THE BEST NEWS
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”
There’s been so much bad news this year in the era of doomscrolling. How about some good news headlines? History brings us some momentous ones: “Peace. Greatest War of All Time Over.” “Victory. Nazis Reveal Surrender.” “Man Walks on the Moon.” “Nelson Mandela Freed.” But we can also find these feel-good stories from the past year: “A 6-year-old ordered $350 in Barbies from Amazon. Her parents gave them to a hospital.” “A farmer fell ill. So dozens of his neighbors showed up spontaneously and harvested his crops.” “Bride and groom had extra food. So they took it to a shelter and served it.”
Today we celebrate the best, most momentous news of all time: Christ has come! Jesus is here! He comes in the midst of troubling times. He brings hope in our despair. He brings peace in our worry. He brings joy in our sorrow. He brings love in our conflict. He brings life in our death. This is the good news angels announced in the night. It is the good news we can proclaim on this morning. Jesus is who we expectantly await in Advent, and Jesus is who we celebrate at Christmas. He is the Good News no matter how troubling the times. Jesus is here. Jesus will come again. Jesus will never leave us. In Jesus, let’s celebrate with hope, peace, love, and joy in our hearts as we worship with the angels: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
How will you rejoice and celebrate today? How can you carry Christ’s hope, peace, joy, and love forward with you all year?
Finding Christ in Our World
The fifth and final candle of Advent represents Jesus Christ. This candle signifies the ultimate reason for our Christmas journey—the baby Jesus, God’s only Son, the Savior of the world. Jesus is truly the reason for and the meaning of Christmas, and He is the source of all the gifts we’ve discovered on this Advent journey—hope, love, joy, and peace. Celebrate the birth of Jesus! The waiting is almost over; the Messiah is coming. And even as we celebrate His arrival in our world, our anticipation grows—and we continue to live with longing and expectation for His second coming when His work will be complete and all the earth will be restored. Yet even now on the eve of Jesus’s birth, we rejoice. Christ has come! He will come again!
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
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 an- gel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, 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 an- gel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those 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.”
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this 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 2:1-20
How have you most felt Jesus’s hope, peace, joy, or love this season?
Say all the verses you have memorized during the weeks of Advent.
“Go Tell It on the Mountain” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ruGHkSWX84
AN UNEXPECTED PAUSE
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Ju- dea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. —Luke 2:4-5
“This is sooo not what we need right now!” Mary and Joseph must have thought when they found out they had to report in Bethlehem for that Roman census. Mary should have been at home nesting, preparing the nursery, cleaning the cupboards, or weirdly reorganizing the hut for the twelfth time. If you’re a parent, you know what I mean. But instead of those final preparations, Mary had to endure a 90-mile journey on foot through the cold desert winter.
In pregnancy, you know the time is drawing near, but you never know exactly when the baby is coming. There are contractions. There may be false starts. But one moment you are rearranging the kitchen, and the next, labor has begun. There’s no going back. Your body and mind completely focus on the process of labor. This new life is entering the world, and your life will never be exactly the same.
In these moments, there is joy and there is uncertainty. There is contentment and there is expectation. There is the planned and the unexpected. There is completion and there is the journey ahead. Here on Christmas Eve, we find all the same things. As we finish our Christmas preparations, let’s also pause to rest a few minutes in the expectant now. The celebration will erupt. The emotions will swirl. The memories will be created. Our lives will add another new day, a special day not exactly like any other, and in that sense, our lives will never be the same. Like Mary, let’s ponder and treasure these moments in our hearts as we reflect on this threshold of birth and life, expectation and celebration, and God turned human in our hearts and lives.
What is heavy on your heart in the anticipation of Christmas? What is joyful in your expectant spirit?
