Christmas Eve

AdventwreathMerry Christmas! This is my last entry for our 2014 Advent devotional. In January 2015 this site will undergo some changes, but remain dedicated to devotions and reflections together. The point of this has been and will be that God is worth talking about. And we tend to talk about Him in groups. This is what church is. Christmas Eve is a day for church, a day for talking and singing to and about God, a day for worshipping Him. Think of what He’s done for us. The story of the birth of Christ tells us many things, here are a few:

1) God has had a plan for saving us since before we were born. I know this can raise hard questions, but, for me, no question blocks the light of hope and care that emits from a settled understanding of God’s timeless, sovereign love.

2) This timeless love of God is a person, not an idea. Jesus Christ was born of a woman on earth. He was and is a person.

3) Though Christ is timeless, He’s also timely. His birth was perfectly timed in history. Everything He does in our lives also is perfectly timed, though this can sometimes be impossible to see or appreciate. He came when, where, how, and why the prophets foretold.

  • Micah 5:2
    “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”
  • Isaiah 9:6
    For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
  • Luke 2:11
    Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.

Lord, in the fullness of time You came and You’ll come again to set us free from sin and death and restore all that’s been lost or taken. You’ve come to set things right. By faith in You we can live and rejoice. Thank You for this season and this life of Advent! Amen.

A Wonderful Life

Read 2nd Corinthians 5:11-21

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is the favorite holiday movie for millions of people. It reminds those of us who feel insignificant that if we live well, our significance is guaranteed. This may be true, but it is not the primary meaning of Christmas. This story could be told any time of the year. It just happens to be set in Christmas. Even after watching it dozens of time, too many people don’t experience what it promises. This is because the movie does not make a point that needs to be made in their lives. We all do well to remember that we DO NOT get our significance from our own actions or lives. Especially as Christians, we believe that we get our significance ONLY from Jesus’ life. Our good lives, if we live good lives, flow as a response to His Great Life. Even the applause and appreciation that our good lives may earn us can do nothing to satisfy our real hunger. Many people just like George Bailey have jumped off the bridge despite being loved by their communities. A real angel, unlike Clarence, would not so much try to remind George of his personal value, but of God’s value. Only Jesus Christ really saves lives and gives new hope. “It’s a Wonderful Life” really is a great movie. I love it, but the story of the Nativity is, of course, much better, much more heart-warming, much more of what we all need when we feel like nothing. Our separation from God, not our messy lives, leads to real despair. Come home to Jesus this Christmas.

Lord, thank You for the things that have turned out well in my life. Cover the things that haven’t. Forgive me. Forgive me especially for the sin of any despair I’ve chosen to indulge in. I don’t live for me; I live for, in, and because of You. Thank You for giving me Your wonderful life. Amen.

Decorations

Read John 6:44-51

Decorations are a big part of Christmas. Some people go overboard in decorating their homes or yards or both. Such spectacles catch the eye. Most people will at least smile at seeing one. Sometimes, though, it seems like the story of Jesus’ birth is just part of the holiday decorations. It’s pretty to look at, but not very useful in daily life. It’s sweet and beautiful, but not important. Make sure you don’t make this mistake. Nothing is more important than the story of Jesus Christ. Your eternal destiny hinges on your response to it. Jesus didn’t just come to decorate history. He came to change it and then to own it. The baby in the manger is the King of the Universe and the Lord of all Creation. He’s more than cute. In fact, His helplessness is ours that He took on Himself and conquered through the cross and the empty tomb. Even as a baby, He was and is the mightiest warrior of warriors. Religion can exist on decorations, but saving faith needs a real Savior. This Savior is Jesus. He is no decoration. He is the bread of life.

Lord, my eyes may delight in the delightful parts of the holidays, but my heart desires You above all. I rejoice in Your provision Lord. I am humbled by the truth of who Jesus was and is. The world doesn’t know You, but, somehow, I do. How can this be? How is it that You love me this much? I am speechless.

Held Together

Read Psalm 34:17-19scotch_tape2a According to its web site, the makers of Scotch Tape (a brand like Kleenex, whose name is often used as the name for the product itself) produce enough tape each year to go around the earth 165 times. It is about 80 years old and started as a “make do” product to help people in the depression. It is a major ingredient of Christmas. “Where’s the Scotch Tape?” is a serious question in millions of homes in December. Many children’s shows about Christmas begin with the plot twist of Christmas being cancelled this year. None have yet used the obvious. If the Scotch Tape isn’t found, all Christmas processes and production are threatened. Forget Santa. I need the tape now. For some of us, there can never be enough Scotch Tape. If it’s time to wrap, I feel vulnerable if I only locate one roll. I prefer to have two or three on hand. Scotch Tape holds things together. Well, so does Jesus. It’s far from all He does for us, and all He does for us is not the sum total, by any stretch, of Who He is to be to us or for us. He does, however, hold us together. He holds me together anyway. It’s a simple thing to be grateful for. Lord, I’m held together by Your real presence and reliable promises. Exhaustion competes with my awareness of Your grace. I can be tempted to resent Christmas. I can be spiritually ridiculous when I’m exposed by my weariness. Restore warmth and light to my mind and life. Restore me. You’re the only one who can. Since I can trust You on my worst days, let me rest in You today. Amen.

