December 14

Christmas: 1964

 I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.

Philippians 4:13

Christmas is a time for rejoicing in the Lord Jesus Christ. Philippians 4:4 says, “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.” But for some people Christmas is a time for sadness.

I remember it well, the day I learned my dad was dying. Thanksgiving had come and gone and Dad had been home to enjoy our traditional family gathering.

It was now the Christmas holidays and I was watching Father Knows Best on television. Mother was at the kitchen sink peeling potatoes for lunch. At first I thought she was laughing to herself, but realized she was crying instead.

Rushing to her side, I said, “Mother, Dad is dying, isn’t he?” She said, “Yes, he has only weeks to live.” Christmas was never the same after that. And I relied heavily on Scripture. In Deuteronomy 31:8 God promises never to leave nor forsake us. Instead, He walks by our side (Psalm 23:4) and provides a way of escape.

Dad passed away peacefully with my mother at his side on January 6, 1965 at MD Anderson in Houston, Texas. He had fought lymphatic cancer for two years. Dad had told Mother that God answered every one of his prayers and to read Luke 2:26, “And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Spirit, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.”

My father prayed one last time before he died. He prayed for God to take him Home. He had told us many times that he would be Home for Christmas, if only in his dreams. His last prayer was finally answered. In Philippians 4:6 it says, “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.”

Comfort-God's Promises-Hope-Advent-Faith-FUMC.jpg

[Photo by James Coleman on Unsplash]

With the birth of Jesus Christ, the beginning of a promise of eternal life was given to us. By remembering this and the way He died for our sins helps us to make the Christmas holidays a time for rejoicing.

I can do anything as long as Jesus Christ gives me strength.

Paula Small

Father God, You are the God of all compassion and mercy. Thank You for sending Jesus as our salvation and strength. Bless us with the words to encourage others who may be having difficulty experiencing the joy of the Season.

Additional Scripture: 1Thessalonians 4:13-18, Romans 12:15

December 13

The Reason to Rejoice

 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

Philippians 4:4

Growing up I can remember making those Advent chains in Sunday School. Each day would have Bible verses from the time right before Jesus was born. I remember being so excited to get to that last chain link that you opened on Christmas Day. This Bible verse was about the birth of Jesus. Of course, I wasn’t excited to get to the last chain link because Jesus was born, but because I would be getting presents.

Presents-Christmas-Advent-Waiting-Faith-FUMC.jpg[Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash]

As I grew older and the presents I received became less, I started to ask myself, “If you didn’t get one present, would you still be excited?” The true meaning of Christmas is about Jesus, after all. If you asked yourself that question, what would be your answer? Before I answered, I realized that Jesus’s birth is God’s present to us. We won’t go one year on this earth without receiving a gift. We will receive the greatest gift anyone could ever ask for. Jesus Christ is our gift! How could you not be excited about that?

People tell me a lot that I am always happy. Of course, I have my off days, but overall I’m usually a pretty joyful person. How can you not be happy when you have Jesus in your life? The same joy and happiness that I had when I was eight and got my first bike, I have about God every day. He brings a smile to my face every morning, and it would just be selfish not to share that smile and happiness to others.

As I prepare for Christmas day, I still make a chain like I did when I was younger, but now my excitement to pull off that last link isn’t about materialized presents. It’s about the gift of Jesus Christ!

 God, thank You so much for waking me up this morning. I get to spend another day on this earth to share Your love with others. I pray that You help me never take a single moment for granted, and that I always try to see the best in every situation. I pray that my smile today will make a difference in someone’s life. They may need that one piece of encouragement to continue. God, I thank You for sending your Son down to save us from our sins, and forgive me when I forget the real reason we celebrate Christmas. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Abby Lykins

Additional readings: Psalm 118:23-24, 2Corinthians 13:11, Isaiah 9:2-3

December 12

Expect the Unexpected

 However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” – the things God has prepared for those who love him…

1 Corinthians 2:9 (NIV)

January of 2019, I knew that God was doing some amazing things in my life. I told my parents that I was going to graduate from college in less than four months and I will officially be an adult.

