The angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He Said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” (Genesis 22:11-12)
Sometimes life goes sideways: family problems, financial challenges, career setbacks, natural disasters, or health scares can derail five-year plans in an instant. This is particularly upsetting when you are trusting the LORD to lead. We’re tempted to say, “God what did I do wrong?”, even though we know that he takes no pleasure in our pain.
Abraham must have felt this way when the angel of the Lord told him to offer Isaac as a burnt offering. Child sacrifice was a common practice in pagan worship; but the living God was supposed to be different. When Isaac asked, “Where’s the sacrifice?” his father responded, “The Lord will provide.” This was not only a test of Abraham’s faith, but also of God’s love.
Taking risks when there is no safety net may seem foolish, but in our vulnerability, we are open to God’s intervention. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.” Abraham’s willingness to lay it all on the altar made him a friend of God, who was prepared to give his only son as a sacrifice for the whole world. When we see the babe in the manager, it’s easy to forget that it was the moment of no return. Just as Abraham began the ascent of Mount Moriah with Isaac, Jesus begins the ascent to Mount Calvary with the annunciation of his birth to Mary. “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:38)
“When life brings us to the edge, Lord, you are there. None of the sacrifices we make can compare with the offering you made of your only son on our behalf. The God of the universe became one with us in the incarnation. Thank you for being our substitute.” Amen
Mindi Oaten’s painting “The Anointed Deliverer”is from God’s Garden of Grace collection. Hyssop was used to apply the blood to the doorpost at Passover. Oil represents the Holy Spirit.
And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Genesis 2:8-9)
Advent began in the garden of Eden with God’s beloved, Adam and Eve. Imagine his delight in creating the universe in a moment, with the breath of his Word and the dance of the Spirit. The fireworks of light were the artist’s palette that he swirled into stars and planets. Time stood still as he crafted a home for his creatures amidst a feast of colour, sound, taste, scent and touch. From the beginning he had you in mind; like a bridegroom preparing for his bride. But it all went terribly wrong when we exchanged our innocence for sovereignty, testing the limits of his love. No longer able to see his face or walk with him in the garden, humanity began a tragic alienation that corrupted the earth and replaced the divine center with self-interest.
Yet a seed remains of the original beauty, truth and goodness, reminding us that we were created for so much more. We pause in those moments of transcendent joy, to feel God’s presence and wait for his return. Thus begins our advent journey.
“Oh Lord, we give you thanks for the beauty we see in creation. Your love is evident in the natural world and in the relationships we hold most dear. Prepare our hearts for your coming during this time of advent. Walk with us as we ponder the changes in our life this past year.” Amen
Mindi Oaten’s painting “The Promised Seed”is from God’s Garden of Grace collection. The apple represents sin and the seed is Jesus. The flowers are God’s grace.
11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ,14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared,5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior,7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
Grace has Appeared
Titus is a letter written by the apostle Paul to an individual, a pastor by the name of Titus. This letter is usually grouped together with Paul’s two letters to Timothy—they are the only letters of Paul in the New Testament addressed to individuals. They are called “Pastoral Epistles,” because they are written to two pastors, Timothy and Titus.
Appearance or Epiphany/ Grace – Gift
Our reading from Titus 2 begins with the phrase, “For the grace of God appeared.”
This “appearance” is a way of referring to the birth and life of Jesus of Nazareth. The birth of Christ can be expressed in Paul’s words, “the grace of God appeared.” Just as a person’s love for someone is revealed through their deeds, so the love or grace of God toward us is shown through what God did in sending his Son to be born in Bethlehem all those years ago.
In another of the pastoral epistles, 1 Timothy, Paul summarizes how this grace was manifested in Jesus Christ:
“He was revealed in flesh, vindicated in spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among Gentiles, believed in throughout the world, taken up in glory.” (1 Tim 3:16)
Christmas is about what God has done to make his love for this world and for each of us tangible in the life, death, and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ.
Titus 2 reads, “the grace of God appeared. . . .”
