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Advent 2020: Jesus’s Desire

Joy begins with Jesus.

Monday, November 30

The day after the First Sunday in Advent is ALWAYS Monday. Mondays are typically busy back-to-the-weekly-grind days, especially after a Thanksgiving weekend. And now, with Christmas so near, for many the days get even more packed and schedules a bit tighter.

We hope you’ll withdraw from the hectic of the season to draw near the heart of the Season through the words of John Piper in Joy to the World.


Read the Introduction to Joy to the World.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Reflect.

What does Jesus want this Christmas according to John Piper?

Jesus wants us to have eyes to see things as they REALLY are. To see that true JOY begins with Him.

Jesus,
Our Savior, Redeemer, Restorer,
Yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

He is our source of timeless joy and peace.


Christians… people who have “received” Jesus as the crucified and risen Savior and Lord and Treasure of their lives…

John Piper, Joy to the World

Do you treasure Jesus? Do thoughts of Him fill you with joy?

What does bring you joy these days? Where do you find peace?
Are these unfailing sources of joy and peace? Or are they temperamental? undependable?

How do you see Jesus these days? What place does He have in your daily life?

Ask God to open your heart to see Jesus according to His desire for you, to see things as they REALLY are. Ask Him to prepare your heart to receive the timeless JOY that begins with Jesus.

Oh come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.
Psalm 95:1-3 ESV

[Feature Image Photo by Max Beck on Unsplash]

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 24

Advent Excitement

When I was a young child growing up in Cooper, Texas, my family attended church that had a children’s choir. I remember one fall the children’s choir was going to have a singing performance as part of the church’s Advent celebration.

I am one of six children, so our family made up the bulk of the children’s choir. We practiced for weeks and weeks until the night of the performance came. I remember putting on our costumes. I was a shepherd, my youngest brother was a sheep, and my younger sister was an angel, complete with wings and even a wire halo.

Advent-Holy Spirit-Faith-Light-FUMC.jpg[Photo by Chris Sowder on Unsplash]

The performance was held at night and the last song was to feature each of us children holding a candle while singing. The plan was then for one member of the children’s choir to light the candle of a congregation member, and then the light would be passed around from member to member until the small sanctuary was beautifully illuminated by candlelight.

I remember being excited, even though my costume was itchy. As we stood in the choir loft looking out at the congregation, I remember looking forward to holding a lit candle.

When the time came, us children started lighting our candles. Everyone got their candle lit and we started singing our final song (I don’t even remember what it was). All went well… for a while. Then my younger brother, who was standing in the row behind my sister, somehow got his candle too close to the back of my sister’s head and set her hair on fire. My sister, unaware of the growing inferno behind her, continued singing while holding her candle in front of her. As the flames grew higher one of my older sisters, also standing behind, saw the growing fire and quickly slapped her hands together on the flaming hair, putting it out. The smell of burnt hair began to fill the sanctuary, but my younger sister, unaware that anything had happened, kept on singing.

Each Advent season I am reminded of that event. In remembering it I also learn from it. John Wesley purportedly once said, “Light yourself on fire with passion and people will come from miles to watch you burn.” I don’t advocate setting one’s hair on fire, but I do believe it is good advice to metaphorically set ourselves on fire with the Holy Spirit. When Christians are filled with the Holy Spirit amazing things happen, and people, especially the unchurched, take notice.

Another thing this memory reminds me of is to keep singing. No matter what happens in our lives, do like my sister did with her hair on fire and keep singing. Don’t let the things of this world keep us from singing our praises to God. Keep on singing.

God came to earth in human form at Christmas. The Savior is born not with great earthly acclaim, but in a small, humble way. And yet this Baby, the Savior of the world, changes everything. And that is worth singing about.

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. …”

Matthew 3:11

Doug Wintermute, Pastor

Father God, fill our mouths with songs of praise for all You’ve done, are doing, and have planned for us as Your people. May we see the work of Your hand and glorify You in all we do. Amen.

 Additional readings: 1Thessalonians 5:19, Romans 15:13, Psalm 40:16

December 23

God’s Provision: The Magi

 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? … After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way. Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.”

Matthew 2:1-2, 11-13

Recently, I read an article titled: What happened to the gold, frankincense and myrrh the Magi brought Jesus? The article explores the incredible wealth Jesus’s family received from the Magi. The scholars who researched this question estimated in today’s dollars it was approximately $4,000,000.00. The Magi weren’t kings but priests and astronomers from an ancient religion practiced in Persia for a millennium. Their caravan probably traveled several months to years and arrived in Bethlehem 2-3 years after Jesus’s birth. They knew of the prophesies of a Jewish messiah from the exiled Jews living in Babylon. As interesting as this question is it occurred to me that the real lesson in this part of “The Christmas Story” is God’s provision for Jesus’s family. It shows details of God’s complicated plan for Our Savior, just think how many things God put in place so we could reconcile with Our heavenly Father.

The Magi find Jesus and his family living in Bethlehem in a house not a stable. Joseph is making a living as a tradesman, either as a carpenter or more likely a mason. Since they are still in Bethlehem two years after Jesus’s birth, it is unlikely they had the money to travel back to Nazareth. But God had a plan. First, He provides for the holy family material needs with the gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These treasures could be used to escape to Egypt and live. Then, He warned the Magi and Joseph of the impending danger to Jesus in separate dreams. Then the Magi and the holy family leave Bethlehem, maybe in the same caravan. The holy family traveling within a caravan of maybe a hundred or so people would have provided safety.

