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.” Luke 2:13-14 (Full context: Luke 2:8-20)
Thinking back to ADVENT EXPERIENCES several came to my mind. The one I chose to share happened several years ago. At the time I was teaching Daycare Pre-kindergarten at church. It left a meaningful place in my Spiritual heart. It reminds me of the reason we celebrate Christmas and Easter. One Field Trip we took was to a Senior nursing home during the Advent Season. The children made Christmas cards to give the "grandpas and grandmas". The day before the field trip was a perfect time to share with the children the reason we
celebrate Christmas. "For today in the city of David there has been born to you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." Luke 2:11 The children could also share Jesus love with others.
The children sang "Away in the Manger" and " Jesus Loves Me ." Some of the residents sang with us. After the songs the children gave their Christmas cards to the residents. To watch this interaction was one of the best Christmas gifts I have been given. I then read the story from the Bible of Jesus birth closing in prayer.
The decision was made to take the children to the nursing home at Easter time. They made crosses and a card to give the residents. It was a perfect time to share with the children the true Easter story and Christmas story. To share that Jesus loves them so much He died on the cross for them. That God wants us to love Him back. John 3:16 When we walked into the facilities one of the men sitting in his wheel chair, waiting for us said, "I knew you all would come again." It was a time of sharing the true Easter Story. What a blessing to the residents, children and teachers.
Father God, thank you, for the Advent Season. Be with us as we celebrate the true Christmas Story which led to the True Easter Story. We give praise to our heavenly Father for these events which have changed our lives forever. Amen
Ornament Credit: Lee Narup
She gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. Luke 2:7 (Full context: Luke 2:1-7)
Do you know why we swaddle babies?
-To keep them secure,
-To keep them warm,
-To keep them safe (even from their tiny fingers scratching their face.)
Baby Jesus, even as a newborn, brought all of his loving tenderness, to us, in human form. A joy for the present and hope for tomorrow and forevermore.
“Let all the angels of God worship him!” Hebrews 1:6
He continues to reach out in love, to redeem all of mankind.
Thank you Lord for sending your son, as a newborn child. Thank you for your redemptive act of dying on the cross, that we can be saved from sin, error or evil. He loved us so much that he bought us our Freedom.
By sending his son, he showed us the depth of his love. Later he died to cleanse us from the stain of sin.
‘Christ is our better hope.’ Hebrews 7:1
Ornament Credit: Mandi Lewis and family
“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God with us).” Matthew 1:23
Matthew 1:23 is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy of Jesus’ virgin birth (Isaiah 7:14), and the story of Joseph’s love for Mary, and his faith and obedience to God. It is also about a miracle involving the Holy Spirit, and how it is the foundation to understanding that Jesus is both fully human, Son of Man and fully divine, Son of God. Jesus is both man and God.
The Jewish marriage consisted of three phases. The first phase was engagement where the parents or matchmaker arranged the future marriage of a boy and girl. The second phase was betrothal where the girl could either refuse or accept. If she accepted, both entered an official and legal commitment before witnesses for a year while she continued to live with her parents. Both were considered husband and wife, but did not enter into a sexual relationship, as sex during betrothal was adultery. The third phase was the wedding where the bride went to live with the husband.
The story of Joseph, a carpenter by trade, and Mary is told in Matt 1:19-25. During the time Mary was betrothed to Joseph, Mary was found to be pregnant. Joseph being a man who was obedient and faithful to God (a righteous man v19), and who did not want to disgrace Mary publicly, decided to divorce her in secret. Joseph showed mercy and his love for Mary. Can you imagine all the emotions and questions Joseph had?
Then in a dream, an angel appeared to Joseph and said, “Do not be afraid to marry Mary, since what has been conceived in her is by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to name Him Jesus.“ (v 20-21) This helped Joseph to come to an understanding of the realty of Jesus’ identity. In Luke 1:26-35, after the angel told Mary she would conceive and give birth to a son, she asked (v 34-35) “‘How can it be, since I have not been intimate with a man (or since I am a virgin)?‘ The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”’ There is no question Mary was a virgin when she conceived and still a virgin when Jesus was born (Matt 1:25). This resulted in Jesus being both fully divine and fully human. It is difficult to understand how this supernatural conception occurred. Remember God created all things and anything is possible with Him. Jesus was the Son of God since His conception was by the Holy Spirit.
Joseph trusted and obeyed God’s instruction and immediately married Mary. What a dedicated love Joseph had for Mary and for God. The angel called Joseph son of David (Matt 1:20), indicating his royal lineage. Joseph was not the biological father, but he was Jesus’ legal father by his marriage to Mary. This fact would qualify Jesus as an heir of David. Mary was also a descendant of David (Luke 3:23-38). “Now all this took place that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet (Isaiah) might be fulfilled.” (Matt 1:22-23).
