
for the Lord God[b] is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation.”
(My job is to trust, and not to be afraid.)
(God promised that He is my strength when I am weary. He is my song when I do not feel like singing. He saves me.)
3 With joy you[c] will draw water from the wells of salvation. 4 And you will say in that day:
“Give thanks to the Lord,
call upon his name,
make known his deeds among the peoples,
proclaim that his name is exalted.
(Because of God, I will have joy an unlimited supply of joy.)
(Because of God, I will thank Him for each new day.)
(Because of God’s gifts to me, I will share my stories.)
5 “Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
let this be made known[d] in all the earth.”
Joy is not happiness.Happiness depends on your mood and your interaction with other people, but joy depends on your relationship with God.Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, wrote in Romans 12:12 (ESV)
12 “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” Paul knew about tribulation; yet he was joyful in all circumstances, for when you trust God, joy flows like a rushing river- from God to you then to others.
Isaiah 35:10 (ESV)
10 “And the ransomed of the Lord shall return
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain gladness and joy,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”
Isaiah 35 is a transitional chapter in the book Isaiah penned.Therefore, it gives us some historical information while delivering some promises to Israel.Punished for her disobedience, Israel realized her mistake and, once again, called out to God to save her.Those who returned to God were the ransomed.When freed from her bondage, Israel sang and rejoiced with the gladness she felt.Like Israel, we too were ransomed; Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross and resurrection on the third day paid the price for our bondage to sin.Today, like many in old Israel, some hear God calling to us, and we respond to His sacrifice with joy and gladness.The wellspring of joy we feel has nothing to do with what we have done, but it has everything to do with what God has done.Though we often forget God, He never forgets us.When we put our spiritual selves in danger, He rescues us.God puts a song and joy into our hearts.Life can and will be difficult.Our everyday choices might be poor, but God is beside us waiting for us to call upon Him.He might not remove us from the situation, but He will sustain through the situation.We might not feel happy, but deep inside we will feel the joy of His abiding presence within us.
John 16:22 (ESV)
22 “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”
Because I am the youngest of three children, my sister and brother made many memories of which I was not a part.One such story about my brother happened when we lived in the house on Boyd Avenue.Since we moved to a new home the year that I turned two, I have very few memories if anything about the house let alone the neighborhood.However, the neighborhood was a very important character in this story.
The neighborhood was an old one, built on the side of a hill.Since the town was a steel making city, coal was very important.Honeycombed throughout the city were mine shafts that extended horizontally and vertically throughout hillsides.Of course, as many of the mines closed, the entrances were boarded up and abandoned but not securely closed.
In those days, the early 1950’s, children were permitted to play.After their chores were done, the neighborhood children got together to play.You always had to be home by mealtime, but parents felt very comfortable letting their children be children.Sometimes there would be a pick-up baseball game or game of hide-and-seek.At other times, the children played card games, board games, house, cowboys and Indians, or war.When they were not playing with boys, the girls played dolls.(Sometimes you could rope your younger brother into playing dolls with you, for GI Joe was not in the market yet.)But the best times were the times when you and your friend just wandered around and explored.
It was during one of those special explorations that our story took place.My brother and his friend were playing and exploring the neighborhood when they stumbled upon the mine opening at the very top of the street.Though boarded up, the opening was not securely closed off.It was a perfect place for two little boys to explore, and off they went.As children often do, my brother and his friend forgot about the time.The minutes ticked by and dinner approached. My mother, a very level-headed lady, called my brother’s name out the back door.No answer. Evening passed into night, and the two moms were frantic.The fathers joined the neighborhood search parties, and the police were called.Every one of the adults had the same dread.Had the boys plummeted down one of the many shafts to their deaths? How the boys were found I do not know.What I do know is that when my mom told the story tears would form in her eyes.She would compose herself and shake her head as she remembered hugging and kissing my brother while spanking him for giving her such a scare.My mom felt great sorrow when my brother was lost, but her joy overflowed when he was found.When Mom told the story, all the original joy would come flooding back.I do not think that the joy she felt ever went away.No one could take that joy away from her.