In parallel fashion Titus 3 says “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared . . . .” (v.4).
Both texts use the same verb, “appeared.” The word in Greek is the word from which we get “epiphany.” To experience the true meaning of Christmas is to have an epiphany, to gain insight into something wondrous and life changing—the grace of God.
The word “epiphany” refers to something that we would not have known if it had not been revealed to us.
The gospel readings in for Christmas in Luke and Matthew also highlight this idea of “appearance” or “manifestation.”
Luke 1:78-79- “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light (e0pifa~nai) to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Luke 2 describes how some Galilean shepherds see the glory of the Lord at the birth of Christ.
“Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.” (v.9).
Accompanying the angelic appearance is this message about the grace of God: “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)
There is a connection between love and gifts. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16).
At Christmas people show their love by giving gifts.
How deep an impression it made on me as a small boy to search for all the presents under our Christmas tree with my name on them printed so neatly by my mother—“To Paul”—and wrapped in such colorful, attractive paper.
I certainly received those gifts as a tangible sign and proof of my parents’ love for me.
God gives us his very best to us in the gift of his Son as a proof of his love toward us.
Love is made tangible through gifts.
The word “grace” in our Titus text—“the grace of God appeared”—highlights the gift quality of love. My Greek dictionary includes these definitions of the word “grace” (xa/rij in Greek):
“favor, grace, gracious care, goodwill . . . gracious deed or gift” (Bauer, p.877).
Titus says it this way: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all . . . .” (2:11)
Christmas is about believing in “the grace of God,” and that this grace is greater than anything in the whole world, that it undergirds and defines our reality, and that we therefore have a firm basis for fundamental joy.
This grace or love of God means that we can affirm what the medieval English mystic Julian of Norwich said: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”
So God’s love is not simply a disembodied, invisible idea, but is a reality that became tangible, or visible when he sent his Son into our world. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
The “grace of God appeared”, that is, it became visible, something that could be witnessed in a certain place (Bethlehem), in a certain time (“In the days of King Herod of Judea” and of “emperor Augustus”), and to certain people (people like Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, and Zechariah).
Our childhood delight in receiving gifts bears witness to a more profound gift that we will never tire of as children quickly do of their toys.
This is because God’s gift to us with the coming of Christ is nothing less than God’s gift of himself to us. As Matthew’s gospel tells us, Jesus is “Immanuel, God with us.”
To know the grace of God in Christ is to know salvation.
Titus 2:11 – “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all”
To know God, to know Jesus, is to know one who is Savior. In fact, the name Jesus (Greek; Joshua in Hebrew) means “savior” or “salvation.” There terms are prominent in the pastoral epistles.
Salvation in the Bible includes deliverance from all sin, sickness, death, and evil.
In Matthew we read how Joseph is instructed by an angel to name his child, “Jesus.” “You are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins,” the angel tells him. (Matt 1:21)
To be saved from sins means to be delivered both from the practice of sin and from its consequences.
Our scriptures from Titus emphasize salvation from the practice of sin, together with the hope of the life to come.
Salvation in Titus, then, means freedom from one’s old life, which is the way of death, so that one can live a new life characterized by good deeds and by the hope of eternal life.
This salvation contrast between the old and the new is illustrated in both Titus 2 and Titus 3.Titus 2:
“He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.” The “from” and the “for” speak of the division of the old and the new.
The old life is portrayed in Titus 3:3 – “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another.”
The next verse introduces the contrast between our old life and our new life. “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us . . . through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:4-5)
“Rebirth” and “renewal.” These words describe how the new replaces the old when one experiences the “grace of God” in Christ.
In Christ a new, spring breeze begins to blow in our lives and transforms us. “Spirit” in Greek can even be translated as “breeze.” “rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”
It is unbelievable to witness each year how spring transforms a landscape and brings new life to the earth. The crocuses bloom, the snow melts, green grass sprouts from the earth, Robins return and sing from the treetops, fresh, green leaves appear on the branches of the trees, and flowers bloom in our gardens and bees buzz about.