~ Jim Gress
But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.” Luke 1:30 (Full context: Luke 1:26-56)
The time had come for God to fulfill His promise. It was a promise of Hope and a promise of Light bursting forth in the midst of darkness. God was going to crush the Serpent once and for all and rescue his people from the bondage of sin forever.
A young virgin, Mary from the town of Nazareth was going to play a crucial role in the fulfillment of this promise. She was betrothed to a man named Joseph and had no clue what God had in store for her. God sent Angel Gabriel for the special mission – the annunciation of the arrival of this Light into the world.
I can only imagine the thoughts running through Mary’s mind, not knowing what lies ahead. No amount of preparation would ever be enough to bring forth the Son of God into this world and to raise Him unto God. She had a mammoth of a task to accomplish, but God, in His favor and compassion towards Mary, offered her comfort in a few different ways. We too can find comfort and encouragement through these truths.
Comfort in God’s Presence and Favor
Gabriel’s greeting to Mary was, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” It was a reminder to Mary that the Lord was with her in this. She was not alone and the Lord was on her side. And while she was greatly troubled and tried to discern what kind of a greeting it was, Gabriel comforted her, “Do not be afraid, for you have found favor with God”.
God’s favor is unmerited as we can never earn it. We too have found God’s favor in Christ and can enjoy the presence of God through His Spirit dwelling in us.
Comfort in God’s Power
When Mary wondered how she could have a child as she was still a virgin, Gabriel explained to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” He told her about her barren relative Elizabeth being pregnant and pointed out- For nothing will be impossible with God.
Nothing is impossible with our God and that is our comfort too. Whatever storms we might be facing in our own lives, we can rest in the power of our Sovereign and Omnipotent God.
Comfort in the Character of God
Mary, filled with the Holy Spirit glorified God through her song of praise in Luke 1: 46-55. She praised God as Savior, Lifter of our head, Mighty, Holy, Merciful and a Covenant-keeper.
Ultimately Knowing who our God is, through His Word will equip us to serve Him. He is our Solid Rock on which we can stand secure.
Mary’s response to God’s call was, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord, let it be to me according to your word.” What is God calling you to do? Is it beyond your strength and capabilities? Do not be afraid, for we have a God who is comforting, equipping and encouraging us even today. Just as Mary humbly submitted to the will of God, we too can submit to the will of God knowing who God is, knowing that He is with us, that He has shown us favor and He is All- Powerful.
~Kirti Jeswanth Inagalur
Ornament Credit: Kirti Jeswanth Inagalur
For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said, "A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’’’ Matthew 3:3 (Full context: Matthew 3, Luke 1:57-80)
Making predictions can be difficult. Even with advanced technologies and years of history to guide us, we humans are still struggling to forecast things as simple as what the weather will be like in a few days. The prophet Isaiah is, however, a completely different story. With God’s guidance, he was able to accurately predict the coming of our Messiah, Jesus Christ, approximately 700 years before it actually happened. This is just a glimpse into God’s amazing timelessness and wisdom.
In Matthew we can see the fulfillment of one of Isaiah’s prophecies from Isaiah 40:3. John the Baptist, the man from yesterday’s reading who began preaching for repentance and the coming of one far greater than himself, would be “the voice” calling in the wilderness. We can see this a few verses earlier in Matthew 3:1. The prophecy given by Isaiah is simply God reassuring us that He has always had a plan. God had already dreamed of John the Baptist centuries before he took his first breath and passed on that vision. He knew exactly where he would come from and what his importance would be. John would prepare the way for his Son Jesus. God knew that He would send Jesus to this world to die for us because He loves each one of us and doesn’t want to be apart from us. He knew the exact moment and the exact location His son needed to come. Think about how perfect a moment in history it was. The Roman Empire provided a way for Jesus’ message to be spread quickly, across many cultures and groups of people, and be recorded in a reliable manner that allows us to be sure today, without a doubt, that Jesus is who the Bible says he was. Can you imagine having to wait centuries to give the best Christmas present ever without telling someone about it? God must have been so excited for us to meet Jesus that he couldn’t help but tell Isaiah and John a bit about it.
This is just a little reminder of God’s control and power. Even though this Christmas season may feel a little bit different than normal, it is important for us to remember that God’s perfectly crafted plan is still unfolding. We need to be patient, trust in Him, and listen for his instruction. If you are willing to trust the unreliable weatherman who tells you that you won’t need to bring an umbrella, then why not put your faith in a God who has never been wrong?
