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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 21

Life… It Happens

 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Philippians 4:6

As most everyone knows, I have had some “situations” in my life this year that have tested my ability to face them. For several years I have either flown or driven to Central Ohio to check on my mother every 6 weeks or 2 months. She was in a nursing home nearly 10 years as her health declined steadily. During that time, I have also gone to Ohio to attend the birthdays and funerals of my extended family for my immediate family as I am the oldest in my family.

All that pressure wore on me and made me question my devotion to my mother in Ohio and my family here in Texas. Every time I let myself question where I needed to be, God would show me that my mother and my family here supported me no matter where I was. It was at those stressful times that I would slow down and pray for help so that I would know where I belonged. (I pray at all times, but this was when I would stop and pray specifically about my concerns.)

Finally, on July 4th of this year, my mother joined my dad, the angels and God. I truly believe she is doing everything now with my dad as she plays piano, sews, crochets and cooks happily.

Life-Baking-Fruitful-Serving-Love-Advent-FUMC.jpg[Photo by Gabriel on Unsplash]

I thank the Lord that He has given me the peace and understanding of where I belong. I am glad to have done what I did, but I am glad to be here.

Jackie Gruber

Father God, life doesn’t stop for holidays and Jesus showed up in the middle of it all. Not many took notice of His arrival because of politics, religion, illness, financial needs, family concerns. Show us this Christmas season how You came to be with us in all of life. To show us the way through it and reveal Your love for us. May we find Your peace and put our hope in You as we walk through the daily drama of life both expected and unexpected. Amen.

 Additional Scriptures: 2Corinthians 5:14-15, John 10:9-10, Philippians 1:21-24, 2Thessalonians 1:11-12

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 15: Third Sunday in Advent

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.

Psalm 23:1

(Light the first Advent candle.)

Hope began the journey this Advent season. Hope continues to fuel our faith as we wait for the coming Messiah.

(Light the second Advent candle.)

Third Sunday Advent-Joy-Shepherds-FUMC.jpg[Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash]

Light grows with the lighting of the second candle just like God’s gift of faith grows in us. Faith shines its light in the dark places of our hearts and lives.

(Light the third Advent candle.)

Today we light the third candle and it brings even more light to the world around us filling our hearts with joy. Some call this the Shepherd’s Candle.

Read Luke 2:8-15

The shepherds in the fields were some of the first to hear the joyous news of Jesus’s birth. Why shepherds? Why not the kings and queens or religious leaders? Why not tell the news to those in society’s high places?

Instead God chose some of the lowliest people to share the greatest joy while they were doing the most ordinary of things… working. Think about the ordinary things you do each day. What would it be like for God to interrupt your ordinary? What good news might God share with you? How would it make you feel?

Hope sparks the beginning of our Advent journey and fuels the flames of faith. The two shine brighter together than alone, and when united they ignite our joy. Joyful anticipation of celebrating the infant King. Joy in the news the Savior is born. Like the shepherds in the fields we feel like we must do something.

Advent has us doing lots of “somethings.” People bustle from place to place to find the perfect gift, some prepare for family gatherings, while others rush to check off the final things on their list. The Christmas season has become a bit hurried, and it doesn’t always feel joyful.

Here in the middle of the season we might need an angelic reminder. We need to hear the Good News to interrupt our ordinary Advent. Shining the joyful light of the season needs to become more intentional in the midst of the busy.

Listen. God has news that will bring you great joy. News that interrupts your ordinary and urges you to go. Go and see the tiny Babe in Bethlehem. Journey away for a moment from all the Christmas crazy and relish in the joy of this moment. A moment full of hope and faith and the Light of the World dawning.

Sing “Joy to the World”:

Joy to the world, the Lord is come

Let earth receive her King

Let every heart prepare him room

And heaven and nature sing

And heaven and nature sing

And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.

Spirit of Joy, fill our hearts with Good News. For unto us a Savior is born, unto us a Son is given. And we will call Him… Redeemer and Friend. Joy to the world! Amen.

Additional Scriptures: Romans 12:12, Psalm 47:1, 1Peter 1:8-9

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 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