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.

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[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.

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[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.

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[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!

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[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

December 4

Keeping Focused

 The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel – which means, “God with us.”

Matthew 1:23

When I was in my twenties and thirties, I dreaded Christmas because I saw it mostly as busyness and stress that I didn’t need. I had no appreciation for Jesus as the “Word made flesh” because I paid attention only to getting through the season.

After two decades, I found God again and our church family! My wife, Peetie, got me to attend Christmas Eve Communion for the first time. My attitude about Christmas was changing as I grew in my faith. Still, it seemed a challenge to not be overwhelmed by the busyness of the season.

I decided I needed to be more intentional about focusing on Christ coming down to live among us during the Christmas season. I have tried to simplify by reducing dates and commitments and to focus more on the real meaning by deflecting or ignoring a lot of the commercialization of Christmas.

I started reading Advent devotionals leading up to Christmas. I began praying for a spirit of gratitude for receiving the most wonderful gift. I have become more aware on a daily basis of what Jesus did, making himself vulnerable to our cruel world by coming to earth as a baby just to save us.

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[Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash]

I look forward to reading Advent books again this Christmas season. There are many good ones. I am planning to reread The Heart of Bethlehem written by our FUMC friend, Carol Weaver. I also plan to attend my 24th consecutive Christmas Eve Communion at FUMC Jacksonville.

Father God, please help us to focus this Christmas season on receiving the Greatest Gift! Amen.

 Russell Edwards

Additional Scriptures: Hebrews 10:23-25, Psalm 121:1-2, Psalm 118:26-29

December 3

Advertising Christmas

“…And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”

Luke 1:45-49

Christmas is extremely commercialized, isn’t it?

Come on down and get a good deal on       (insert Christmas essential)       !

It’s what we now hear starting Thanksgiving Day.

Advent-Advertising-Christmas-FUMC.jpg[Photo by Heidi Sandstrom. on Unsplash]

Consequently, the coming of Jesus was, in some sense, advertised as well. You had the Old Testament prophets and scribes that foretold His coming. The birth of John the Baptist also pointed towards the birth of Christ. You had the star which led the wisemen, as well as angels who sang about His birth. News was going around and people were preparing themselves.

Why don’t we “advertise” too? As we move on in the season of Advent, let your lives and actions advertise and proclaim our foretold Messiah.

Andrew Thompson

Lord, bless us with the words and deeds to let others know You came to save us. May we be good advertisements for receiving the Greatest Gift ever given.

 Additional Scriptures: John 3:16-17, Romans 10:12-15, Colossians 3:12-15

Advent: Get Ready!

Advent: Get Ready
A Message on Luke 1:26-38
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Dec. 1, 2019
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Luke 1:26-38 (NRSV)

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

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Today marks the beginning of the Christian season of Advent, which is the first season of the Christian calendar. So, Happy Christian Calendar Year! Who’s got the blackeyed peas, collard greens, and corn bread? Let’s celebrate!

And yet we don’t think of Advent as being the beginning of a year, but it is. The word “Advent” comes from the Latin term adventus, which is the Greek translation of the word parousia, which roughly means “coming.”

For Christians Advent is a season of preparation, a period of looking forward, of anticipating and getting ready for the birth of the Christ Child.

In the scripture we read today from Luke we find the angel Gabriel telling Mary about what is going to happen. Mary is shocked, to say the least, and tries to point out the biological impossibility of what Gabriel is saying, but ends up accepting her role and being willing to serve God in a very unique way. She knows she and Joseph have some preparing to do.

I believe it is very unfortunate in our society that we have lost sight of the fact that Christmas is a religious holiday. Instead we are bombarded and overwhelmed with advertisements to shop and to buy. The only message we get in preparing for Christmas is to rush and make sure we buy the perfect presents for our loved ones. The message distorts and misrepresents love, convincing us that people will love us if we buy presents for them. And it’s a lie. A big fat lie. Fake news, if you will. But we believe it.