So God’s breeze, the Holy Spirit, like a zepher, a warm, gentle breeze, causes a “rebirth” and “renewal” within us. What seemed dead, springs to life.
Christmas, the coming of Christ, means that our lives need not be like a perpetual winter. In Christ there is springtime of rebirth and renewal.
The new springtime of God’s salvation produces fruit in people, fruit that Titus describes with the phrase, “good works.”
And while God does not save us “because of our good works” he clearly saves us “forgood works.”
Titus 2:14 speaks how God saves us from our old lives such that we become people who are “zealous for good works.” (2:14)
The Greek words for “good works” here–“kalon ergon”—can also be translated as “beautiful works.” When people behold the beauty of God (the grace, goodness, and lovingkindness of God) they in turn become beautiful people, performing beautiful deeds.
The English journalist Malcolm Muggeridge once travelled to Calcutta in India to meet Mother Teresa and to witness her work among the poorest of the poor. He wrote a book about this entitled, “Something Beautiful for God.” Mother Teresa and her sisters of charity are known by their “good deeds,” their “beautiful works.” In Greek, their kala\ e2rga. Today there are about 4,500 such Missionaries of Charity.
I wonder what sorts for “beautiful deeds” God wishes to work in each of us. Christmas means that we are saved so that we may do “something beautiful for God.”
Titus speaks of two epiphanies (or appearances) in our passage. The first epiphany is that having to do with the birth of Jesus the Messiah. This coming is indicated in the phrases, “The grace of God appeared. . . . “ and “the goodness and loving-kindness of God appeared.”
The second epiphany or appearance has to do with our hope of Christ’s return and of the life to come.
Titus 2 describes the second (future) epiphany this way: “while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation (“epiphany” – e0pifaneia) of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” (2:13)
Titus 3 describes the second (future) epiphany this way: “having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (3:7)
The timebetween these two epiphanies—between the epiphany of Christ’s birth and the epiphany of his second coming—is described in Titus as “the present age.” “The grace of God appeared . . . training us . . . in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly . . .” (Titus 2:12-13).
This is our time to live out the drama of our faith as we put away our old life and become “zealous for good deeds” as we await “the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” (Titus 2:13).
The words “blessed hope” can be translated “happy hope.”
If there is grace (xa/rij)—“the grace of God has appeared”—then there is also hope (e2lpij), “a blessed or happy hope.”
Hope means having something good to look forward to.
For our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, Elaine and I booked our very first vacation to Europe: 17 days in England and France. We booked our tickets and hotel reservations at Co-op Travel. We had a folder that included all our tickets and reservations.
And then after that, all we could do was to wait with anticipation for the day when our trip was to begin. Like the verse in Titus, we “waited for our happy hope.” We counted the days.
We couldn’t wait. We spent our time dreaming about and reading about and talking about our European vacation. Our only fear was that something would prevent us from getting on that airplane. But we did get on the airplane and go on our vacation. It was so worth the wait! It was so good—like a second honeymoon!
I remember one moment as we climbed the stone steps of a medieval monastery on the coast of France, and as I looked at the green moss on the outside walls of that monastery and then looked out over the English channel, I felt that I was in another world, and had to almost pinch myself so that I would know that it was real. It felt almost too good to be true.Our expectations for our trip did not disappoint—and so it will surely be with “the blessed hope and the manifestation of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Without Christmas, without the coming of Christ, there is no gift with our name on it promising unending joy.
Without Christmas, there is no springtime for us, only winter. Without the coming of Christ, our lives and our world are like Narnia without the coming of Aslan the lion in C. S. Lewis’s book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Without his coming, it is always winter in Narnia.
Without Christmas, there is insufficient motivation for people to do truly good works that create hope in an often bleak world.
Without Christmas, we have nothing ultimately to look forward to, only death, darkness, and despair.