In the same way, God was lost to us.When Jesus rose again from the tomb, our sins were forgiven, and the connection with God was reestablished.As we individually acknowledge Christ’s sacrifice for us personally, His joy is established within us.It is the joy that will never fade and will never go away.
2”Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Because joy comes from God, joy is always constant.It never falters.Because God shares His joy with us, joy is always giving.It never fails.Because God’s love is never-ending, joy is constantly replenished.It never runs out.Because joy is part of God, joy is deeply felt.It is not transitory.Why is joy so important to us?It is because joy sustains us.In times of trial, hope and joy unite creating an unstoppable team.Hope sees the outcome of any situation while joy keeps us moving forward to the end.
As I write this singular devotional, I am stymied.Even as God’s joy flows through me, the words are blocked.I can describe the joy that fills my being when I see the beauty in God’s creation.Pictures are flowing through my mind in rapid succession, but words cannot describe the beauty.Words cannot express my joy.Perhaps that is my problem- the joy that I feel is specifically for me.Perhaps each of us feels the joy that is specifically for each one of us.Perhaps, joy is an individual choice.In other words, I choose to find joy in each day that God gives to me.
Earlier in this century when I was going through a difficult time, I did not recognize the gift God gave to me.Joy was the last thing I would think about.My world turned me upside down and around.Putting one foot in front of another was difficult- sometimes even breathing was hard.No, I was not sick in the conventional sense, but I was sick at heart.As I traveled on the road to recovery, I found a book by Max Lucado.I cannot remember the title of the book, but I do remember that the first few pages changed my way of thinking; it read, “I Choose.”
…“I choose joy… I will invite my God to be the God of circumstance. I will refuse the
temptation to be cynical… the tool of the lazy thinker. I will refuse
to see people as anything less than human beings, created by God. I will
refuse to see any problem as anything less than an opportunity to see God.”…
In the same way, Mr. Lucado wrote about love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control--the Fruit of the Spirit.When He finished the section, Mr. Lucado wrote:
…“Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
gentleness, and self-control. To these I commit my day. If I succeed, I
will give thanks. If I fail, I will seek His grace. And then, when this
day is done, I will place my head on my pillow and rest.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering,
gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance.
Against such there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23”
As Jesus chose to look past the pain, torment, shame, and death of the cross to the joy of heaven.I too can choose to find joy in each day whether the situations seem to be good or bad.I can choose to see the joy beyond.The wonderful thing is this choice is available to you- you can choose joy too.
P.S. I found the title of Max Lucado’s book.It is When God Whispers Your Name, 1994.
Matthew 1:18-25 (ESV)
18 “Now the birth of Jesus Christ[a] took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed[b] to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.”
In the New Testament, John described God in this way: “God is Love.” (1 John 4:8)In Matthew 1, we see the first taste of New Testament love.Joseph is described as a “just man.”He knew the Ten Commandments, and Joseph knew that God’s perfect plan called for spouses to remain faithful. Joseph also knew that the punishment for adultery was a very painful death.Since Joseph knew that Mary’s baby was not his, the answer was justice.It is here that God’s love intervenes.Joseph loves God, and He loves Mary.God demands justice, but He also bestows mercy.It is to this mercy that Joseph turns.It was possible for Joseph to divorce Mary quietly.By doing this, Joseph would save the lives of both mother and child.It seemed a reasonable and responsible thing to do, but God had a different plan.Again, we see God’s intervention and love.