We believe it so much that we go deep into debt trying to make it happen. According to the InCharge Debt Solutions website it is anticipated that Americans will spend $730 billion (with a “b”) buying presents this Christmas season (based on information from the National Retail Federation). The average American will spend about $925 on gifts, and three out of four people will use credit cards to pay for some or all of those bills.

Say someone spends that $925 on gifts this year. If they make the minimum 2 percent payment on that amount that debt will be paid off in 2026, seven years from now. Not only that, but in addition to the original $925 they will be paying an additional $610 in interest costs, bringing the final total to $1,535! [Source: https://www.incharge.org/blog/how-to-avoid-debt-this-christmas/]

Bah humbug!

No. Advent isn’t about presents. It’s about Jesus. It’s about preparing our hearts and souls for the coming of the Christ child.

Now the liturgical colors we use for Advent is blue, but that is a relatively new development. Prior to that the color was purple, and purple is still acceptable to use. Purple is the color of preparation. Purple is the color of Lent, that period of time before Easter which is also a season of preparation.

Advent is not a time to shop but a time to get ready. People get ready.

If Jesus was coming to your house, what would you do? I’m guessing that you would do some cleaning. You would vacuum the carpet and mop the hard floors. You would fold and put up the clean laundry that has been in the basket in your laundry room that you have been using out of until it’s all gone and that’s when you know to do laundry again.

You would empty the dishwasher of the clean dishes, which you have also been using out of, and then load it with the dirty ones that have been stacked up high in the sink. You would clean the bathrooms real well, scrubbing until that ring in the toilet is gone. You would put out the nice towels, not the ol’ ratty everyday ones with holes in them.

You would go to the grocery store and stock up on food, and you would buy the name-brand green beans, not the generic ones.

You get the idea.

Advent, in a way, is a time for us to clean the house of our souls for the coming of Jesus. We need to repent of our sins and throw them out with the trash. We need to sweep the floors of our habits and scrub clean those habits that move us further away from God instead of moving us toward him. We need to clean the cobwebs of our mind to get rid of those things that make us focus on ourselves instead of others. We need to dust our souls to remove the layers of dirt and grime our society subtly places there day after day, and we need to polish the image that God gives us as his children.

We need to get ready. God comes to earth at Christmas not with great fanfare and publicity, but as a baby child born in an out-of-the-way place to a common, ordinary couple.

Jesus, being God, comes to earth not for selfish reasons, but to put on flesh and walk among us to teach us, to love us, and to die for us. We need to remember that. We need to always be mindful that the birth of Jesus at Christmas leads to the cross at Easter. The prophets of old said it would be, and it came into being at Christmas.

My challenge to you this Advent season is to prepare your heart and soul with the same effort and intensity you would use to prepare your house if Jesus was going to stop by. Respond like Mary, saying “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Let us get ready during this season of preparation by reading the Bible, by daily devotionals, and by keeping the main thing the main thing.

Happy Advent, everybody.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

December 2

Unto Us a Son

For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6

Each year as the Christmas season nears, I turn to a splendid celebration of His birth – Handel’s Messiah. As I read the words of the Scripture above, I always hum the song in my head from this amazing work of art.

I think about the people before Jesus’ birth, having only the words of the prophets and the hope of God’s promise that a Messiah is coming. I am blessed to be alive on the “after” side of His birth and know that He is the fulfillment of these prophecies. I marvel that a Child was born to save me, that the government is upon His shoulder and that I can call Him Wonderful, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Although Handel’s Messiah celebrates all aspects of Jesus’ life, His birth, His death and His resurrection, we’ve come to appreciate it mostly in the days leading up to our celebration of His birth. It is during this time that I long to hear it, in its entirety. Every year I faithfully pop in the DVD I have and follow along in the musical score. As is the tradition, I MUST stand during the Hallelujah chorus! As I soak in the loveliness of the music, the orchestra, the choir, the soloists, the words, I know that Jesus’ birth is a miracle. I know that He loves me. I know my life would be totally different had He not come, or hadn’t yet come.

Although we are inundated with secular songs during Christmas (many of which I adore), it is Handel’s Messiah that I wait for. I once had someone tell me that if he was allowed only one item on a desert island, it would be Handel’s Messiah. It is glorious music and the words of our Lord, all in one place. It is divine.

