While they were in Bethlehem, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom. Luke 2:6-7, CEB
Just as Mary and Joseph cared for Jesus in his humble birthplace, may we too care for Jesus by caring for those closest to us. I pray as well that our reflections on the Nativity story will open our hearts, and our guestrooms, for Jesus to be borne into our daily life experiences.
This reminds me of the last verse of O Little Town of Bethlehem.
O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel
It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized that the song, The Twelve Days of Christmas, was written about the days of celebration following Christmas, and not Advent, the days leading up to Christmas. This means that the entire Christmas observance could last about six and a half weeks. That’s a long time!
The length of the season seems fitting since the Christmas story contains many journeys and periods of waiting. If we consider Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem from Nazareth, they traveled just over 100 miles.
In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria. Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea. He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom. Luke 2:1-7, CEB
The beauty of the Christmas story is that it’s rooted in the reality of human experience. We can look at the journey Joseph and Mary took and find some parallel in our personal lives. For me, I have been on a long journey with depression. God has helped me to experience the high places and met me in the lowest valleys. Even though I deal with depression daily, the Lord has filled my heart with hope that one day I will walk truly free. The key for me is keeping my heart open, along with my hands and mind, to see Jesus, the promised deliverer, present in my situation through people and practice, family and faithfulness, community and commitment.
The encouragement I have received from the Christmas story and want to share with you is that God is no stranger to our humanity and is not adverse to meeting us where we are right now. Emmanuel, God with us. This is God’s gift to me this Christmas. I pray it is yours as well.
As I have been thinking about Christmas this week, the theme of darkness has stayed with me. It’s not something we like to think about when we think about Christmas, but it is definitely a motif in the unfolding narrative of the nativity.
The people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned. Matthew 4:16, NIV
A Christmas tradition is to light candles on an Advent wreath each Sunday of Advent, five candles in all. By progressively lighting candles, the wreath gets brighter. Our anticipation for Christmas also increases. Observing this, I started asking some questions. “Why do we add a candle each week? Why would someone light multiple candles?” The answer that came to me was this, the darker it gets, the more light we need. Today, I found myself needing a bit of light. The most obvious source for me was sharing coffee with a friend.
The Christmas season is full of light giving sources and traditions—Scripture, songs, activities, and gatherings. These “candles” offer us a respite from the darkness of shorter days, busy schedules, incessant advertising, and nagging discontent. My prayer for you is that you would find a source of light, embrace its significance for you, and in turn, share it.
I don’t think my friend knew he was my candle for today, and I don’t think I will know if I become that for someone else. I do know this, though, if we turn to Jesus, the Light of the World, God’s light of love will shine through us whether we realize it or not.
Last Sunday, November 27, was the first Sunday of Advent. For us who live in the US, Thanksgiving and Christmas overlap, which, if we’re mindful, is a good thing. Gratitude provides us with the capacity, the ability, and endurance to wait.
In the case of Advent, we wait for Messiah. We wait to celebrate the birth of God’s son. We wait for the earthly beginning of a life that ultimately was given for us. We wait in hope that this Advent (which means arrival) will bring about change in us, for us, and around us, which includes all that are close to us.
My encouragement is this, practice gratitude, embrace the waiting, and allow the hope of Advent to fill the voids that really only God can fill.
An Advent Reflection for December 25, 2015, the Final Day of Advent
Advent concludes on Christmas Day, and the theme for this final Advent devotional is Jesus. The old and well-worn adage reminds us that, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” I don’t know; it may just be me, but I feel that amidst all the loving gifts and well intentioned activities of the holiday, we may have lost sight of what it means to have Jesus as the reason for the season.
As I was thinking about this and searching for the reason that would make this saying true in my life this year, I remembered a line in the fifth verse of the Christmas carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem (underlined below).
The Story of Christmas from the LumoProject.com
O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in Be born in us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel
I’m not sure why, but when I remembered that line, my first thought was, “How is born spelled in the song? Born, or borne?
It’s more than obvious that when we celebrate someone’s birthday, we are celebrating the day they were born. But, it is much more than that. It is celebrating their life, and especially with Jesus, the continual impact his life has in our lives today. So, as we celebrate Christmas this year, may the life of Jesus birth something new in our hearts and lives. May we also faithfully bear the image of Jesus through the ways we love God by loving others – Jesus, being borne in us today.
An Advent Reflection for December 20, 2015, the Fourth Sunday of Advent
I trust you are experiencing a deep sense of joy and peace as you prepare for the Christmas holiday next week! I pray that we all have the heart of a child that revels in the joyous expectation of all that Christmas is and can be!
The theme for this Fourth Sunday of Advent is Love. It is more than obvious that we express our love during Christmas by giving gifts. Recently I saw a plaque with this quote on it.
Yesterday is the past. Tomorrow is the future. Today is a gift of God. That is why it is called the present.
When I read it, I immediately questioned if it was true, so I looked up the etymology of the word present. As it turns out, it’s not that far off. Sparing the details, present literally means “to be before,” which is more commonly rendered “to be at hand.” The time that is at hand is the present. This also refers to being present. The word present gains the meaning of gift, because to give a gift is to “put a thing into the presence of a person.”
I don’t think it’s too far of a stretch to say that we can express our love by giving a present, being present, and being in the present this Christmas.
Listen! The virgin shall conceive a child! She shall give birth to a Son, and he shall be called ‘Emmanuel’ (meaning “God is with us.”)”