An angel appears to Joseph in a dream not before Joseph made the decision for life and not after the divorce but at the perfect time.The angel appears to Joseph right on time.God sends His angels messengers to earth when the message revolves around God’s Son.Speaking to the man who would care for God’s Son on earth, the angel brought comforting news to Joseph.First, the angel reassures Joseph- “…do not fear…”Next the angel explains just whose baby Mary is carrying- …”is from the Holy Spirit.”Third, the angel explains the Child’s name and what He will do- …”a Son, you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”Finally, the angel points to this Child as the fulfillment of a prophecy.No ordinary child, this Child is Immanuel, God with us.The angel’s message comforted and reassured Joseph.No longer was Joseph ashamed.No longer did he have to put Mary aside, and no longer was the child anything but a gift from God.Joseph’s purpose had changed- he was charged with a job no one had ever had- Joseph was to protect Mary and God’s Son Jesus, the Anointed One- Immanuel.
Luke 2:1-7 (ESV)
2 “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed,[b] who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”[c]
Can you put yourself in Mary’s or Joseph’s place?Parents make plans for their newborn.Should they choose doctor or midwife?Will it be a hospital birth or a home birth?Where will the baby sleep?The plan list is long, but the biggest question of all- Does the baby know the plan?These questions are within the little family.Things become even more complicated when outside forces interfere with the planning.
Mary and Joseph were part of the larger world which they did not control.The emperor spoke, and the world followed the edict.To Caesar, the census was not a big deal. You register and be done with the process, but Augustus did not reckon with the Israelites.The Israelites were grouped according to family lines.Each family had a location where their family line began.For the Israelites, registration meant massive shifting of populations.For Joseph and Mary, it meant traveling to the beginning of their family line- to David’s city, to Bethlehem.Though only seventy to eighty miles, perhaps as much as one hundred miles, from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the distance was daunting to a woman in her eighth or ninth month of pregnancy.No animal or wagon was equipped with comfortable seating, let alone springs, to ease the ride.Whether walking or riding, the result was a difficult journey.
In the larger scheme, God had a plan which was working out within the pregnant young woman.Labor began, and there was no comfy home, no beautiful nursery waiting for her Child’s first night on earth.The Baby was coming- God’s Child was on His way to no home, no comfy bed, no beautiful mobile.Jesus was on His way to you and to me.God was not looking at the surroundings.God was looking at the shepherds, at the kings, at the people through the ages.God was looking at you, and He was looking at me.For God, the circumstances surrounding Christ’s birth were perfect. Because God was in control of the circumstances, the people and the place were perfect.John 3:16-17 (ESV) 16 “For God so loved the world,[a] that he gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.
Even though they might not have understood the plans, Mary and Joseph chose God’s way as their way.Each day we have the same choice to make.Each day, we can choose to try to control our circumstances, or we can choose to let God control those circumstances. Each day, we can choose to accept God’s way even though we may not understand those plans.
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the lord shone around them, and they were terrified.But the angel said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid.I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.And this will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.’
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’” Luke 2:8-16
Over two thousand years ago, a baby’s cry broke the stillness of the night.A young couple looked down at the face of the Son of God, and out in the fields, sleepy shepherds watched their drowsing flocks.When suddenly, they were blinded by light as the heavens opened and an angel graced their vision.Is it not remarkable?Sometimes, I think that we have heard the Christmas story so often that we fail to see how remarkable…how miraculous it truly is.
A young carpenter found out his virgin fiancée was pregnant by the Holy Spirit, yet he took her as his wife rather than disgrace her.A virgin pledged to be married gave birth to a Son—not just any son but the Son of God.The second Person of the Triune God became a human baby, just like you or me.Unlike you and me, He was fully God and fully man, and this Baby was born in a dirty, dingy barn-like cave and placed in an animals’ feeding trough.Then, angels visited not kings, not the powerful, not the rich, but humble, poor shepherds and declared the Good News: Christ was born!These shepherds were the lowest of society, yet they were privileged to hear the most glorious choir this world has ever known, all in celebration of Jesus’ birth.How amazing!What great love our God has for us that He would willingly choose to give up heaven to become our sacrificial Lamb, so that we might never spend eternity separated from Him!Let this miracle of love seep into your soul.