And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous — to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. Luke 1:17 (Full context: Luke 1:5-25)
Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were both born into priestly families. They were childless and very old. Although they had both lived good Godly lives and prayed for a child still Elizabeth was barren.
Zechariah was serving as priest and burning incense in the temple when the angel, Gabriel appeared, standing by the altar, bringing wonderful news. Their prayers were to be answered. They would have a son and he would be filled with the Holy Spirit from birth. They were to name him John and he would go before and prepare the way for the coming of the Lord. Zechariah was doubtful - they were too old. He didn't think about how God had given Abraham and Sarah a son in their old age. God did not change His plan, instead Zechariah lost his ability to speak until his son was born.
Imagine their joy when they learned that Elizabeth was pregnant. She remained in seclusion for five months and then Mary came for a visit. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and said "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored that the mother of my Lord should come to me. As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leapt for joy." After their son was born everyone expected that he would be named after his father, but Zechariah wrote “no, his name is John". Immediately his mouth was opened and he was able to speak.
God’s timing is always right. If we need to wait, like Zechariah, for the answer to our prayers, may God give us patience. Praying we will feel hope, love, joy and peace as we celebrate the coming of our Lord.
Ornament Credit: Betty Davis
“I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me.” Habakkuk 2:1 (Full context: Habakkuk 1-3)
In a time and age where we want things to happen within the snap of a finger, waiting is hard. Honestly, waiting is one of the hardest things for me to do in life. Habakkuk complained about all the evil and wickedness happening in his world, he couldn’t understand why God seemed to be silent about the wickedness in his society (Habakkuk 1:1-4). He asked questions and sought for instant answers. He didn’t get an instant answer, but the assurance of God’s unchanging might and faithfulness created a strong harness of trust in Habakkuk. Soon he realized that the Lord was going to do something extraordinary and all he needed to do was to wait and watch patiently (Habakkuk 2:1).The moment Habakkuk decided to wait, He didn’t just lie down in his bed awaiting the Lord’s response, he was proactive, he put up an aptitude of expectation to receive a message from God, fully focused on God and waiting to hear from God. At the right time God responded.
What are you trusting God for? How long have you been waiting? Just like Habakkuk, we need to learn to wait, we need to put our faith and focus in God alone, and not in our circumstances or our ideal situations. As believers, we have an assurance that our Messiah is in control and He will come forth for us. He will come in an amazing manner, His coming will be like a brilliant sunrise, mountains will tremble, the sun and moon will stand still in the sky, and he will redeem us. (Habakkuk 3:3-15).
While waiting, we need to prayerfully watch and stay attuned to the Word of God, because the Lord wants us to actively seek for ways to obey him in what he already asked us to do. And, at the right time He will help us overcome obstacles that seemed impossible. Never give up! Keep watching and keep waiting.
Ornament Credit: Caroline Borbor and family
“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.” Micah 5:2 (Full context: Micah 5:1-5)
Bethlehem or Ephrathah is a small farming village located approximately five miles southwest of Jerusalem. Bethlehem is first mentioned in Genesis 35:19 as the traditional burial site for Rachel, thus it is an old village. Much of the book of Ruth occurs in the region of Bethlehem (Ruth1:1-2,19,22; 2:4; 4:11). Both names Bethlehem (house of bread) and Ephrathah (fruitfulness) indicate the fertility of the area.
Micah was a prophet who preached to the common people of Judah about the national and political crisis over the ill-gotten wealth, corruption, and oppression of the poor by the rich (social injustice) and religious practices with other gods. He prophesied Jerusalem’s destruction, the Babylon captivity, the return from exile, and the birth of a new ruler of Israel in Bethlehem. In spite of Judah’s sins, God would raise up another ruler from David’s birth place, hometown and place where he was first anointed king (1 Samuel 16:3,13), Bethlehem. The unlikely choice of David as king foreshadows the unlikely choice of Bethlehem as the birth place of a greater David, the Messiah. The phase “whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” could refer to God’s promise to David, or the existence of Christ before His birth in Bethlehem or creation. God had promised David in 2 Samuel 7:16, “Your house and kingdom will endure before Me forever, and your throne will be established forever.” Jesus is from the lineage of David and tribe of Judah. Micah describes the Messiah in 5:4 as being greater than the Shepherd-King David and “His greatness will extend to the ends of the earth.” And Micah prophesies in 5:3 that God will give up Judah to her enemies until she (the virgin Mary) gives birth to the Messiah.