LOVE FOR ONE ANOTHER
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. —John 13:34-35
Harley Davidson riders are known by their leathers. Surfers are known for their board shorts. Gangs identify by their colors. You can spot a Las Vegas Raiders fan by the black and silver skulls. A cheese hat? You’re loyal to the Green Bay Packers. You knew Groucho Marx by his glasses and bushy mustache. Abraham Lincoln’s top hat was a dead giveaway. Early punk-rockers were recognizable by their three-foot mohawks. Flannel was the ‘90s mark of grunge rockers. Handlebar mustaches now reveal a hip- ster. Braided beards and ruthlessness? Pirates. Reggae and dreadlocks often reveal a Jamaican, mon. Brazilians are known for their expressive warmth.
What are Christians known for? Jesus said it should be our love for other people. Early on, the church shone with Christlike love as believers shared all they had to care for each other’s needs. When pandemics hit Roman cities, Christ followers chose to tend to the sick even while the persecuting Romans fled. But there have been clear collective blunders, like invading countries and killing innocent women and children during the Crusades.
So how are we doing now? Are our churches known for who we’re trying to keep out or who we are welcoming in? Are we known by our service or our self-preservation? Our willingness to listen or our quickness to shout down? Our devotion to our political party or our devotion to Jesus? Does our encouragement or criticism come through louder? Are we marked by anger or grace? Outrage or compassion? Are we recognized by our expressions of Christ’s love or our indignation about what others call the hol- iday? Are we too busy to show love and kindness in our daily interactions? Let’s let everyone know we are Jesus’s disciples this Christmas by our love for others.
What do others know you for? What can you do to put Jesus’s love into action?
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor de- mons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The Great Plague was London’s last major outbreak of bubonic plague, but it claimed as many as 100,000 lives from 1665 to 1666. It spread to the Derbyshire village of Eyam, about 160 miles north of London, in a bale of cloth infested with carrier fleas. Forty-two villagers died in September and October. The plague had been killing millions of Europeans for centuries. These villagers didn’t understand all of the science, but they knew the plague spread from person to person. By spring, the remaining citizens prepared to flee their homes to survive.
But the newly appointed rector, William Mompesson, with the help of the trusted former rector, Thomas Stanley, convinced the villagers to remain and quarantine them- selves in their village. By staying, they knew they were choosing death, but they knew they would also avoid spreading the plague to other villages. They chose to protect the lives of others beyond their own boundaries. Death hit Eyam hard, killing 260 of its 300- 800 inhabitants in a year. “It must have been terrifying, but every single family would have had that strong belief in God, and would not have feared death,” Joan Plant, Eyam churchwarden and direct descendant of one of the survivors, told the BBC.
The citizens of Eyam must have clung to the truth of Paul’s words, that nothing in all the universe or eternity can separate us from God’s love, not even death. Despite suffering and grief, they chose to love and protect their neighbors in nearby villages even more than themselves. They knew they were held firmly in the embrace of God’s love no matter what.
What feels like it is separating you from the love of God? If there is truly nothing that will break the bonds of God’s love for you, what courageous step will you take?
LOVE DEFEATS FEAR
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. —1 John 4:18
There are a lot of things that could have kept those wisemen at home. Most of them would have come down to fear. There was fear of the unknown: a new star, a journey to a new land wherever this star would lead them. There was fear for their safety: Traveling the harsh, desert roads of the ancient Middle East was a dangerous venture. Besides the inhospitable terrain for you and your vehicles, aka livestock, you had to stay vigilant against robbers or warlords. The Magi could have easily feared loss. We know they car- ried gold, frankincense, and myrrh to give to Jesus. It seems they were wealthy. They must have been a target to would-be assailants. Fear of ridicule could have kept them at home. What if they were wrong about this star? They would have had hours and hours to second-guess themselves as they plodded onward. Fear of power could have derailed them or thwarted their mission as they were called before the mighty ruler Herod.