So as I get ready for Christmas, I will celebrate the birth of my Lord and my King by watching and listening to this marvelous oratorio, again and again!

Father, thank You for the blessing of this magnificent piece of music. Thank You for continually speaking to my heart through these words and music. And most importantly, thank You for sending Your Son; He will reign forever and ever! Hallelujah and Amen!

 Vicki Gilbreath

(Find Handel’s Messiah on youtube.com and join me this year. And don’t forget to stand up during the Hallelujah chorus!)

Additional readings: Colossians 3:16, Psalm 40:1-3

December 1: First Sunday in Advent

Advent is here and with it comes the first light of hope. Anticipation fills the air as we prepare to celebrate The Light of the World. This day is the beginning of all our watching and waiting and hoping.

What are you hoping for this year? What waiting lies deep in your heart? What keeps you watching with anticipation?

But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.

Micah 7:7

(Light the first Advent candle.)

The first candle is called the Prophet’s Candle. Prophets in the Old Testament told the Israelites a Savior was coming. Isaiah and Micah spoke words of hope to God’s children and they waited and watched for the signs of the coming Savior.

We see signs of the day approaching to celebrate the Savior’s birth too. Stockings hang waiting to be filled, wreaths of green welcome us home, and the music of the season fills our ears. There’s just something special about this time of year. Smiles are brighter and eyes twinkle a bit more. This is Advent and with it comes the spark of hope that lights our first candle.

Yet our hope goes much deeper than presents under trees or the special foods we enjoy.

Read Luke 1:26-28

Gabriel’s greeting to Mary were words of hope, the same words of hope for us this season: You are favored by the Lord. The Lord is with you! (Luke 1:28)

The light of the first candle reminds us we are favored by God. We are chosen to watch and wait with hope for the coming of the King. The words of Micah ring true. God hears us and is with us. This is our hope. This is the hope of the world!

Sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”:

O come, Thou Day-Spring

Come and cheer

Our spirits by Thine advent here

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night

And death’s dark shadows put to flight

Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, O Israel

Lord of Hope, fill us with the light of Your love this Advent. Help us to shine hope into the world. Thank You for hearing us, for being with us. Amen.

Additional Scriptures: Psalm 119:81, Isaiah 40:30-31, Jeremiah 29:11

Advent 2019-Devotional-FUMC

[Photo by Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash]

The Advent Wreath: A Brief History

Merriam-Webster’s defines advent as “the arrival or coming of something.” For Believers it is the season we prepare to remember the birth of Jesus.

Arrivals usually come with signs. Spring arrives with showers and wildflowers. Summer with red ripe tomatoes and hot days. Autumn with changing leaves that fall to the ground. Winter brings shorter days and long nights. When you enter the sanctuary tomorrow — the First Sunday of Advent — look for the signs of the season. One consistent sign of the beginning of Advent in our sanctuary is the Advent Wreath.

While the tradition of the Advent Wreath is observed in our corporate worship, it was originally created for home devotions. Originating in German and Scandinavian homes, families lit candles to observe the corresponding weeks of Advent, marking the coming of Christmas with a time of prayer, either at dinner or in the evening.

The color of the candles was insignificant, and the configuration of the candles did not matter — whether they were in a straight line or a circle. What mattered was the marking of the weeks and the increased light of each additional candle in the face of the increasing darkness accompanying the winter solstice. (www.umc.org)

Creating an Advent Wreath at home is a wonderful reminder of the reason we celebrate. A way for families to prayerfully mark the days until the time of celebrating the arrival of the Babe in the manger. Each Sunday’s devotional is designed to use as you and your family gather around your Advent wreath to celebrate the light of Jesus coming into the world.

Advent Wreath-Devotional-FUMC.jpg[Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash]

Gather your family together and create an Advent “wreath,” whether a circle or line. A quick Google search provides countless ideas to get you started. No matter how you make your wreath you will need four candles and a heart prepared to seek God: Father, Son, and Spirit.

Grow Team