Christ came for you, for me, for the poor, for the rich, for the best of humanity, for the despicable, for the destitute, for the addicted, for the orphan, for the loved, for all.Do you know Him?Would you like to know Him and His love?If you would, there is no better time to invite Jesus into your heart.If you would like to know Jesus, all it takes is a simple faith and a simple prayer like this one:
Dear Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I know that You love me so much that You can to earth just for me.Please forgive me, for I know that there is nothing that I can do that is good enough to wipe away my sins, only you can take my sins away.I believe that You died for my sins on the cross and covered them with Your blood, and I believe that You rose from the dead.You did all of this for me that I might live with You in heaven forever.Thank You for loving me; thank You for dying for me.I love You, Lord.Come into my heart and be my Savior, my Father, and my Counselor.I ask this in Jesus’ Name.Amen.
Merry Christmas and welcome to God’s family!I cannot wait to celebrate forever with you as we worship our Messiah together.
He was born in an obscure village, the son of a peasant woman.
He grew up in another village, where he worked in a carpenter's shop until he was thirty. Then for three years he became a wandering preacher.
He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family or owned a house. He didn't go to college. He never visited a big city. He never travelled two hundred miles from the place where he was born. He did none of those things one usually associates with greatness.
He had no credentials but himself.
He was only thirty-three when the tide of public opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. He was turned over to his enemies and went through a mockery of a trial. He was executed by the state. While he was dying, his executioners gambled for his clothing, the only property he had on earth. When he was dead he was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.
Twenty centuries have come and gone, and today he is the central figure of the human race and the leader of mankind's progress. All the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man on this earth as much as that One Solitary Life.
“When they had seen Him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about the child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” Luke 2:17-20
The shepherds of Bethlehem certainly had an exciting time that night over two thousand years ago.First, the blackness of night and their drowsing catapulted into oblivion as an angel of the Lord appeared before them.The shepherds trembled with fear as the angel told them of a baby born in a Bethlehem manger, and they were treated to a choir of the heavenly hosts singing praises to the newborn King.When the angels left them, the shepherds ran toward Bethlehem searching for the baby until they found Him.I am fairly certain that Mary and Joseph were befuddled as their already unusual night suddenly included visitors in the dead of the night.The shepherds must have told Mary and Joseph their story, for why else would new parents permit a random group of shepherds to see their new Child?Yet, we know that the shepherds worshipped Jesus and left in a rush to tell the world…well, at least Bethlehem…the news.
By morning, Jesus’ birth was the talk of the town, and all because the shepherds chose to tell everyone they met about Jesus, the manger, and the angels’ message.When reading this particular passage of Scripture, we see two diametrically opposed reactions to Jesus’ birth.Mary quietly stored up these treasures as memories held dearly in her heart; as a woman who had just given birth, this reaction makes perfect sense.Most likely, she was exhausted and too enthralled with her beautiful Son to do more than treasure the nights’ events.On the other hand, the shepherds went from drowsy boredom to sheer terror to rapturous exhilaration ready and raring to share with the world the Good News.
Like Mary, we should treasure the moments when God works in miraculous ways in our lives, and we should hold those memories dear.Yet, like the shepherds, when we are reborn in Christ, we should want to share our story.The world needs to know the Good News that Jesus came to save them.If we do not share the news, who will?Let us be like Mary and the shepherds as we treasure the ways that God works in our lives and share with the entire world what the Lord has done.The Good News is not just for Christmas, but it is for every day and everyone.What are you waiting for?Sing, celebrate, and shout it from the rooftops: Jesus is born!
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” John 3:16-17
Have you ever loved someone who has not loved you back?Have you ever loved someone who loved you only conditionally or for a time?Loving someone who does not love you or loves you conditionally or only for a time hurts.Your heart does not just hurt, but aches and breaks.God knows this feeling better than anyone, because that is what humanity did and does to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.As people, we might become bitter, depressed, angry, or heartbroken when we are not loved by those we love, but we are not God.