In Matthew 2:1-12, the magi from the east ask King Herod the Great where the King of the Jews was born. Then Herod the Great asked the chief priests and scribes, and they said Bethlehem of Judah as written in Micah 5:2 by the prophet. Likewise Luke 2:4-20 and John 7:42 also report that Jesus was born in the humble village of Bethlehem and an off spring of David. Bethlehem was a small village, but two kings that God loved were born there. One the King of Kings!
We can also celebrate God’s keeping His promise and sending Jesus our Savior.
“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people.” Jeremiah 31:33 (Full context: Jeremiah 31:1-34)
The nation of Israel whom God had brought out of captivity from the land of Egypt was living in sin. And they had gone away from God to follow their own sinful ways violating God's law over and over as mentioned in Jeremiah 32: 33 "And they have turned to Me the back, and not the face; thought I taught them, rising up early and teaching them, yet they have not listened to receive instruction." So, God moved the kingdom of the North (Babylon) to plot against Israel to capture it in battle. They would plunder the land, utterly destroy it and burn it with fire to the ground. Men, women, children, animals all alike would go through this great calamity that was to befall Israel. This is the message that God asks the prophet Jeremiah to proclaim to Israel. A message of calamity, sadness and admonition. He is aptly known as the 'Weeping Prophet' signifying the message he carried. God had always modeled the life of prophets to reflect what God himself was going through at that point in time. In case of Jeremiah, it was God weeping over Israel's sin and the consequences it would have and the ordeal Israel would have to go through as a punishment for their sins. God wept, so Jeremiah also wept over Israel. So also, God weeps over our sins. He mourns over the consequences it can have on us.
The Holy God
We can see here that God is going through a conflict within Himself. On one hand, He cannot deny His own nature of being a Holy God who doesn't let sin go unpunished. If He chooses to ignore sin, He becomes a lawless and unjust God. But He is not. So, he has to chastise Israel for its sins as mentioned in Jeremiah 30: 11 - "But I will correct you in justice, and will not let you go altogether unpunished". And the punishment of Israel was great as mentioned in Jeremiah 30:12 - "Your affliction is incurable, your wound is severe. There is no one to plead your cause, that you may be bound up". But even such a severe punishment is just a foreshadow of what would happen to someone who is separated from God eternally.
The Loving God
On the other hand, God loved Israel dearly - Jeremiah 31:3 - "Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love;". He expresses His love to Israel by sending his prophet Jeremiah as mentioned in Jeremiah 26: 2 - "Thus says the LORD; 'Stand in the court of the LORD's house, all the words that I command you to speak to them. Do not diminish a word. Perhaps everyone will listen and turn from his evil way, that I may relent concerning the calamity which I purpose to bring on them because of the evil of their doings'". But the people of Israel did not let go of their evil ways. They would try to kill Jeremiah for the message he proclaimed. So, God had to give them up into the hands of Babylon. Israel remained rebellious and sinful.
God's love, that is in equal measure to His holiness, prompts Him to make a promise of a new covenant, as mentioned in Jeremiah 31:33 - "This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time", declares the Lord, "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people." God still intends to be the God of a sinful, rebellious nation of Israel which symbolizes the fallen human race. He does it by not diminishing the law, but upholding it and writing it on our hearts.
Fulfillment of God's Promise
God fulfills this promise by giving His own Son to the world who would be a sacrifice for our sins that separates us from God. With Jesus' sacrifice on our behalf, we can now have a relationship with God and can keep God's law joyfully. The holiness and love of God have their culmination in the person of Jesus hanging on the cross. At the cross, God condemns sin and with open arms welcomes a sinner to a relationship with Him and to walk in holiness.
~Raja Jeswanth Inagalur
Ornament Credit: Kirti Jeswanth Inagalur
The king was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God. Daniel 6:23 (Full context: Daniel 6)
King Darius favored Daniel and put him in a position of power. Other leaders did not like this so they asked King Darius to not allow anyone to pray for 30 days, except to King Darius, or they would be thrown in the lion’s den. Daniel did not listen and continued to pray and give thanks to God. The other leaders did not like this, they went to his house and caught him praying so brought him in front of King Darius, for the punishment of the lion’s den.
God knew that Daniel was good and faithful so sent angels to protect Daniel by closing the lions’ mouths. The next morning, King Darius went to check on Daniel and was overjoyed when Daniel survived. From that point, King Darius wrote a decree that everyone in the land should have fear and reverence for the God of Daniel.
When we put our trust in God, he will be with us and care for us.
May God bless you and be with you during this Christmas season!
Ornament Credit: Angi Aune