Enjoying Christmas

Read Isaiah 9:2-3

Christmas and diets don’t go together well. They shouldn’t. Christmas is a time for feasting. The good news, for those who don’t want to gain weight, is that the feasting doesn’t have to be on rich food. It can be on other things, better things, more satisfying things. We can feast on and enjoy…

1) Tradition – Tradition gets a bad rap, but it is meant to be enjoyed. We don’t worship it, just like we don’t worship food. Advent and Christmas are pregnant with tradition. (Strange pun intended.) Few things are as sweet as special family or personal traditions. If you don’t have any, this is the year to come up with some. The best traditions teach Christ. Advent wreaths and carol singing can serve as examples. Cooking, crafts, special films and shows, outings to get a tree, and old CDs of Christmas music are a few other examples. These are things that can be feasted on.

2) Rest – Christmas for many (not me at all!) represents time off and rest. Employers struggle sometimes to know when to let employees take off. Work production slows as people relax and their minds get carried away with the season. This is good. Millions and millions of working people are remembering their humanity and what matters most in life. What matters most is never work. The final days of December are a sabbath for many. They are meant to be feasted on as such. Rest and rest some more. Sleep in. Resist all temptations to be productive. If you have shopping, cleaning up, wrapping, or other things left to do, make sure you rest in doing them. They’re fun, not work. Have fun. (Fun, at its best, is a powerful form of rest.)

3) Scripture – The season, obviously, is rich with Scripture. You hear it piped into the malls via Christmas songs. You see in on signs and it comes in the mail on cards. The Bible is not window dressing for a holiday. The Bible defines and offers us this remembrance and celebration. Jesus Christ was born. The Father did not hold back. All hope is reborn. Take the time to read your Bible during Advent and Christmas. Just open it up and feast. Life is good. God is good. Let His Word open you up to the fullness of what is good.

These are three things for which no limiting diet is appropriate. Fill up on them. These are three things which daily life seems to slowly rob us of.

Thank You Lord, for the celebration. Thank You for tradition, rest, and Scripture. Help me combine all three through plans to worship You with Your people in Advent and Christmas worship services this year. Let me privately enjoy all three and all the other aspects of this season. Everything wonderful points to You. Take me to You in my spirit even as I’m praying now. Let me enjoy You, Lord. Amen.

A Better World

Read Luke 2:1-14

In the movie, Kingdom of Heaven, the lead character, Balian, speaks to his dying father, Godfrey, as they travel together to Jerusalem during the crusades. After being told by his father that he must serve the King of Jerusalem, he asks, “What could a king ask of a man like me?” His father answers with, “A better world than has ever been seen.” I think God is looking for the same thing from us who encounter His Son, Jesus Christ, the King of Kings. The message of Advent and Christmas is not just that Christ was born, but that He was born to change the way we live. We are called to live in such a way as to make “a better world than has ever been seen.” This involves vision and sacrifice. Canadian educator Claude Thomas Bissel is credited by some with the following quote, also know as the West Point Cadet Maxim: “Risk more than others think is safe. Care more than others think is wise. Dream more than others think is practical. Expect more than others think is possible.” The principle behind these words and countless others like them, at least to my mind as I look back over history, has only one possible source: the Advent of Christ. God risked, cared, dreamed, and expected more and He calls us to do the same through His Son, not just at Christmas, but all year long. He’s asking us for a better world. I’m reminded of this every time I look up in Goodwill Church’s old sanctuary and see the quote from angels, as recorded in Luke 2:14 (KJV), on the front wall above the altar: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” This is where our church got its name. Our King commissions us to give God glory and, in His strength, make a better world.

Lord, give me the strength and vision to do what I can to make this a better world. There’s so much written in Your Word which exhorts us to care for and love others in Your Name. Help me not just to read it, but to live it. Amen.

Traveling

Read Matthew 2:23-33

The story of the Nativity is a story of a family on the road. After the birth of Christ, angels kept their trip going by warning Joseph to flee to Egypt. The newborn Christ being shuttled out of the Promised Land and “back to Egypt” is quite a thing to consider. My 4-year-old daughter has already traveled more than Jesus Christ did in his entire lifetime, but he did make this one long trip away from home. He was born running. He was born on a journey. His three year ministry is a journey on foot through the Promised Land; it is a journey to Jerusalem and death on the cross. Advent is a journey from promise through perseverance to provision. The Christian life is a journey. We tend to want what we want now. Doesn’t it say “ask and you shall receive?” Doesn’t it say that anything we ask for in His Name we will receive? Yes and yes, but it doesn’t say when. Traveling is a discipline. It demands two things: action and waiting.