God responds to our rejection differently than we do.Rather than being angry and forcing people to prove how worthy they are of His love, God did something beyond our wildest imaginations: He sent us His Son.His Son, Jesus Christ, chose to contain all of God in human form and come to earth to save us from our sins.He gave up heaven and His majesty to become our sacrificial Lamb born as a baby in a manger in lowly Bethlehem.Why?Why would the God of the universe choose to do such a thing?The answer is quite simple: because He loves us.To God, there is no one who is beyond His love, and, because He loves us, Jesus came to earth to prove just how much you and I are loved.The heart of Christmas is love- as in Immanuel, God with us.Let His love envelop you; then share His love with others both now and always.
“Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.” Proverbs 3:3-4
In today’s world, faithfulness and love are misconstrued and belittled.Faithfulness is only worthwhile if a person is happy, and love has been abused to a mere shadow of itself.No wonder suicide rates seem to be ever increasing, for people lack hope, faith, and love.These three attributes go hand in hand, and all three are characteristics of the only One who is always faithful, always loves, and always gives hope.
If you are looking for Superman, you are looking in the wrong place, because the One you are looking for is greater than Superman or any other superhero you could possibly dream up.The One you are looking for is omnipotent, omniscient, and omni-present (all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-present).Additionally, He is all-loving, all-faithful, all-merciful, and all-hopeful.Lest we forget, He is also the Creator of all things, the Savior of the world, the Prince of Peace, the Redeemer, the Comforter, and the Great I Am.Interested in finding Him?His name is Jesus, the Son of God, and His Father is your Heavenly Father.Who is the Comforter?He is the Holy Spirit.
When you ask Jesus into your heart, God binds you in His love, and He writes His Name on you.You belong to Him.Jesus is proud of you, and He wants the world to know that you belong to Him forever and always.Claim His love and faithfulness as your own.As you get to know Jesus and grow in His love, a remarkable thing occurs; His love and faithfulness never leave you.They are written on your heart and wrapped around your neck like a necklace.Each word proclaims Whose you are: You are His child.As we traverse these Twelve Days of Christmas, get to know Jesus more and allow Him to write His love and faithfulness as His seal on you.
“Be completely humble and gentle, be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Ephesians 4:2
What do the words humble, gentle, patient, and love conjure up in your mind’s eye?If you look at today’s standards, weak might be the operative word.If you look at Christ’s standards, a different image appears.A humble person does not toot his own horn, nor is he a doormat.This person expresses his humility by serving others and does not look for any recognition for his actions.What does a gentle person look like?A gentle person puts others ahead of himself, but he also gently interacts with fragile people, accepting their weaknesses and bolstering their self-confidence.How does a patient person act?A patient person is inevitably unruffled by life’s curveballs, and he can soothe the most irritating individual because he refuses to be dragged into the irritation.You might be saying that no person could possibly exhibit all of these traits simultaneously, and you would be right.In our own power, we are incapable of exhibiting any of these traits, but God is more than capable to transform us into such humble, gentle, and patient people.
Now that we have looked at the traits, we need to look at what covers all of these traits to make a cohesive whole: love.Love is humble, gentle, patient, and bears all things.Without love, the other three would be impossible.Love allows the parent to humbly clean up after his children in their worst moments, and love permits the teacher to gently deal with the difficult students who do not know they are loved.Love is what permits the nurse to patiently listen to a patient’s grumbling and discern what the actual symptoms are.Love is what permits people to bear with those people we love.
I wonder what the world would look like if we all started being humble, gentle, patient, and loving toward our fellow man, not just friends and family but all people.Would we have as many angry, surly individuals?Would hatred rear its ugly head?Would relationships break apart?Would people divide?Maybe, but I would venture to say that this world would be a much kinder, loving place.This year, let us try to live in such a way that the world sees humility, gentleness, patience, and love flowing through our lives and out into the world.Let us live as the embodiment of Christ here on earth: the very heart of God’s love.
