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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!

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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

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

 

Preparing Hearts, Minds, and Homes for the Christmas Season

Welcome!

It’s almost time for First United Methodist Church Jacksonville to celebrate Advent!

Members and friends of this church have written daily devotionals. There is a devotional for every day during the season of Advent, which runs from December 1 to December 25.

Advent is a time of preparation, a time of contemplation. Our prayer is that through the stories and Scriptures you will prepare your heart and soul to celebrate the birth of the Christ child.

I encourage you to create time within each day to sit down and read these devotionals, looking up the Scriptures in your Bible, and contemplating the miraculous event that changed the world that is known as Christmas.

Come, let us adore Him!

Rev. Doug Wintermute, Pastor of Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

Songs of Praise: Psalm 123-126

Today’s readings: Psalm 123-126 [Click the reference to read online.]

To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens! Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he has mercy on us.

Psalm 123:1-2

God sent me to Psalm 123 as my life reeled from devastating news. My feet couldn’t find a firm place to stand.

When a moment came I could finally consider this psalm, I heard Him say: Trust Me. Watch. Wait. I will have mercy.

The circumstance didn’t end as I would’ve chosen. But I did clearly see His mercy through and through. And I learned to look to Him as a maid to her mistress, trust Him, and wait when life careens out of control.

Looking at these four psalms in context today, stringing them together, I see the blessings of setting our eyes on the Lord as a servant to His Master. From the perspective and attitude of being fully obedient to His Way, we find security, peace, protection, strength, and mercy when the trap has been set, the enemy attacks, and circumstances rage out of control around us.

Submitting ourselves wholly to God as Lord and Master, keeping our gaze fixed on Him alone, trusting Him with all we are and have, we find His mercy and discover Him trustworthy. No matter what circumstances threaten, He surrounds and encircles us as a mountain range.

He is trustworthy, even in the most devastating of circumstances. I know.

Choose to serve Him only. Not self. Not the things of the world. Nothing else will provide what we need to survive the perils of this dark broken world.

Today, I ask you to submit to Him fully as your Lord. List your fears and wants. Bring them before Him and say:

I want to serve You with all I have. I want what You want. Teach me to serve You. I will wait for You to direct me at home, work, and play. I want to know the joy of Your work in my life, bringing mercy and joy out of all I face. You are trustworthy.

Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!

Psalm 126:5

Lord, may all my tearful sowing be in full obedience to You. I know serving You alone secures my life and brings me to a place of  eternal joy.

[Featured Image Photo seen on website by Andrew Ruiz on Unsplash]

Songs of Praise: Psalm 119:145-176

We begin the week with the final stanzas of Psalm 119. Read the verses in your Bible or click the reference to read online: Psalm 119:145-176.

At the heart of our passage today is a verse I discovered several years ago and hold onto as a promise and precept to pursue.

Great peace have those who love your law; and nothing shall make them stumble.

Psalm 119:165 ESV

The King James Version was the one I found first and memorized:

Great peace have they which love thy law: And nothing shall offend them.

If I found myself offended by another, my peace disturbed, then I concluded I must not be loving His law. I would search my heart, ask Him where I was failing to love His law, and to fill me with the great peace He promised in return.

You see, the whole of His law is wrapped up in loving Him by loving others the way He calls us to.

For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Galatians 5:14 ESV

When we find ourselves offended by someone, we are most likely looking out for self, loving ourselves more than Him or others.

To be offended by another is to stumble in the law when the whole law is fulfilled in: Love your neighbor as yourself.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

1Corinthians 13:4-7 NIV

His definition of love does not leave much room for being offended by another. Jesus also told us:

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

John 15:13 ESV

When we lay down our lives, we lay down our rights, our way, our pride. We trust God’s sovereignty, His judgment, and His setting all things right in the end. We will not miss out on what really matters. And peace will be ours in abundance, no matter how others treat us.

Have you found yourself offended lately? Did you sin in your anger? stumble over your pride?

To love His law is to give others the same grace He gives us. When we love His Word in all the ways described by the psalmist in these 176 verses, we love like Him. Without being offended.

And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Luke 23:24 ESV

Oh Lord, teach me, grow me, to love Your law, Your Word, with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. Fill me with Your love for others. Fill me with Your great peace.

[Featured Image Photo seen on website by Chelsea Bock on Unsplash]