1) Action. Christian life is a life on the move. It is not stationary. For Christians, settling down is heaven. Here we move. Here on earth, we sojourners know that we aren’t home yet. It’s all Egypt. Action is about doing something today. What am I doing today? What steps am I taking toward Christ and Christlikeness and Christ’s service today? This day is given to me so I can cover some ground for God. At the same time I’m …

2) Waiting. Christian life is a waiting life. To talk about the promises of God is to acknowledge that we have not participated in all of them yet. A promise is a check. You have to cash it to get the money. Some of the best checks written to us by God through Christ can only be cashed upon death. So, if we are living, then we are, by God’s design, waiting. Even the birth of Christ was only a respite from the journey.

Lord, give me the power to wait and the patience to act. I tend to complain about both the work You give me and the waiting You assign to me. Root out this complaining and replace it with gratitude and expectation. There is no greater honor or adventure than to live for You. All live and die, not all have a reason to live or a reason to die. Thank You, Lord, for traveling with me. Amen.

Costly

Read Matthew 6:19-21

I’ve noticed that the one thing everyone thinks of around Christmas is money. Whether people step into a church or not all season, if they’re participating in Christmas at all, they are out shopping. They are considering, more than at any other time of the year, how much things cost. Many are surprised at high prices and disappointed in how much they’ve spent. All are looking for a good deal. Some people complain about this. “Christmas is all about money. It’s a commercial holiday.” We’ve all heard it. Many of us have said it.

What I’ve not heard in relation to the money focus of the season is how appropriate it may be. Everything having to do with Christ is costly beyond imagination. His birth, life, and death are all amazing examples of a good deal for believers. Jesus pays the high price and we get heaven and everything in this life that leads up to it. In His ministry, Jesus talked about money and hell more than any other topics. Both point to value. How we handle money teaches us much about what we really believe. What we believe about heaven and hell flows from what we think is needed in terms of value to stay out of hell and get into heaven. Some think a good life earns us credit with God. Christians believe that Christ’s life and death alone earns us, who trust in Him, credit with God.

Lord, help me, even as I shop, to think about true value this Advent and Christmas. The birth of Christ represents an expenditure I cannot begin to imagine. What you gave us at Christmas is the most expensive gift ever. Help me realize this. Help me believe in You, Lord Jesus, as the One who really has paid the price for my sins and set me free. No one else has done or can do this for me. Amen.

Time and Change

Read Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

One of the interesting things about Christmas is how soon it’s all over. Little more than a week from today it will be done. I’ll write my last Advent entry, we’ll all open presents, and the “shopping days” countdown will be reset for 2015. Sure there will be a few stray parties and post-holiday sales, but Christmas 2014 will be history. In Luke 2:20 it says, “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” The important thing to remember is that the shepherds went back to being shepherds. They had to take their amazing experience of the birth of Jesus back to their mundane lives and figure out how to merge the two. It’s the same for us. The key for all who have any kind of experience of Jesus Christ is to follow the shepherds’ example. They were “glorifying and praising” their way forward in life, even though they were not relieved of their station in life, which, by the way, was a low one. If Advent and Christmas mean anything to us, we have to hold on to them all year long. Though the tasks and problems of our daily lives sometimes seem immune to and unchanged by whatever we go through spiritually, the change we experience on the inside can be real and significant. If shepherds can do it, so can we. We can be what’s changed the most about our lives. The shepherds didn’t win the lottery or even get better jobs after meeting Jesus, but they did gain their souls and a new song.

Lord, thank you for the ordinary life you’ve given me. Help me to live for You in the midst of it every day of the year. Give me the faith and vision to glorify and praise You through everything. Thank You, Father God, for Jesus Christ, Who, by Your Spirit, has changed everything about me, even though it sometimes looks like nothing else in my world has followed suit. Whatever time I’m in, let me remember that I’m Yours forever. Amen.

Smallness

Read 1st Samuel 15:1-23

Rebellion “being as the sin of divination” (or “witchcraft” as it says in the King James Version) seems far from something to talk about around Christmas, but there is a connection. Saul is the one Samuel said this to after he took matters into his own hands and usurped priestly authority from Samuel and even God. There is a clue as to why he does this in verse 17 when Samuel notes that Saul once seemed small in his own eyes. This is why people rebel. This is why church leaders witness rebellion by all kinds of people. They are all hurting people, suffering in their smallness. When someone tries to hurt or take down a pastor, for instance, most pastors know they are dealing with a wounded individual. Hurting people hurt people. Most pastors also know the only place such hurts and wounds can be treated and the only One who can treat them – the One whose birth is celebrated at Christmas. Saul went from bitterness to bitterness in his life. Christ was born to turn this around in ours. If you want to do the wrong thing, ask yourself why. The answer may lead you to The Answer, Christ Jesus. Believe and act on the truth, not a lie. Christ alone can replace your smallness with heaven-sized joy and faith.

Lord. Help me see why I do the things I don’t want to do. Teach me why I sin and show me how You meet the need I’m trying to meet through my rebellion. Let me learn from Saul. Holy Spirit, convict me to believe the truth and dismiss the lies. Give me the strength of the Lord, Your strength, in facing temptation. Amen.