“We love because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:19
Why do we love?Do we love others because they love us?Do we love because we are given good gifts, or do we love because they are our family?However, when we really think about it, we love because God the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit loved us first.We love because our loving Creator gave us the capacity to love.Think about that for a minute.People were gifted with the capacity to love—what an amazing gift!
Why would God give us the ability to love?He gave us the gift of love because He loved each and every single one of us before we were created, and He wants us to freely give our love back to Him.God is a gentleman, for He will not force anyone to love Him.If He wanted that, then He never would have given us free will.No, our heavenly Father wanted us to love Him freely of our own accord.Because of His love for us, God gave us the ability to love Him and one another.
Christmas is sometimes called the Season of Love because Love (Jesus) came to earth for us.Once again, because God loved us first, He gave us another gift, an even greater gift than His first gift.This time, God gave us Love itself, for He could not bear to spend eternity without you and me.As we end this year and move into 2020, let us use that gift of love given us by the Father to share His love with others; then this will truly be the Season of Love.
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” 1 John 4:7
My church has a wonderful tradition.Each year, the members of the congregation select people from various community organizations—children, veterans, seniors, those with addictions, homeless, and the list goes on.Then, they pray for that person and purchase Christmas presents for that individual.Finally, on the second Sunday of Advent, everyone brings their gifts to church for White Gift Sunday and offers them to the Lord before they are given to the various people.
White Gift Sunday is absolutely incredible to see.The first time my father and I attended this church, it was White Gift Sunday.After the sermon and offertory, the pastor asked the congregation to bring forth their gifts and place them on the altar area.I expected a few people to stand up, but I did not expect the entire congregation to stand up.As I sat there, I stared at the masses of people walking toward the altar carrying present after present until the entire altar area was filled to capacity with presents—all for people who might not receive a gift on Christmas morning.What started as a youth group activity over fifty years ago with white gift-wrapped presents has turned into a church-wide beautiful, colorful expression of God’s love.This year, I was privileged to be a part of the after-church sorting to ensure that each person on the lists received a present---all 141 people.
As believers, we are called to love one another.People will know whose we are by the love we share.I cannot think of a greater expression of this love than White Gift Sunday.To pray for someone and take the time to pick out presents, wrap them, offer them to the Lord, and give them freely and joyfully demonstrates just how valuable and loved that person is.Is that not what Christmas is all about?Let us live lives of love so that the world may know how much the Father loves them.Happy New Year!
Matthew 2:1-2 (ESV)
2 “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men[a] from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose[b] and have come to worship him.’”
The Creator of the universe was born, and the whole world knew it.Why? Because all of heaven rejoiced at the birth of its Creator.Today, we place balloons on our mailboxes and banners in our front yards to announce our new baby’s birth.We want to let the whole world know that someone new and someone we love has been added to our household.We are proud and happy.In just the same way, God announced His Son’s birth to the world.There was no one on earth who did not know that something momentous had happened.Some people, busy with their daily lives never looked up.Others who were equally busy paused, looked up, and continued with the work at hand.The final group recognized that something incredible had happened.The final group decided the events needed further exploration. Their search of the heavenly display led them on an adventure.From the skies to the written word, the educated men searched.From God’s heart to man’s hand, the wise men found the clue that they were looking for- the heavens declared the king of the Jews was born.The journey began with an ancient prophecy revealed.
Today we acknowledge the journey of the wise men through song and tableaus, but do we follow their example?Are you searching for God?You will not find Him in the latest craze.You will not find Him at the end of a dollar sign, nor will you find Him in the latest drug or cult following.If you look for Him, search for Him exactly where the wise men found Him- written from God’s heart to man’s hand in the Holy Bible.You will find Him there in the Word of God waiting for you, just as He has always waited. As the prophet Jeremiah wrote so many years ago, “13 You will seek me (God) and find me (God), when you seek me (God) with all your heart.”Jeremiah 29:13 (ESV)
“When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born.‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written:
‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’” Matthew 2:3-6
To say the least, King Herod was disturbed.After all, he had the worst news imaginable: a new King of the Jews was born somewhere in his kingdom.First, the cockamamie Wise Men came to him asking where the newborn King was; then, Herod’s own chief priests confirmed the news that the King was in Bethlehem a small village in the province of Judea.For a megalomaniacal killer, this was not good news.