Christmas is about a wondrous gift for us to receive and open and enjoy, a gift with our name on it, a gift of God and his love for us. This gift brings us salvation, which produces a new springtime in our lives that brings an end to winter. Part of this new life includes good or beautiful works that God inspires us to do. And ultimately this gift brings us hope for the future.
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all.” (Titus 2:11)
“But when the goodness and loving-kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us . . . though the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:4-5)
“Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne” sung by Glen Ellyn Chorale
The Messianic Banquet
The eschaton is the “divinely ordained climax of history,” coined by Protestant theologian Charles Harold Dodd in 1935, taken from the Greek eskhaton, meaning “last, furthest, uttermost”. https://www.etymonline.com/word/eschaton It refers to the end of the era, where God and man will once again be reunited. It is the making of all things right, the completion of the work God began at Christmas 2000 years ago. It is heaven on earth, ushered in by the Messianic banquet of the lamb.
Lord, we come to the end of Advent, anticipating the celebration of Christmas with our friends and families. Yet, in the background we know that we have not yet seen the fullness of your promises on earth. We look to the time when wrong will be right, death will be no more, and God will make His home with His people forever. We accept that promise by faith because we cannot imagine what that means or what it would look like. However, you came to us two thousand years ago, humbly, with great love. We know we can trust you to keep your promise to return again in our future.
“I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings. For you have heard my vows, O God; you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.” Ps. 61:4-5
“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord—and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. . .” Is. 11:1-3
“The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.” Is. 11:6
“Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb ‘” And he said to me, “These are true words of God.” Rev. 19:7-9
“No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever”. Rev. 22:3-5
Jesus ushered in the Kingdom of God through his birth, death and resurrection two thousand years ago in human history. The Law has been interpreted as love for the Lord your God and love for your neighbor as yourself. The ethics of kingdom are contained in the Sermon on the Mount. Membership is through grace, extended to anyone who thirsts. Yet we have not yet seen the fulfillment of all the prophecies in scripture. The world is still broken: sin reigns with hatred, rebellion and injustice. Even the environment is a victim of greed and over consumption. The Kingdom of God was opened to the Gentiles, but we are not living in paradise where God walked and talked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening. We long to have God with us once again.
As a child, I was intrigued by the image of the lion lying down with the lamb. To be one with nature, to be welcomed back into God’s presence, to have the curse lifted, seemed glorious indeed. The story of Christ’s birth to a simple virgin in Bethlehem captivates our hearts and imaginations. It is elegant in its simplicity and profound in its effect. The ripple effects of that one birth has shaped western civilization for two millennia. We await the second advent, when our risen Lord puts things right for the last time. We long for eternal life, where God and man delight in each other’s presence once again.
Points to Ponder
What evidence exists that we have not yet received the full measure of what it means to live in the Kingdom of God? What’s missing?
How has this advent journey broadened your perspective of the Christmas story? What is your personal response to the invitation to “come?”
Dear Lord, we are excited to enter into the festivities of Christmas. Be with us in a special way this year as we consider all that we have encountered on our advent journey. We are overwhelmed by your love and we humbly worship at your feet along with the first shepherds. Glory be to God in the highest.
The Christian church is the inheritor of a new covenant that brings hope to all peoples, as first announced by Israel’s prophets of old. These divine promises were realized through the coming of Jesus, the Messiah. We hear the good news of the fulfillment of ancient prophesies at Christ’s birth, as declared by angels to nearby shepherds. “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. . . Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:10, 14
Lord, we are part of a rich tradition stretching back before the birth of Jesus. Just as we have received access to your promises through your gift to the whole world, let us be mindful of our responsibility to share that good news with others, whether they believe in you or not. Christianity is “one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread” (D. T. Niles).
“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will bring justice to the nations. 2 He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. 3 A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; 4 he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”
5 This is what God the Lord says—the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out,
who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it, who gives breath to its people,
and life to those who walk on it: 6 “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, 7 to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness” Isa. 42:1-7.
I stood outside the reception hall at our hotel admiring the decorations set up for a coming wedding. I pictured myself in those chairs, enjoying the feast with the bride and groom and being part of a beautiful celebration of love. But I wasn’t invited.