Prepare-Wisemen-Advent-Nativity-FUMC.jpg[Photo by Inbal Malca on Unsplash]

Joseph, Mary, and Jesus go and live in Egypt until God tells them it safe to return, approximately two years later. The treasure provides money for Joseph to buy tools to make a living while in Egypt. It also funds the return trip to Nazareth.

I believe it also provided for Jesus’s education and ministry, if we examine the Scriptures, they reveal Jesus as a very educated man in a time most people could not read or write but learned parts of the Torah from oral tradition.

Conclusion: God knew what was going to happen to Joseph, Mary, and Jesus years before it occurred, and He provided for them. God orchestrated the events in their lives for their good and His purpose. I believe God provides for all His children who love Him. Scriptures say God works all things for the good of those who love Him.  Think about it; all things: good, bad, godly, ungodly, natural and the miraculous. Sometimes God’s provisions come from unlikely sources; natural, everyday events, some may not seem godly. Usually God’s provision is not miraculous, but mundane everyday stuff. The next time you’re fearful or concerned about something in your life, pray and remember God already knows your concerns and has a plan in place. You just have to have the courage to follow God’s guidance. God will provide for your needs and desires before you know yourself.

Dear Father God, creator and owner of all things. We thank You for our blessings; our loved ones, spiritual gifts, and material wealth. Without You, we would be nothing. We thank You for Your provision in our lives. Most of all, we thank You for Jesus and His wonderful gift of salvation. AMEN.

 Jack Carter

Additional Scripture: Matthew 6:25-33

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 19

Chosen to Share the Good News

 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 a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, 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 praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Luke 2:8-20

In the time that Jesus was born, shepherds were not considered important people, but God chose to tell them about Jesus’s birth. The shepherds hurried off to see for themselves, and when they saw Him, they were excited to tell others about the baby Jesus.

Sometimes, we may not feel like we are very important. But God does not see us the way we see ourselves. He knows everything about us and still loved us enough to send Jesus to save us. We should be like the shepherds when they heard the news from the angels about Jesus being born – we can be excited and hurry and tell everyone that Jesus is born, and He is all the reason we need to celebrate Christmas.

Paxton's Pic.jpg

Dear God, thank You for sending Your Son, Jesus. Help us to be brave like the shepherds and share the news of Jesus and of Your love for us all. Amen.

 Paxton Johnson

Additional Scriptures: Romans 10:15, Psalm 8, 1Peter 2:9

December 18

The Light of the World

We have observed His star at its rising and have come to pay Him homage.

Matthew 2:1

During this season of Advent, we are preparing our hearts and minds for the celebration of the birth of our Savior: The Light of the World. We are remembering the beautiful stories of the announcement by the angel to Mary; the shepherds leaving their flocks to find this One being heralded by heavenly hosts and brightness all around; the journey of the Wise Men following the bright star. Seems all have been guided by a great light.

Light-Follow-Advent-Faith-FUMC.jpg[Photo by Jonathan Meyer on Unsplash]

It is not surprising that the arrival of Jesus is heralded by light as He is often referred to in Scripture as “the light of the world.” At Christmastime the oft told story of the Wise Men following a bright light in the sky should lead each of us to reflect upon the question: What light is leading me?

We must remember the light of Christ is the internal light of the Holy Spirit and is discernable to a dark lost world only when we allow the love of Christ to shine through us in word and deed.

Do I respond when God calls me? Oh, not through an angel who comes in the night to speak to me, but perhaps through the appearance of someone in a needy situation, someone suffering through grief in the loss of a loved one, the call to mend a friendship or enmity with a family member. When God calls to you do you wonder how to respond? Does God’s purpose flicker like a flame in a sudden breeze and go out by no response? Or does your flame (light) burn even brighter and strong, “Here I am, Lord.”?

Let each of us focus on the light of Christ within and keep it burning brightly, so that it can shine brightly through us to transform the world as we prepare for the celebration of Christ’s birth. Advent is a time of preparation of our hearts to remember:

  • He has given us eternal life.
  • He has given us His Holy Word.
  • He has given us His Son – His choicest gift.
  • He has given us the Holy Spirit.

 Therefore, we have abundant reason for joy and thanksgiving as we prepare our hearts and lives for the celebration of Jesus’s birth!

Dear Lord, allow me to focus on Your Light, stand in Your Light, and allow You to project Your Light through me. May I stay focused on YOU during this Season of Advent. Amen.

 Helen Drummond

Additional readings: Philippians 2:14-15, 1Thessalonians 5:16-22, Matthew 5:14-16

December 16

Keeping Watch

“In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.”

Luke 2: 8

In our day and time, there are not many shepherds living in the fields, nor are their many cowboys riding the range. The closest we have to such livelihoods are the military stationed in combat or training operations.

Moreover, guarding sheep from predators is similar to troops’ nighttime guard duty protecting personnel from attackers. Being out of doors keeps us in contact with nature and God’s creation. Looking at the stars in heaven is humbling and inspiring.

Now, as was then, we long for better times and better lives. Imagine then the awe and trembling at receiving a sign from God in the heavens. The shepherds heard angels singing on high, and their joyful song of hope and salvation still sounds all around us, indoors and out.

Shepherds-Advent-Waiting-Watching-FUMC.jpg[Photo by Dan Kiefer on Unsplash]

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased,”

Luke 2:14

Sam Hopkins, Chaplain U.S. Army, ret.

Lord, keep me attentive for Your return and for the attack of the enemy. Prepare me with the faith to wear Your armor each day. Teach me to effectively wield the sword of the Spirit, which is Your Word.

 Additional readings: Ephesians 6:10-17, Romans 13:10-12

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