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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 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

Another Side of Sunday: A Weekend Reminder

We can find joy in the slowing of a weekend. Celebrating worship, rest, and fellowship give us an opportunity to let the work week go and experience renewed joy.  Remember the children sharing a joyful song Sunday?

“I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.”

“Where?”

Where have you experienced the most joy this week?

What during the week seemed to steal your joy? Was it a circumstance? Someone’s action? Your own actions?

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:2-4

May you count it all joy as you enjoy your weekend. Here’s a little something to bring a smile to your face and joy to your heart.

Another Side of Sunday: Recipe for Joy

A new teaching series began this week: Christian Characteristics. Merriam-Webster’s defines characteristic as “a distinguishing trait, quality or property.” Believers have traits, qualities, and properties that set them apart, and these characteristics draw others to Jesus.

Sunday’s focus was joy.

Before we go any further take a moment to consider yourself when it comes to joy. Ask a trusted friend, “Do you consider me to be joy-full?”

I am reminded of a recipe I once heard or read. I believe it still rings true. A simple acronym provides us a recipe for joy.

Jesus… Others… You…

This is not one of those recipes where the ingredients can be thrown into a bowl and mixed. Order is of great importance. As Believers when we align our thoughts and actions in this way (Jesus, Others, You) joy becomes a part of who we are in Christ.

I see it reflected in Sunday’s Scripture.

According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

1 Peter 1:3-5 (emphasis added)

Jesus ushers us into new life the moment we decide to follow Him. As we put Him first in our daily walk, our faith continues to grow and God’s power resides in us.

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 1:6-7 (emphasis added)

Followers of Jesus aren’t guaranteed a rosy life on easy street. We face trials and heartache and pain. These are used to refine our character, create genuine faith, and connect us to others. The hard in our lives is exactly where Jesus reveals Himself to others through us.

 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

1 Peter 1:8-9 (emphasis added)

You and I are the ones who reap the benefit of this recipe. Take a look at how many times you see the word “you” in the Scripture.

YOU love Him, YOU believe in Him, obtaining the outcome of YOUR faith, the salvation of YOUR souls.

In Galatians 5:22 joy is found in the list of the fruit of the Spirit. As we put Jesus and others before ourselves, joy naturally springs forth. It’s not something we can manufacture or pretend to have. It is a gift, a supernatural working of the Spirit in us.

Are you missing joy in your life? Do you find yourself grumpy, critical, or bitter? Is it time to try a new recipe?

Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”

Matthew 22:37-40  The Message

Father, so many times I have placed my happiness as my priority. I want life to be fun and full of joy. I’m sorry for the moments I’ve gotten mixed up in thinking something or someone will bring me joy. You and You alone are the One who can bring me joy. Guide me to put You first and to love You more and more each day. Show me how to share Your love with others. Amen.

[Feature Image Photo on blog by Aaron Burden on Unsplash]

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]