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." - Luke 2:10-11
Today we celebrate the best, most momentous news of all time: Christ has come! Jesus is here! He comes in the midst of troubling times. He brings hope in our despair. He brings peace in our worry. He brings joy in our sorrow. He brings love in our conflict. He brings life in our death. This is the good news angels announced in the night. He is the good news we can proclaim on this morning. Jesus is who we expectantly await in Advent, and Jesus is who we celebrate at Christmas. He is the Good News no matter how troubling the times. Jesus is here. Jesus will come again. Jesus will never leave us. In Jesus, let's celebrate with hope, peace, love, and joy in our hearts as we worship with the angels, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests." How will you rejoice and celebrate today? How can you carry Christ's hope, peace, joy, and love forward with you all year?
The fifth and final candle of Advent represents Jesus Christ. This candle signifies the ultimate reason for our Christmas journey - the baby Jesus, God's only Son, the Savior of the world. Jesus is truly the reason for and the meaning of Christmas, and He is the source of all the gifts we've discovered on this Advent journey - hope, love, joy, and peace.
Celebrate the birth of Jesus! The waiting is almost over; the Messiah is coming. And even as we celebrate His arrival in our world, our anticipation grows - and we continue to live longing and expectation for His second coming when His work will be complete and all the earth will be restored. Yet even now on the eve of Jesus's birth, we rejoice. Christ has come! He will come again!
How have you most felt Jesus's hope, peace, joy, and love this season?
"So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child." - Luke 2:4-5
Mary had to endure a 90-mile journey on foot through the cold desert winter. There was joy and there was uncertainty. There was contentment and there was the expectation. There was the planned and the unexpected. There was completion and there was the journey ahead. Here on Christmas Eve, we find all the same things. As we finish our Christmas preparations, let's also pause to rest a few minutes in the expectant no. The celebration will come. The emotions will swirl. The memories will be created. Our lives will add another new day, a special day not exactly like any other, and in that sense, our lives will never be the same. Like Mary, let's ponder and treasure these moments in our hearts as we reflect on this threshold o birth and life, expectation and celebration, and God turned human in our hearts and lives. What is heavy on your heart in the anticipation of Christmas? What is joyful in your expectant spirit?
"A new command I give you. Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know what you are my disciples if you love one another" - John 13:34-35
What are Christians known for? Jesus said it should be our love for other people. Early on, the church shone with Christlike love as believers share all they had to care for each other's needs.
So how are we doing now? Are churches known for who we're trying to keep out or who are are welcoming in? Are we know by our service or our self-preservation? Our willingness to listen, or our quickness to shout down? Does our encouragement or criticism come through louder? Are we marked by anger or grace? Outrage or compassion? Are we recognized by our expressions of Christ's love or our indignation about what others call the holiday? Are we too busy to show love and kindness in our daily interactions? Let's let everyone know we are Jesus's disciples this Christmas by our love for others. What do others know you for? What can you do to put Jesus's love into action?
"There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love." - 1 John 4:18.
There are a lot of things that could have kept the wisemen at home. Most of them would have come down to fear. There was fear of the unknown; a new star, a journey to a new land wherever this star would lead them. There was fear for their safety; Traveling the harsh, desert roads of the ancient Middle East was a dangerous venture. But, fear could not stop the Magi. They came as if called. They came to worship and give powerfully symbolic gifts - first fit for a king - to the infant Jesus. They also came as representatives of the message that the gift of Jesus is for every race, every people, every nation. Love thrives in the absence of fear. And as John describes, perfect love drives out fear. The love of God embodied in Jesus fills us with the courage to cross borders and face danger and discomfort. It frees us from insecurity and rejection and judgment. It frees the divisive fear of the other and brings us together, united as God's children. What fears are troubling your heart? How can you step out against fear, empowered by God's perfect love?
The fourth Sunday of Advent signifies love and reminds us that Jesus was sent to us because of God's great love for us. Take time to light the fourth candle in your Advent wreath. Let his reality be your focus this week and no matter what else you are going through: Jesus is god's love embodied in our world and infused into our lives to heal us and draw us together. Experience the depth of His love and allow that love to overflow to others in grace and unity. Let love fill your days and night as Christmas draws near!
"So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in a 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 those things and pondered them in her heart. the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising. God for all the things they had heard and been, which were just as they had been told." - Luke 2:16-20
"Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me." - Psalm 51:10-12
Sometimes we need a restoration of joy in our relationship with God. How often we too need a cleaning fresh start! So much can jade our hearts and choke our joy, whether it's our own sin or the busyness and pressures of the holidays. Sometimes we need the honesty of confession and the simplicity of quiet reflection. No matter where we've been or what we've done, Jesus is here, welcoming us with restorative joy. What is coming between you and God? How will you pour out your heart to God?
"When your words come, I ate them, they were my joy and my heart's delight, for I bear your name, LORD God Almighty." - Jeremiah 15:16
How do we choose joy when the painful moments of the season or life, in general, feel crushingly heavy? One way is to devour God's Word like Jeremiah, sho said, "When your words came, I age them; they were my joy and my heart's delight." The principle of "You are what you eat" applies to our spirits as well. As we take in the words of God, savoring and digesting them, they are able to refuel and renew us. They change our perspective and nourish joy within us, and they fill us with the strength to grow stronger, no matter what we are facing. Let's feat on the promises of God throughout this Advent season. How is your spiritual diet? What Scripture will you choose to savor and return to throughout this week?
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." - James 12:4
If you've spent much time in nature, you've probably come across the odd sight of a tree growing out of a rock. In the city, you've probably seen a flower blooming out of a tiny crack in a sidewalk or street. Plants like that make a stark contrast to our expectations. They go against the grain of what we normally expect from nature and science. We know plants of all kinds need soil to grow and live. Yet these hardy botanical survivors somehow find a way to send roots through the tiniest crevices or to draw nutrients from the most meager supplies. They defy their harsh environments and find a way to thrive. Joy allows us to do the same. It gives us the strength to preserve even when our circumstances look bleak and we are surrounded by cold, hard reality. Does it make sense to feel joy when we face trials? No. But when we choose joy, when we choose to look with thankfulness for what God will do even in our bleakest days, we can find the strength to preserve another day, and another, and another. And we continue to grow stronger in our rock surroundings. Paul said "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" - Phillipians 4:4
What is the rock you are facing right now? What step will you take to choose joy even when it's hard?
"Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength." - Nehemiah 8:10.
We know that the pace and activities of our holidays can bring a mixture of emotions that threatens to chase joy into the shadows. As we choose to cling to the joy of the Lord, let us embrace and experience the joy of the season in His Hope, peace, and love in our lives. What is squashing your Christmas joy? What can we say no to in order to say yes to joy this season?