Posts

December 25: Christmas Day

Love Came Down

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16

On Christmas Eve when I was young my family traveled to my grandparents’ home. The house was always full of good food and fun. We opened presents and played dominoes. When it was time, one of the adults in the house proclaimed, “It’s time to go.”

We bundled up and headed over to my cousin’s church. Watching the houses decorated in lights go by, the loud of the day drifted away. The hush of anticipation filled the air as we took our seats in the sanctuary.

Cousins dressed as angels and shepherds made their way to the manger. I listened as they told about Mary and Joseph’s journey, and my heart overflowed when they placed the babe in the manger. I’m not sure how to express the love I encountered in that church. If it had a smell or a sound, I experienced it there. It was in that place I experienced what holy felt like for the first time.

I’m much older now, but I can still feel it. My heart overflows when I consider Love lying there in the manger. The same Love that makes its way to the cross to save you and me. Love that transforms hearts and makes us holy. Love so deep I cannot fathom, so wide I cannot cross.

Love came down at Christmas, and I will never be the same.

Don’t let this day pass by without lighting your Advent candles. Ring the bells! Sing out loud! Hug tighter and smile brighter.

Christmas-Love-Jesus-FUMC-Advent.jpg[Photo by Chad Madden on Unsplash]

For this is Christmas Day! This is the day our hearts become holy with the light of Love, and it’s the most precious gift of all.

Stacy Boyer

Oh God! Your incredible love for Your creation overwhelms. To think of You – Father, Son, Holy Spirit – separating Yourself in such a way to make the Way for us to return to You is truly awesome. Fill us with the wonder of Your love for us and bless us with the faith to love others the way You love us. Amen.

Additional readings: John 1:14, 1Corinthians 13:4-13, 1John 4:9-10

December 20

The Season of Light

 The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.

Isaiah 9:2

Two times I’ve really paid attention to light versus dark. Well, maybe just one time as the other just hit me as I was writing this devotional.

The first was on a mission trip to Ojeto, Utah to help a sister church on the Navajo Reservation. We would go out on the Mesa for the evening devotions. One night as I was laying back, looking at the night sky, the stars stunned me. They were so close, so enormous and profuse. To me it seemed that they refused to be blanketed by the night sky, nothing could keep them from shining. It was like a curtain had been hung with holes in it that allowed the light to penetrate, so brightly it lit up the night.

The second was the realization that Christmas is all about lights. We put them on trees and houses and buildings. There is something so special about driving around the neighborhood, in the dark evening, looking at Christmas decorations. Lights everywhere… glowing, sparkling… they fill us with joy and wonder. We ride in the car with the kids and point, Oh, look at that one. (And wonder how in the world people got lights way up there).

Light-Jesus-Faith-Hope-Advent-FUMC.jpg[Photo by Jonathan Chng on Unsplash]

Then there is the tree in the living room. A tradition. It goes up every year even though it seems like a lot of trouble. Drag out the boxes and haul them to the living room. The strings of lights are twisted and when plugged in don’t work. Argh! And, you thought romantically, sentimentally, that it would be a family affair. Think again, you are home alone. Then the strategy of placing each ornament in the perfect place. Tedious is the word that comes to mind.

But, then comes the evening and you plug the tree in and stand back, and well, it takes your breath away as you bask in the warmth of the glow. The feeling those glowing lights bring, of peace and hope, into the heart of where you live.

Yet, in all this time, all these years, I’ve never connected those lights to the fact that Jesus is the great Light for our souls. Bringing us out of spiritual darkness so we can embrace God’s love for us. And then we, like the stars, reflect the glory of God and shine God’s love to a dark world.

And we certainly can’t forget the star over the manger sent by God… the light that guided the wise men to the Babe in the stable. The light that celebrated this amazing event, God coming to dwell among his people.

There is a song:

Walk in the light, the beautiful light.

Come where the dewdrops of mercy shine bright.

Shine all around us by day and by night.

Jesus the light of the world.

Jesus came as the Light. We as His disciples reflect His light. But mostly we thank God who sent Jesus, the Light, who takes us out of the darkness.

Linda Baker

Jesus, thank You for rescuing us from the darkness and making the way for us to come into Your Kingdom of Light. May we shine Your love and mercy like stars splashed across the night sky.

 Additional Scriptures: Genesis 1:1-4, John 1:1-5, Luke 1:76-79, John 8:12

December 17

Pregnant with the Promises of God

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.

Luke 1:1-4 NASB

For many years, my preparation for celebrating Christmas focused on the story of Jesus’s birth. Looking into the Nativity story beyond the superficial facts into the deeper teachings of God’s Word woven into this story.

Becoming a Believer at 33 years old with three small children, five-years-old and younger, provided the perfect incentive to seek the truths found in Jesus’s story and share what I discovered with them. It was all new to me too.

The heart of my preparation for Christmas was to know more about Jesus, the One who captured my heart, and share Him with others. The continuing practice of preparing each year through reading the stories surrounding His birth led me deeper and deeper into a passion for Him, and like Luke, for others to know Him. Not just know about Him but know Him!

After many years, those moments with my children, the study and spending time with Him in His Word, became a series of twenty-five devotionals I published into a book: The Heart of Bethlehem. This was an unexpected result of pursuing Him in His Word, because I didn’t set out to write a book. I simply set out to know who He was and share Him with my children.

Mary and Elizabeth are the two mothers central to the Nativity story. They both experienced supernatural births. Elizabeth, old, barren, way past menopause, carried her firstborn son who was designated by God to prepare the way for Jesus in the world (Isaiah 40:3). Mary, a virgin, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and carried the Son of God (Isaiah 7:14). Both believing women, both familiar with the truths planted in their hearts from the Word, both pregnant with the promises of God.

Pregnant-Promises-Fruitful-God's Glory-FUMC.jpg[Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash]

The Truth was planted in my heart, and after a very long gestation period, a devotional book was born to help others see the Extraordinary God we have: One who takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary. All who receive the wonder of His Truth, Way, and Life enter into an extraordinary journey too.

Once we come to know Jesus, every Believer is implanted with the Truth and becomes pregnant with the promises of God. Each of us as followers of Christ carry around a promise of peace, hope, restoration, love, and grace. With time and obedience, something will be birthed through us to help others know God and His glory.

What promise has He planted in you? How are you preparing for Him to use you to fulfill His promise to a dark hurting world?

Begin asking God to prepare you to be used for the building up of His Kingdom and as a means of fulfilling His promise to all creation.

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.

Romans 8:18 ESV

Lord, reveal the promise of the Holy Spirit You’ve implanted in me. Grow the gifts, the graces, and the power You’ve given me, to glorify You in the world. Amen.

 Additional Scriptures: Philippians 1:9-11, Colossians 1:3-6, Luke 8:9-15, John 15:5

Carol Weaver

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 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 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

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.

Advent-Devotional-FUMC-Fatih.jpg

[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