Scripture tells us of a feast where no one comes. The invited guests find excuses for not attending, so the Lord of the feast sends his servants into the “highways and byways” to invite anyone who is willing to come. Their status is no longer considered; only their free will and desire to attend.
I am that beggar in the faith. I have been adopted into the family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob because the invitation of God has been extended to me. Just as anyone living in North America has to admit, “we’re all immigrants”, so as non-Jews (Gentiles), we must admit that we were not members of God’s chosen people to begin with. But, through the birth of Christ, we have been invited to the great Messianic banquet prepared for us on the last day. Until then, we embrace his love, by faith and look forward to the certain hope of eternal life.
“Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy, as it is written: “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing hymns to your name. Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people. Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles and sing praises to him all you peoples. The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him. May the God of hope fill you will all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit”. Rom. 15:8-13.
Points to Ponder
What is your response to the invitation to come and be part of God’s family?
How does the connection to the ancient Jewish religion add validity to the claims of Jesus?
Dear Lord, we have been invited to join in the inheritance you set aside for your people. Through Jesus we are granted entrance to the promises and access to the very throne of God because of the blood of Jesus Christ. Thank you for the invitation.
God loved us before the foundations of the earth. He prepared a beautiful place that could sustain our needs and fill our longings. He placed us in families to care for our needs and support us through life’s journey with stories and traditions passed from one generation to the next. Finally, in the ultimate act of love, he gave his only begotten son to restore our broken relationship with the Father and give us eternal life. He waits for us to say, “I love you.”
Lord, it is easy for us to take you for granted. The story of your love can become as stale as the straw in the manger if we don’t pause and let you remind us that it was a supreme act of love for Jesus to be given to us. Let us consider our proper response to this generous gift of grace.
“In that day their burden will be lifted from your shoulders, their yoke from your neck; the yoke will be broken” Isa.10:26.
“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” I John 5:1-5.
“6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Heb. 11:6.
“I love you” are the sweetest words your child can utter to you for the first time. You have waited through pregnancy, birth, and the mind-numbing early weeks of their lives to hear those words. You love them simply because they are yours and there is no other response. We teach them to say “I love you” by showing them our love and telling them that we love them. We can’t make them love us or mimic the words because it is meaningless. But that first time they say it on their own, unsolicited, is magical. It overwhelms us.
How much greater must be our Father’s joy when we pause and respond to His acts of love by saying, “I love you Lord.” Grace has been poured on us from creation to the incarnation and on to the final eschaton, but it becomes personal when we speak to God as an individual and declare our love. We cannot say it unless we believe that “He is and he rewards those who seek him.” Love is an act of faith in the God of love who first loved us. It is relational, personal, intimate, the words of a child or a lover to the beloved. The audacity of that phrase—I love you God.
Once you have declared your love, you can’t walk away and pretend that nothing has changed. God will pursue you and make His home with you. Your response will be to worship, meet with others who have opened themselves to the love of God, pursue peace, follow His commands, and show love to your neighbor, whether they respond or not. It is God’s act of first loving us that can change our world from selfishness to generosity; from self-serving ambition to humble service; from jealousy and fear to acceptance and generosity. It is the spirit of Christmas that we need the whole year through.
Points to Ponder
What is your response to the words “I love you”. How does that change a relationship?
How do you show your love to God? What would you expect to see in a world where love of God and love of neighbor were the primary motivators?
Dear Lord, we have learned to love you. It is not without expectations. Help us to find ways to express that love to our neighbor and to accept the love we receive from others as though it came from you. We want to be in a relationship with you even though it can be frightening. We can never live up to the expectations of a perfect God, but we know that “perfect love casts out all fear.”
The stories of Jesus compete with the secular myths of Christmas. Separating truth from fiction isn’t always easy. None of us have been visited by angels or witnessed miracles, or heard a voice on the mountain, but we rely on those who were present as eyewitnesses during Jesus’s day. The proof of the validity of their testimony is in the lives that have been changed in those who have taken the leap of faith and responded with, “I believe.”