Yet, there is another aspect to this story, so tiny that it might be missed.Do you see it?“All Jerusalem with him.”Not only was King Herod disturbed by this news, but all of Jerusalem was too.Is it any wonder?Here was the man who killed his own family to ensure that his throne was safe.Now, Jerusalem found that a new King was born within the confines of Israel, or as the Romans called it Palestine.Can you hear the anxious whispers emanating from the palace?“A new king?Oh, no!Here we go again!How many people will die this time?”No wonder Jerusalem was anxious.Herod proved to be a murderous tyrant afraid of anyone who moved and possessive of his throne.
Ironically, Jerusalem did not need to fear because the newborn King was and is the Prince of Peace.He is perfect Love, and where love is, there is no fear.In spite of Herod’s plans, God was going to keep His Son safe.Herod might have been an earthly king, but he was no match for God.Herod could no more kill Jesus than he could ensure that his subjects were slaughtered at his own death…neither happened, for Herod was not the one in control.God was.Jerusalem may have feared Herod, but Herod was really only a minor ruler, below Augustus.In reality, both men were inferior to the One in ultimate power: God the Father.The Prince of Peace was born, and He came so that we might have life and have it abundantly.No earthly king was, is, or ever will be able to forestall, withstand, or stop God and His plan.What a wonderful reminder that regardless of what life throws our way, God is ultimately in control, and He holds us in perfect peace.
Matthew 2:7-9 (ESV)
7” Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was.”
Led by the Holy Scriptures and the heavenly star, the wise men traveled to Judaea where they stopped to pay their respects to the official head of Israel, King Herod the Great.King Herod was a very cunning, jealous, and selfish man who was well-known for his cruelty and murderous ways.Herod coveted his throne, and went to great lengths, which included the murder of his wife and three sons, to remain king of Judaea.Preoccupied by their search, the wise men did not recognize the evil before them.In this instance, the wise men were not very wise when they confided the nature of their search to Herod.Sensing competition for his throne, King Herod feigned a kindly interest in the wise men’s search.Calling all his personal advisors to him, Herod ascertained the location where the wise men would find the Child King.When Herod informed the wise men that they would find the child in Bethlehem, he cunningly requested that they return so that Herod might worship the young King too.
Good and evil are total opposites, and, yet, each person is capable of both.The wise men feared no competition.Together, they worked to find the One true King, while Herod could only see competition.Because the wise men were honestly searching, they were openly enthusiastic- embracing one and all in their search.Because Herod was fearful of maintaining his rule, he was cunning and ruthless- acting the part of worshipping follower.Blinded by visions of worshipping the young King in their minds, the wise men left Herod, happy that their goal was nearly in sight- their quest almost complete.On the other hand, Herod was left to contemplate the demise of the new threat to his throne.Evil is alive and well on planet Earth, but evil is not in control. God, the Creator of the universe and everything that is in it, is the One in control.As we will see, God is working behind the scenes to protect not only His Son but also the wise men from Herod fits of rage.In the same way, God works behind the scenes to work for our good.As Paul said, 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,[a] for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28 (ESV)
“When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.” Matthew 2:10-12
When I was little, my family would travel to my grandmother’s house in Johnstown, PA, for Thanksgiving.As a child, the question utmost in my mind was, “Are we there yet?”However, my parents were masters at keeping a car full of children with a twelve-year age gap entertained.Games abounded, as we played everything from the “Cow and Horse” game, the “A-B-C Sign” game, the “License Plate” game, travel games such as Battleship or Connect Four, and hand-held games such as the Cookie Counter or Disney Beauty and the Beast.Sometimes, we all read…well, tried to read as some of us got motion sickness.At other times, my mother or father told us stories from their childhoods or from history, or we listened to stories on cassette or old-time radio shows—anything to pass the time.