Now for whatever that was worth I had to let it be known (HA!). I was embarking on a journey never seen before. Traveling to places I had never heard of. The very words “I will officially be an adult” hit me May 4, 2019. They were sitting on a silver platter with nice garnishments of a new place to live, a new church to serve, and oh yeah, a dash of seminary.

Now my parents were shocked when they learned that I would be moving closer to them but alone in a community all by myself. Talk about what no eye has seen (1 Corinthians 2:9). I had never heard of Jacksonville, Texas. I knew God was up to something that was groundbreaking.

June 1, 2019, I moved to Jacksonville and was very excited for the new opportunity to serve God’s people. It was then when it hit me dead in the face after meeting what felt like thousands of people in the Commons Area that God was already at work in my life.

All the years of preparation were put into place for this very opportunity. I thought to myself how can a 23-year-old serve as an associate pastor? I must confess, it was so unreal I kept my things in boxes for a week just to be sure this wasn’t a misunderstanding. Then and there after making hospital visits and homebound visits. The continued support of many churches in the area, family members of church members and even people that were friends of a friend, speaking highly of me.

It opened a new frame of mind to understand that I was not expecting the unexpected. I expected that this would be very hard to transition to. I expected the new home and area would take some getting used to. Needless to say, I am forever grateful for each and every person that makes up the governing church body of First Jacksonville Methodist Church.

Unexpected-Expect-Nativity-Wonder-FUMC-Advent (1).jpg[Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash]

It makes me wonder: What is your level of expectation towards the coming of Jesus Christ or even this upcoming holiday? How have your expectations formed your spiritual life? Where do your expectations come from? Are they centered around God’s Word or those around you?

Dear God, thank You. Thank You for just being all-knowing. Whether things go our way or a way we don’t expect, help us to know that You love us. That You are the only one that knows the plans You have for us. Help us to put our hope in You and to truly depend and trust in You. In Jesus’ Holy name we pray, AMEN!

Amber Jones

Additional Scriptures: Hebrews 11:8, Revelation 3:8, 2Corinthians 5:7, John 3:8

December 11

Longing for a New Beginning

 “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 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 the baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 

Luke 2:8-12

 The heat of summer will finally be behind us and we will begin preparations for a new time in God’s natural and spiritual world. During Advent, we prepare for and anticipate the coming of Christ. We remember the longing of Jews for a Messiah and our own longing for a new beginning.

I had never lived in the country until moving to Jacksonville. This was a new thing God was doing in my life. I was unsure that it would be a good thing, but trusted God’s plan. Suddenly retired, far from a city of any major size, I was plopped in the middle of 82 acres with cows, horses, donkeys, and hay fields.

God began speaking to me through the beauty surrounding me. From the cathedral-like ceiling of towering trees to the donkey’s soft eyes, to the breathtaking dawn skies, God showed me His creation. I grew eager for each new revelation.

It seemed natural to use my Christmas cards to reflect God’s message. Each year I now look for a picture taken on our property that speaks of God’s glory. Last year, my sister Vicki captured a picture of a horse being ridden on our horse track against a spectacular sunset.

Advent-New Beginning-Glory to God.jpg

This was the picture depicting this verse! “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, good will toward men.“ Luke 2:13-14

Father, thank You for sending Your Son. Thank You for Your creation which reveals Your glory and majesty. And thank You for answering our longing for salvation. Amen.

 Nancy Glass

Additional Scriptures: Psalm 19:1-2, Romans 1:19-20, Psalm 136:1-9

December 10

Remembering the Greatest Gift

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

Luke 2:8

Just as the shepherds watched over their flock our Mother prepared our home beautifully, and on Christmas Eve tucked us in our beds. Thinking of Santa was wonderful but, having been taught, I knew the truth of this holy night was that baby Jesus was born.

Christmas-Decorations-Jesus-FUMC-Prepare.jpg[Photo by Chad Madden on Unsplash]

As an adult I decorate with lots of very sentimental things. I think of all my loved ones who have looked upon these very same pieces and the magic of the season is the same for me now. Jesus was born the greatest gift, our Lord and Savior.