(Matthew 1:23, TLB)
May we find the perfect way to show those close to us how much we love them through our expression of present!
An Advent Reflection for December 13, 2015, the Third Sunday of Advent
I trust your Christmas plans are coming together nicely! I pray, as well, that you have been able to embrace the hope and peace of Jesus this season!
At our worship gathering two Sundays ago at Valley Life Church, we kicked off this season of Advent with the carol Joy To The World. Joy is clearly a strong theme of Christmas. The question, though, is “What brings us joy at Christmastime?” Is it gifts, seasonal events, the cheerful atmosphere, or could it be something deeper?
The LORD your God is in your midst…
He will create calm with his love;
he will rejoice over you with singing.
(Zephaniah 3:17, CEB)
The passage above is a segment of a larger foretelling of the coming of Jesus as Messiah. The passage below is an admonition of the apostle Paul, but they both contain key truths to joy.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all.
The Lord is near.
(Philippians 4:4-5, NIV)
Joy is an existential reality. It comes from a place of security, knowing that you are loved and a looked upon with joy from those who are close to you. God’s love for us is not just providential or sacrificial; it is also lavish and joyful! It’s upon this foundation of God’s love that Paul encourages us to rejoice in the Lord and be God’s expression of love in our world. Rejoice! The Lord, in and through us, is near!
My prayer is that we experience God’s love that overflows toward us in unrestrained joy, I pray, as well, that this joyful love empowers us to love one another deeply and joyfully!
An Advent Reflection for December 6, 2015, the Second Sunday of Advent
“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart! And the peace I give isn’t fragile like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”
(John 14:27, TLB)
Jesus shared these words as his life here on earth was drawing to a close. These words also form a book-end with the greeting the angels gave at his birth.
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace,
good will toward men.”
(Luke 2:14, KJV)
As I think of peace this Christmas, I can’t help but seeing the end from the beginning. The angels foretold of the peace that Jesus would bring and the good will that all humanity would enjoy as a result of his life. This peace on earth and good will for humanity did not end when Jesus’ earthly life ended. He gave us the Holy Spirit, God’s Spirit of love and peace, that now lives in us and empower us to be God’s agents of love (good will) and peace in our day to day world.
My prayer is that as we establish our lives on the hope of Emmanuel (God with us) we would discover the peace emanates from that same source, the gift of God’s-self in every moment of our lives.
An Advent Reflection for November 29, 2015, the First Sunday of Advent
This Sunday begins the season of Advent. Traditionally, Advent is the time that Christians revisit the story of the birth of Jesus. This story, though, doesn’t begin with Mary and Joseph and the angels. It actually begins in the book of Genesis and continues all the way through the Old Testament and is culminated in the stories that the Gospel writers share with us in the New Testament.
The back-story in the Old Testament unfolds through prophecies or foretellings that speak of a Messiah who will deliver the people of Israel from captivity to other nations and to the sins that continue to bring them down. These foretellings brought hope to God’s people throughout the ages. This hope was fulfilled in the coming of Jesus as God with us. Now as we retell the story, we too can bring hope to those close to us that God is with us and will continue with us until all things are made right in Christ.
As we begin this Advent season, I pray that your hearts will be filled with hope as you experience the closeness of Jesus and are able to share that with those close to you!
I trust that you had a wonderful Christmas! This is the final installment in the Embracing Advent devotional series. We walked through embracing hope, peace, joy, and love. Now, we conclude with some thoughts on embracing Jesus.
She Shall Bring Forth a Son, by Liz Lemon Swindle
We see in the Christmas narratives in Matthew and Luke that all along people needed to make a choice to embrace this child, Jesus, and his family. As each one did, they realized that it would be a tremendous blessing and as well and a serious cost.
Let’s take Mary as an example. The angel promised her a son as her first born, which in and of itself is a great blessing in her culture. This son would also be the Messiah. She was overjoyed! So overjoyed, in fact, that she burst into song over it! (Luke 1:46-55) She also knew that she would be judged and misunderstood as bearing an illegitimate son, even though Joseph embraced Jesus as his own. At Jesus’ birth his arrival was announced by angels and proclaimed by shepherds, but she also stored up all these events and announcements, pondering what they could mean, questioning, even arguing with herself, as she came to terms with the future of her son and her family. This was confirmed for her at Jesus’ dedication at eight days old when Simeon, a righteous and devout man, broke into praise at the sight of the baby Jesus. His words were concluded with the warning that Jesus would bring about significant change religiously and politically, that he would be the object of opposition, and that, spoken to Mary, “a sword would pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:35) The beautiful thing about Mary is that it seems there is no cost too high in her obedience to God and in her caring for those God has given her.
As the Christmas spirit continues with us in our holiday celebrations, what is it that we can take away from Mary’s example? What does it look like for you as you embrace Jesus this Christmas and in the new year? The blessings are numerous, such as God’s active presence in our lives through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and through the people we live and gather with on a daily and weekly basis. The challenges are no less numerous as we embrace Jesus, taking seriously the command to love God by loving others. The blessings and challenges are as unique as each individual that considers them. I pray that you take a few moments to reflect on the blessings that are afforded you as you embrace Jesus, and that you seriously consider the challenges that come your way as well. The kingdom way of Jesus is the do the hard work of embracing Jesus through the challenges, allowing the God’s Spirit to empower us so that we can become the reflection and presence of Jesus in our world.