As I pondered what to write for Advent this year I went back and looked at what history has to say about its practice and themes. Sometimes it is good to look back before going forward. One thing I discovered was that its themes and practices have changed repeatedly. Even today we see new changes happening to how we worship at Christmastime.
Many communities have turned this into just another holiday; forbidding the singing of carols or the putting up of a crèche. It's all about decorations, gift giving and parties as we wait for the year to end and a new one begin. One even sees less and less sending of Christmas cards.
Then I asked myself if I have become modernized so that the holiness of Christmas is no longer important or not as important as before. It is a good question to ponder yourself.
I have always wanted to make my Advent devotions ones that enrich this time of year. Last year we talked of the star, the angels, the lights and the gifts. These symbols can help us enjoy the festivities and remind us what Christmas is about. But I have been stumped as to what to share this year.
When looking at the past, one subject that each theme included was one of joy. But if you look around you see very little of that today. You may see and enjoy happy times but real joy seems to be in short supply. How sad. For Jesus declared in John 15:11
"These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.
So I think this year I may try and find out how to get that 'real joy' back into Christmas and into our everyday life. Besides wouldn't that be a wonderful gift to pass around to everyone you cross paths with? We will start to look for answers in this fifteenth chapter of John. The other things I see that are included in all Advent devotions are peace and hope. So I am going to include them too.
As you look around the world today you see lots of people without hope and there is very little peace. Even in our own country there is division and fighting among our citizens. Many have lost hope that we can turn things around. As Christians we should be bringers of hope and peace. We can either be part of the problem or part of the solution.
Advent is a time of anticipation. A time to look forward to a great event. However, like my research for this year I think we need to look back over the year and how we spent it so that we can be prepared not only for a great Christmas, but also for a better year.
December 1 This first candle is one of Joy
Prophecy does not always predict, sometimes it is one that gives insight. So let's see what we can find. John 15:1-6 NIV “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunesso that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.
This is a prophetic passage for it tells us what the consequences of our choices will mean in the fruitfulness or lack of fruit as we journey through life. Like seasons there may be times when we are barren, when we need pruning so that we may enjoy times of fruitfulness. Most times our bareness is of our own making for Jesus came to bring us life.
Jesus is speaking here and He explains His role, the Father's role and our role in these verses. We can go back through Scripture and see all the places the prophets of old foretold of Christ's coming. He was given many names too. Isaiah talks about Christ this way, A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. [11:1-4NIV]
He came with all the spiritual nutrients we needed to be fruitful branches. Remember that the second fruit of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians is joy. We all understand the importance of having a good root stock when growing fruit or flower. Jesus is the root stock into which we have been grafted. Thus our verses this week helps us understand where we are in regards to being joyful. The work of being fruitful is not ours but Christ's. He is the one who gives us joy.
Our role is to abide in Him and allow Him to direct our life. I think we forget that being a Christian is to be in a relationship with Christ. We somehow think we have to do all the work in order to be fruitful and have joy. But abiding means to live together. To be a team. Our role is to learn to be like Him and His role is to make us fruitful and give us joy. Sure does take a lot of weight off being a Christian.
Perhaps it might be good to pause here and talk about joy verses happiness. We all experience times of happiness but joy is not dependent on event or circumstance. Joy is a deep abiding sense that gives hope and comfort in the tough times. It is the fruit that leads to peace and hope [check Galatians 5:22,23]
The world today often substitutes happiness for joy. That is why it seems that we are always looking for the next happy event. We end up stressing and struggling and feeling like happiness eludes us. Joy doesn't evaporate like that.
I think about what Bill shared of what he saw in Viet Nam. These people had been in a warzone for years, yet those that had faith were joyful. They didn't like the circumstance they were in but they were hopeful. They found contentment in the little things that enriched their every day. They were pleasant people to be around too. They weren't happy with their circumstance but they had joy.
If you have been having a difficult year perhaps you need to look to see if the Father has been pruning away at some things in your life that is keeping joy from being there. Are you resisting His care? Perhaps we need to remember that we are always growing. We are improving or slipping backwards. Being pruned is never pleasant. But if you feel like you have been challenged perhaps you are being pruned to be more fruitful.
Did you notice that Christ always gives us choice. He says that you may abide in Him and He in you and you will live a fruitful life; one that includes joy. Or you may reject Him and suffer the consequence of that choice.
If joy is lacking then perhaps we need to be pruned. Consider this week how you have spent this year. Try and list ways you have made others lives better, where you have sown love and been an encourager. Then make a list of all the blessings you can think of that have been showered on you. If you find that hard, then perhaps you have pulled away from the true vine and need to reconnect with Him. Remember without Him we cannot bear fruit or have true joy.
As we start to get ready for Christmas, make sure that Christ is the center of all you do in preparation for this time of celebration. Remember He came to bring us joy. The angels declared it. 'I bring you good tidings of great joy.' Luke 2:10.
December 8 This is the Love Candle
John 15:9-17 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.
Jesus was God's gift of Love to the world. He came and sought out all of mankind before we even knew who He was. He died in our place so that we need not face eternal death, or separation from God for eternity. Christmas marks the day that this wondrous gift arrived. It came as a baby in a manger in a tiny village. Love in person.
This week builds on our thoughts from last week. It was Jesus' love and the love of God that brought us Christmas and ultimately salvation. Jesus tells us that the reason He is telling us of His love is so we can enjoy it and He can impart His joy into our lives. This is the first part of this week's devotion.