Dear Lord, we come by faith to your manger, embracing the story of the incarnation. We experience truth through the words of scripture that have been passed down to us through the centuries. Your Holy Spirit speaks to our hearts and creates faith where there is doubt. Help our unbelief.
“Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” Matt. 11:5-6
“Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. . . But only the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the Lord will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away” Isa. 35:5-6, 9-10.
“Miracle on 34th Street” is a classic Christmas movie that tells the story of a department store Santa who believes he’s the real Santa Claus. A young girl and her mother turn from skepticism to faith as they witness the transformation Santa brings to the lives of people he encounters. In the final scene, Santa is on trial, but just before the final verdict is read, hundreds of letters are delivered to the courtroom addressed to Santa Claus from children who believe in him, proving that he is, indeed, the real Santa Claus. While this fictional account is heart-warming, it is based on a whimsical imagination and anyone watching the movie suspends belief for a few hours as they enter into the spirit of the season.
Jesus is no fairy tale. The story of Christmas is a continuation of God’s work throughout history. However, the response is similar: some accept the message, others turn away in disbelief. Even John the Baptist had doubts after he was thrown into prison. He sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one, or shall we look for another?” Jesus responds with words from the prophet Isaiah: “Tell John that the eyes of the blind are opened, the deaf hear, the lame walk, and the poor have good news preached to them.”
Nothing will convince those who are deaf and blind to the work of God. God will not force anyone to believe. He presents himself through scripture and the testimony of those who have experienced his love and presence down through the centuries. It is an act of faith to accept their words as true. Lord I believe; help my unbelief.
Points to Ponder
Is it important for the story to be true for you to believe in its power?
How does the link between the prophecies in the Old Testament and the acts of Jesus in the New Testament lend validity to the story?
Dear Lord, we must accept the word of others concerning matters of faith. We rely on the words of scripture passed on to us by eyewitnesses and church fathers throughout the centuries. Ultimately, we must either accept or deny the truth of the gospel. Give us the faith to believe when doubts arise. Invite us to come, once again, and hear the story anew.
“Carry Me” by Richard and Sarah Lacy and David Brio
Jesus Our Shepherd
Jesus, the great shepherd was welcomed into this world by a band of shepherds. Their response was one of terror as the skies were flooded with a great company of angels. It was the ultimate worship service.
Dear Lord, it was not by chance that you chose shepherds to receive the news of your birth. Give us ears to hear your voice as we consider what it means to be one of your sheep.
“He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” Isa. 40:11
“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the 99 in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep’.” Luke 15:4-6
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” Jn. 10:27-30
“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, “Do not 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. 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.” Luke 2:8-14
“Jesus tender shepherd hear me, bless your little lamb tonight, through the darkness be thou near me, keep me safe ‘til morning light.”
You have carried me through the dark places in this life, lifting me on your shoulders when I lacked the strength to go on.
I heard your voice in the darkness saying, “I can carry your burdens.”
I heard you whisper, “Fear not” when the way ahead was uncertain and the path behind was closed.
I rested in the safety of your love when I was encircled by enemies who gloated at my hurt.
You restored me when I came through the fire and the flood, frightened but unharmed because you went before me and lead the way.
I know your voice in the night when I’m alone and dissonant memories threaten my peace with accusations of sin, failure and defeat.
You do not accuse, you forgive.
You do not condone, you lead me in paths of righteousness.
You do not abandon, you carry me.
You search for me when I am lost, hiding in shame from your gaze.
Even when I am faithless, you remain faithful, calling my name until I can resist no longer.
Will I know your voice when I close my eyes for the last time and enter your eternal rest?
Will you call my name and invite me to dwell with you forever?
Points to Ponder
Do you know the voice of the good shepherd? What does he say to you?
Why were the shepherds the only ones to respond to the angel chorus? How did their presence at the manger encourage Mary?