Fear could not stop the Magi. Nothing would stop them on their mysterious journey. They came as if called. They came to worship and give powerfully symbolic gifts—gifts fit for a king—to the infant Jesus. They also came as representatives of the message that the gift of Jesus is for every race, every people, every nation. Love thrives in the absence of fear. And as John describes, perfect love drives out fear. The love of God embodied in Jesus fills us with the courage to cross borders and face danger and discomfort. It frees us from insecurity and rejection and judgment. It frees us from the divisive fear of the other and brings us together, united as God’s children.
What fears are troubling your heart? How can you step out against fear, empowered by God’s perfect love?
Advent Week 4 - Rediscovering Love in Our Differences
The fourth Sunday of Advent signifies love and reminds us that Jesus was sent to us because of God’s great love for us. For the next seven days we will rediscover and experience God’s amazing love. Along with the daily devotions, take time this week to light the fourth candle in your Advent wreath. Let this reality be your focus this week no matter what else you are going through: Jesus is God’s love embodied in our world and infused into our lives to heal us and draw us together. Experience the depth of His love and allow that love to overflow to others in grace and unity. Let love fill your days and nights as Christmas draws close!
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word con- cerning what had been told them about this 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 2:16-20
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoev- er believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. —John 3:16
How do you usually like to let people know you love them?
When do you feel most loved by others?
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3P97yj-f4sc
Love Honors Others
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devot- ed to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.
They were a young couple, eking out a living in New York City. They had each other but little else. Oh, and their most prized possessions: Jim’s gold pocket watch that had been his grandfather’s and Della’s beautiful, cascading hair. Both had secretly tried saving for months to buy a Christmas present for the other, but $1.87 was all Della had. In a moment of Christmas Eve inspiration, Della sold her hair for $20 to buy Jim a perfectly simple gold chain to match his pocket watch. As Jim arrived home, Della feared he would no longer find her beautiful. He held his wife close and gave her a set of combs she had long admired. “My hair grows so quickly,” she told him. At least there was the perfect watch chain, which she excitedly gave him. Jim smiled as he told her he had sold the watch in order to buy her combs. “Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are the most wise,” wrote O’Henry to close his famous 1905 story The Gift of the Magi. “Everywhere they are the wise ones. They are the magi.”
Is there a love more sincere than that which puts another first? Jim and Della didn’t give gifts to each other out of compulsion or obligation. They didn’t think twice about sacrificing their most prized possession to bring happiness to their true love. Their spirit is the same as that of the Magi, who gave freely to Jesus. The Magi are the source of our practice of Christmas gift giving. And, of course, theirs and our gifts are just a reflection of God’s gift of Jesus. His love in action through us, as Paul describes in Romans, is sincere, good, devoted, and honors others before ourselves.
What gift are you most excited to give this Christmas? What other way can you honor someone above yourself in this season, even without money or means?
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. —Psalm 51:10-12
Christmas trees can trace their roots all the way back to ancient cultures, including the Egyptians and Romans who decorated with evergreen boughs to mark the Winter Solstice. The Christmas tree tradition we know got started in Germany in the 16th cen- tury, and it’s believed that Martin Luther first added candles to light the tree and made it part of Christian celebrations. German settlers in Pennsylvania brought the tradition to the U.S. in the 1830s. But the trees became widely popular across the U.S. and Great Britain in 1846, when a London newspaper showed an illustration of Queen Victoria, the German Prince Albert, and their children celebrating around their Christmas tree. From the beginning, evergreens have been loved for their constant reminder of flourishing life through the long, dark winter. Even through December’s shortest days, the evergreens promise a restoration of life and growth.
Sometimes we need a restoration of joy just like King David did when he wrote Psalm 51. His famous prayer followed the darkest days of his adultery with Bathsheba and the arranged murder of her husband. David had finally hit his low and poured out his confes- sion and remorse to God, asking for forgiveness and renewal. He longed for a restoration of the joy of his relationship with God.
How often we too need a cleansing fresh start! So much can jade our hearts and choke our joy, whether it’s our own sin or the busyness and pressures of the holidays. Sometimes we need the honesty of confession and the simplicity of quiet reflection. No matter where we’ve been or what we’ve done, Jesus is here, welcoming us with restorative joy.