Lord Jesus, show us the way to your manger so that in seeing you we may believe and in believing have eternal life. Amen.

Alyson Owen Ezell

Additional readings: Isaiah 52:7, John 1:29, Luke 10:23-24

December 9

Looking toward Home

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in his faithfulness.

Psalm 96:11-13

 For me, the anticipation of Christmas is directly tied to the change of seasons. The first cool spell thrills my soul and warms my heart. My mother, Pat Leopard, and my mother-in-law, Doris Chervenka, reinforced that feeling in me by sharing their love of their gardens and their need to have their fingers in the soil and their faces in the sun. It’s where we had our deeper discussions about our family, life, and love. I didn’t recognize until now their shared strength of spirit was more than their individual characters. It was the Holy Spirit.

In January and February of 2012, at the ages of 96, and 72, the culmination of their faith was clearly visible when both of them with unearthly focus, lifted their arms from their hospital beds straining upwards, looking earnestly into a Heavenly realm only they could see to cross over the physical threshold of this earthly life into Eternity and Home. Thanks be to God!

The change of seasons has begun in earnest and I’m looking forward to December 25th when I hope to spend another Christmas with my family and my sweet stepmother, (and last of my three moms), Kathie Staffa. Mom seems genuinely surprised to find herself still here at age 87 and I will soak up her maternal parentage like a sponge while I am able to be with her. I pray I never lose this sense of anticipation and excitement, and someday I too will reach up from a spent and exhausted earthly body to be lifted into the presence of my Lord and Savior, and I will be safely Home.

Home-Holy Spirit-Life-Glory-FUMC.jpg

[Photo by JOSHUA COLEMAN on Unsplash]

God bless us all and instill all of us with an unquenchable desire to love and live our lives accomplishing all He has planned for us to do, and that we will always feel an overwhelming sense of anticipation and joy that once all is done, we’re going Home!

Cheryl Grabow

Additional Scriptures: 2Corithians 5:1, John 14:2-3, Philippians 3:14, Philippians 4:20

December 8: Second Sunday in Advent

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Hebrews 11:1

(Light the first Advent candle.)

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, and the first candle is the candle of hope. Hope is the fuel that keeps our faith burning bright.

(Light the second Advent candle.)

This is Bethlehem’s Candle and as the light of this candle joins the candle of hope, faith shines brighter than before.

Advent-Faith-Light-Second Sunday-FUMC.jpg

[Photo by Elizabeth Explores on Unsplash]

Read Luke 2:1-6

What faith Mary and Joseph revealed with each step they took on their journey to Bethlehem. It couldn’t have been easy or comfortable. There must have been some stops along the way.

Like Mary and Joseph, we carry the Savior of the World inside our hearts. Their faith journey led them to Bethlehem, and faith calls us to journey too. Think back over this year.

How has your faith grown? What happened this year that tested your faith? What stops did you make along the way? Have you noticed new birth in your life?

Faith is one of the greatest gifts God gives us. Unlike gifts under the tree, this gift grows. When we stop along the way or we feel like we can’t take another step, faith lights the way and leads us on.

As we continue our Advent journey, may faith shine bright and light our way to Bethlehem.

Sing “O Little Town of Bethlehem”:

O little town of Bethlehem

How still we see thee lie

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep

The silent stars go by

Yet in thy dark streets shineth

The everlasting Light

The hopes and fears of all the years

Are met in thee tonight.

Lord of Faith, thank You for the gift You’ve given us. For the faith to continue the journey toward You. Give us strength and courage like Mary and Joseph. In Jesus name, Amen.

Additional Scriptures: Ephesians 3:16-19, Hebrews 11:6, Psalm 119:30, Galatians 3:26-27

December 7

Be Still

BE STILL, O MY SOUL!

As we plan and prepare for Christmas, we want our homes to be decorated beautifully inside and out; we want the tree to be shining brightly; we want the gifts to be wrapped and bedecked with bows; we want food cooked to share with family, friends, and neighbors; and we want our wardrobe to reflect the gaiety and glitter of the season.

OH! THE PRESSURE WE PUT ON OURSELVES FOR EVERYTHING TO BE PERFECT.