However, many times when we stopped for gas in Carlisle, we saw a lone snowflake fall gracefully through the sky.I remember being both excited and full of dread by a single snowflake.You see, the single snowflake usually meant that white-out conditions awaited us on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.Then, a six-hour drive slowly turned into an eleven-hour, silent drive, one in which we were not permitted to talk because it might distract the driver.Did I mention that it was also very dark?Yes, inevitably that snowflake came at dusk, and the white-out came after the sun went down, and we could not read, play games, or do more than look at the sheer whiteness outside the car window as flakes whizzed by.When we finally made it over the mountains and we saw the familiar Johnstown sights, all of us were overjoyed!The end of our journey and Grandma were just a few short minutes (hopefully) away!
I imagine that the Magi felt the same joy and relief when the star that they followed reappeared to lead them to Jesus.They traveled many days, talked with King Herod, and continued over hot, dusty roads in search of an infant King.Their joy must have been overwhelming as the star stopped over Joseph and Mary’s home.How their eyes must have lit up as they saw baby Jesus toddle around!How their hearts must have filled with love and awe at the sight of God Incarnate!Their journey came to an end, and their most prized treasures given to the One who came to save a fallen world.As we approach the Epiphany, let us also gaze upon the King of Kings and give of ourselves as the Magi did so many years ago.
Matthew 2:13-15 (ESV)
13 “Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’”
God the Protector sent an angel to Joseph- “take the child and His mother and flee to Egypt.”Why Egypt?Herod the Great had control over a great area, but he did not rule Egypt.God knew that His Son would be safe from Herod’s reach.In the quiet of night and under the anonymity of darkness, Joseph rose, gathered mother and Son, and left for a land of safety.Joseph’s faith in God was evident in the very manner in which he responded to God’s directive.Joseph responded quickly and without fanfare.God spoke, and Joseph obeyed.Because Joseph acted quickly, all of them remained safe and free from harm.
Many years earlier, a young shepherd boy wrote a song about God’s protection and provision.Perhaps that song played in Joseph’s mind as the reality of their dangerous situation filtered through his sleepy mind. Psalm 23 reflects David’s total trust in God saving grace.
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.[a]
3 He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness[b]
for his name's sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,[c]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely[d] goodness and mercy[e] shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell[f] in the house of the Lord
From car accidents to forgotten lunches, each day, God is with us, protecting us and watching over us.He is working behind the scenes for our good and His glory.In these trying and relentless times, as you read today’s Scripture, remember God’s protection and Joseph’s obedience.Remember that God’s protection is for you too.Remember, God is watching over you.
“When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
‘A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.’” Matthew 2:16-18
When the Magi left Mary and Joseph, they returned to their country without informing Herod of Jesus’ location.This enraged King Herod.Herod seemed to have two modes- conniving and murderous.His plot to manipulate the Magi into being his patsies was foiled because they did not tell Herod where Jesus lived.But Herod was not deterred, for there was more than one way to skin a cat so to speak.If he did not know exactly where Jesus lived, then Herod simply would have all the baby boys killed.After all, he was king, and no one was going to argue with him.
How could God have permitted such a thing to occur?Those babies were completely innocent of any wrongdoing, yet they were killed.The grief of those who lost a baby in this massacre was real, and God grieved with them.Yet, in order to ensure that humanity was made right with Him, God in His sovereignty permitted people to exercise their free will once again.Just as God will not force people to love Him, He also do not force people to love each other; and because we live in a fallen world, evil has its way, for the time being.Through Herod and Herod’s decree, Satan attempted to thwart God’s sovereign plan to redeem humanity, but he failed.Nothing stops God’s plan from coming to pass, for God is the God of the impossible.A time will come when each and every wrong will be set right.Herod failed to kill Jesus, and Satan failed to stop God’s salvation plan.Jesus took our sins on the cross, triumphed over the grave, and sits at God’s right hand, interceding for you and me.