What is coming between you and God? How will you pour out your heart to God?
United In Joy
I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. —Isaiah 61:10
Is there anything more radiant than a bride on her wedding day? She is the picture of beauty. We are captivated by weddings, and the bride is the center of attention. That’s true whether it’s your cousin’s ceremony or England’s Royal Wedding. Whatever the setting, the bride is the princess on her wedding day. Some little girls begin dreaming of that day as preschoolers twirling around in princess dresses and their mother’s oversized high-heeled shoes. There is a beauty in the union of a bride and groom, and a purity in the moment when the bride appears and walks down the aisle to her soon-to- be husband. A wedding is one of the most joyful celebrations we can have on this earth.
It’s one the Bible compares to our relationship with Jesus. Isaiah says God has clothed us like a bride or groom, fixing us up in our finest through His salvation and restoration. He has given us reason to experience joy like a wedding day. Jesus compared Himself to a bridegroom when He taught on earth. John used the imagery when he described Christ’s return in Revelation 19:7: “Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.”
When we think ahead to our eventual union with Jesus, we can find joy in the celebration of all it represents: Instead of sorrow, pain, or death, there will be joy, wholeness, and life. When we remember the significance of Jesus’s birth and our first encounter with Him, we can experience joy that flows from His perfect, unconditional love.
What memories of your relationship with Jesus bring you joy? What do you imagine the wedding of Jesus and His followers will be like?
When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, LORD God Almighty. —Jeremiah 15:16
What is your favorite Christmas feast? Are you a traditional American big meal per- son, loading up the table with platters of turkey, ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes, casseroles, cranberry relishes, and pies for dessert? Do you prefer or include other cultural delicacies? Does your table include tamales, latkes, Christmas pudding, Buche de Noel, suckling pig, lutefisk, or other dishes passed down by heritage or family preference? Food plays a big part in holiday traditions around the world. It certainly draws us together as family and friends to reunite and celebrate and share the joys— and sometimes the painful awkwardness—of each other’s company.
How do we choose joy when the painful moments of the season or life in gener- al feel crushingly heavy? One way is to devour God’s Word like Jeremiah, who said, “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight.” In the same way, they are our spiritual sustenance. They feed us. The principle of “You are what you eat” applies to our spirits as well. As we take in the words of God, savoring and digesting them, they are able to refuel and renew us. They change our perspective and nourish joy within us, and they fill us with the strength to grow stronger, no matter what we are facing. Let’s feast on the promises of God throughout this Advent season.
How is your spiritual diet? What Scripture will you choose to savor and return to through- out this week?
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produc- es perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. —James 1:2-4
If you’ve spent much time in nature, you’ve probably come across the odd sight of a tree growing out of a rock. In the city, you’ve probably seen a flower blooming out of a tiny crack in a sidewalk or street. Plants like that make a stark contrast to our expectations. They go against the grain of what we normally expect from nature and science. We know plants of all kinds need soil to grow and live. Yet these hardy botan- ical survivors somehow find a way to send roots through the tiniest crevices or to draw nutrients from the most meager supplies. They defy their harsh environments and find a way to thrive.
Joy allows us to do the same. It gives us the strength to persevere even when our circumstances look bleak and we are surrounded by cold, hard reality. Does it make sense to feel joy when we face trials? No. But when we choose joy, when we choose to look with thankfulness for what God will do even in our bleakest days, we can find the strength to persevere another day, and another, and another. And we continue to grow stronger in our rocky surroundings.
It’s not easy. Maybe that’s why Paul said it twice: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). He knew we needed reminders often. He had certainly lived through the difficulties of prison, beatings, hatred, ridicule, loneliness, injustice, and more. Yet Paul continued to choose the action of joy, to rejoice, and to place his focus on God, even when life felt like nothing but a rock and a hard place.
What is the rock you are facing right now? What step will you take to choose joy even when it’s hard?