Dear Lord, you are our shepherd. We respond to you when we spend time in your word and recognize your voice. Even when we move away, the familiar call to come home resonates in our hearts. Keep us close.
“How Can I Keep From Singing” sung by Audrey Assad
Jesus Our Brother
Advent reminds us that God took on flesh and blood and became our brother, the first fruits of the life to come. We do not have a God who stands apart in judgement from us, but rather we have God who enters into our humanity, experiencing the joy of being human along with the pain.
Dear Lord, it is inconceivable that God would choose to become a man, experiencing birth, life and death just like us. Fill us with gratitude and awe as we consider the magnificence of that gesture of love.
“Prepare the way, make straight in the desert a highway for our Lord.” Isa. 40:3
“And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace” Luke 1:76-79.
“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. Heb. 8:14-18
What responsibility does the creator have to his creatures? Having made us in his image, with consciousness and free will, we are aware of our mortality. We experience transcendence through our minds and emotions, even when we can’t articulate what we are feeling. At times we’re delighted, childlike and playful, especially in our youth when we believe that somehow we will change our world. We look forward to endless possibilities. But life happens, and our choices take us down paths that begin to limit our options. We may even take a wrong turn that pulls us away from our dreams and sets us apart from a right relationship with God and our family.
Sooner or later the freshness of life fades and it becomes harder to return to the innocence and optimism of youth. Our bodies begin to tell us that far from being immortal, they can let us down. We begin to see our friends and loved ones become old and frail and die, and we hear the sound of our own death. It is like hearing an organ concert where one of the keys is stuck. At first it blends in with the other notes, but eventually it becomes the only sound we hear, as it overtakes the volume of everything around it.
Into this story, God enters alongside of us. In experiencing life, he identifies with the creature. His sacrifice and death made it possible to witness resurrection. It was no longer theoretical—there is life after death—Jesus proved it. And furthermore, his sacrifice is the guarantee that we too shall be resurrected if we trust in him. The tragedy becomes a promise. Our brother has made the way straight in the desert.
Points to Ponder
If you could return to the innocence of youth, what would you tell yourself?
What does the resurrection mean to you? How does it change your story?
Dear Lord, you sent Jesus to be our brother. We are amazed at the incarnation and overcome by the love you showed your creatures. Give us hearts that grasp the meaning of the resurrection and return us to the joy and innocence of our youth as we look forward to eternal life, beginning now.
The darkest night is shattered by the light of one small candle. The eye is drawn to the flame, dispelling the loneliness and fear. Jesus is that light in this dark world.
Dear Lord, you are the light of the world. In the darkness of winter we often feel cold and alone, but you are there, waiting for us to turn to the light and accept Jesus as the source of hope. Give us eyes to see and hearts open to embracing the joy of a new day.
“We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” 2 Pet.1:19
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. . . You have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. . . For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulder. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isa. 9:2, 4, 6
“In him was life and that life was the light of men. . . The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. . . Yet to all who received him. . . he gave the right to become children of God.” John 1:4, 9, 12
I was troubled in the darkest part of the night, just before the dawn. Trying to pray, I called out to the Lord, “Where are you?” Just then my eye caught sight of the morning star outside my window. It is the first star of the morning, appearing in the darkest part of the night, just before the dawn. It is the promise that the light will come. It spoke to me of Christ, the light that shatters our darkness, just as sure as day follows night.
To those who are looking for the light, he brings hope and shatters the yoke of bondage, freeing us to worship and rejoice. The child is the light of the world. In him the fullness of God dwells. The invitation to come to the light, to the morning star, shines out at advent. As we approach, we find not a baby but the creator of the universe, our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace. The dawn has come.
Points to Ponder
Why does the world reject the light? What hides in your darkness?
How does Jesus change our story from a tragedy to a triumph, especially at the darkest times of our life?
Dear Lord, you sent Jesus as the light in our darkness. Let us see your majesty and worship, with the shepherds “who returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and see, which were just as they had been told.” Luke 2:20