But is all of that really necessary? It really is not a competition. Are we forgetting the most important aspects of the season? Our bodies and souls would probably benefit from less frenetic activities. Perhaps we could breathe deeply and enjoy peacefulness and tranquility and a little solitude. Perhaps we could prepare our hearts with music, prayer, reading and meditation.

Be still-Advent-Bible Study-Devotional-Nativity-FUMC.jpg

[Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash]

Children would probably prefer a less harried, hurried household. Friends might enjoy a calm hostess. This year I am going to await the coming of our Savior, the Holy Christ Child with a bit more quiet and calm and a spirit of holy reverence.

“Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”

Psalm 46:10

Barbara Hugghins

Lord, keep us focused on You during this Christmas season. Show us how to be still and tend to our hearts and souls. Prepare us to bring peace into the lives of those around us too.

 Additional Scriptures: Luke 10:38-42, Luke 12:22-23, Isaiah 26:3, Psalm 119:165

December 6

To Give or to Receive

 Near the close of his words of exhortation to the Ephesus elders recorded by Luke in Acts 20, the apostle Paul reminded them of something Jesus once said:

“It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

Acts 20:35

I love to give gifts. I love the reaction of unexpected gifts, so I enjoy giving even if it is not a special occasion such as a birthday, wedding, or Christmas. I buy gifts all during the year when I see something that reminds me of someone. Sometimes I save the gifts for a special occasion and sometimes I give it to the person right then.

I enjoy receiving gifts and I am grateful for them, but I don’t get really excited. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I have been really excited in my entire life. You might describe me as a flatliner and that would be fairly accurate. It is not that I don’t appreciate them, I do. I just don’t squeal with delight as others do.

Things changed when I was diagnosed with breast cancer and began the battle. I learned that it is better to receive sometimes than to give. I received so much love from so many people and in so many ways that I was overwhelmed. I learned to receive cards and prayers on a daily basis. I learned to receive acts of kindness when I looked like I might not make it through the day. I learned to receive baked goodies and food made with love when I did not want to eat at all. I learned to receive the help of my family and friends when I needed it most. I learned to RECEIVE.

Faith-Receive-Gift-Blessed-Advent-FUMC.jpg

[Photo by Michelle on Unsplash]

Isn’t that what God asked us to do when He sent His Son at Christmas? God asked us to receive His most important gift of all time. Have you received God’s gift of His only begotten Son?

Dear God, as we go through the season of Advent buying gifts and preparing for the birth of Christ, help us to remember to receive Your Gift, Lord, and cherish it always. Amen.

Dianna Smith

Additional readings: Mark 2:17, John 13:8, Romans 5:17, 1Peter 4:10

December 5

Be Kind

 However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” —the things God has prepared for those who love him…

1Corinthians 2:9

Being very cash-strapped one Christmas season, we went to a Christmas tree farm knowing that we would be looking for the cheapest priced tree. The owner told us he thought they had sold all of the cheaper ones, but we could walk around and look. We looked hard and finally found one!

We cut the tree and went to pay. I had just enough money for the tree and tax and we were very proud of our perfectly priced find. As the girls and I were inside paying for the tree, the owner walked in and told me he had made a mistake. He took the tag and wrote something on it and handed it to his wife who was checking us out. My heart sank because I knew I didn’t have enough money for a higher priced tree. The owner’s wife turned the tag over and showed it to me. It said “FREE!” I was so overcome by the kindness of those strangers toward us. Such a simple act by them was so meaningful for us – something I will never forget!

Advent-Christmas  Tree-Be Kind.jpg

[Photo by Євгенія Височина on Unsplash]

During this season of Advent, I challenge you to commit as many Random Acts of Kindness as you can in honor of the Christ child and the God who loves us so much. You never know how your small act will warm the heart of someone who needs to be reminded that they are loved.

Jerri Lykins

Father God, help us to remember Your unforeseen, undeserved, uncommon act of kindness in sending Your Son Jesus to save us. Open our eyes and hearts to those with whom we can share Your kindness in unexpected ways.

 Additional Scriptures: Acts 9:36, Ecclesiastes 12:14, Galatians 5:13