We need to accept the Father and the Son's love for us. Abiding in His love involves believing He loves us always and without conditions. I recognize that I forget that He loves me on a daily basis. But then how often do I express my love for Him to Him? Abiding in His love means we see it in our everyday. It also means that we have to accept that if they love us so much that Jesus came and died in our place, they care enough to correct us. One of the traditions of Christmas is whether we have been naughty or nice. If we were naughty our stocking contained coal, but gifts belong to the nice. God doesn't work that way.
His love is not dependant on our goodness. It doesn't even depend on whether we choose to serve Him or not. Christ came for everyone. We talk about the shepherds and the magi but we forget king Herod. He too was given the story of Christ's birth, but chose differently. He set out to kill Jesus; for he felt threatened by this babe.
Today we see all three types of people in our world. The Shepherds to whom the announcement was given. The Magi who sought Him out, and Herod who not only rejected Him but tried to destroy Him. Yet God loved them all equally. Perhaps we should consider into which class we would fall if Jesus came today. We too must be worshipers if we are to abide in His love.
The next part of this passage is the command to love. This can be the hard part. We often equate love as something that is earned by a person's character and behavior. If they are not worthy of our human love we do not give it. . It is not human love that Jesus is talking about. Jesus is talking about His kind of love. The kind God shows the world every day.
The only way we can obtain this love is to abide in Him and He in us. The choice lies with us. We must choose to have Him abide in us first; just as the shepherds, magi and Herod had to choose how they would respond to Christ. Hopefully our love is not fickle and that we only love Him when things are going right.
The other part of His kind of loving is to lay down one's life. I don't think Jesus expected everyone to die literally in order to show love to others. Although sometimes it might be easier to die than to live one's faith and love.
Loving sometimes requires us to endure being misused. Many people today think nothing of using others to their own end. Loving requires that we do not act as they do. Sometimes loving will lead to being rejected. We may lose a friend when we choose to follow Christ. Or we may be left out when others choose to do that which we know is not pleasing to Christ. Each of these events is the laying down of one's life for another if we continue to love them.
Laying down one's life may mean forgoing our plans and wishes for the sake of another. It may mean giving our time to care for someone else when we had plans for that time. It could mean costing us materially. I think of the kids at one school who saw a boy that wore the same shabby clothes to school every day. They went out and spent their own monies and bought him some nice clothes and surprised him at school with them. What about the people who hold food kitchens and every day or week or month are there feeding the needy. These are things that show the same kind of love that Jesus did All these are acts of lay down one's life for another.
Forgiveness is part of loving and I think it can be the hardest of all. When we don't forgive we give those who have wronged us power over our lives. They steal our joy and peace. If we are loving as Jesus commands us to be then we will have joy and peace that cannot be taken from us. God promises that He will mete out justice so we can leave that with Him. Again, I want to say it is not always an easy thing to do. Forgiveness does not condone evil but it leaves judgment to God. We can forgive the offense and be civil. God does not expect us to continue with those that do evil either.
Another part of loving involves actions on our part. It is praying for those who are unloving towards us. To pray for the evil all around us. Remember God does not intervene where He is not invited. As believers we are given the opportunity to invite God into situations. He cannot go without our prayerful intervention. Do you pray for our leaders, our country, the world? Imagine what the world might be if we were faithfully loving and praying for others.
We call Christmas a time of love. It is a time that people are more willing to give to others and show a loving attitude towards the less fortunate. But what if we showed that kind of love every day, would not our world be a much better place. That is what Jesus was trying to teach us in this week's verses.
He chose us to pass His love around. He asks us to abide in Him so that we can show His unconditional love to a lost world. He asks us to carry out the mission that He began at Christmas. "For God so loved the world, that He gave...' John 3:16.
When we fulfill this command not only do we have His love active in our life but we also have His joy. This week take time to see where you can show Jesus' kind of love wherever you may be. It is a choice you have regardless of how you feel emotionally. Remember if you want to show His love all you need do is ask for Him to give it to you. It's written in this week's opening passage.
Colossians 3:12-15 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another. If any of you has a grievance against someone, forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
December 15 The candle of Peace
I have chosen three passages for this week. And I want to address them separately in the beginning for they are full of wisdom. Philippians 4:5-7 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
This first one starts out telling us that gentleness should be evident in our lives. It immediately brings Grandma Gigi to mind. She was a gentle spirit but one that had great influence. Somehow we think we must be forceful. We must be tough. But that is not what Jesus called us to be like. He said we are to be gentle. That makes me stop and consider how I treat everyone who is in my world; starting at home among my family.
Many times how we act will determine if our home or the environment is peaceful or not. God's peace is one we are to duplicate as best we can. If His peace is guarding our hearts and minds, then our actions should be ones of gentleness and ones that promotes peace. We have enough unrest, violence and meanness in this world. We should be spreading gentleness everywhere we go.
The next thing we are told is to not be anxious. That doesn't mean we are to not be concerned about things. Notice that he prefaced this admonition with 'The Lord is near'. If we remember that then we can rest in knowing He sees what we are facing and He is with us to deal with it. So how are we to handle the daily stresses of life? 'In every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving.' we are to deal with life.
One thing I have the habit of saying is that there are a few words in our language that are absolute. One of them is 'every'. There is no way to eliminate any situation from prayer and still have 'every'. Once more that pulls me up short. How often do I bring 'every' thing to God in prayer?
I don't have difficulty bringing my petitions [I wants] before God. But what about lobbying for a just government? That is a petition I bet we don't make. Or how about a petition asking God to help us be kind to some not so nice person who is upsetting us. Petitions are not one time requests but frequent reminders of a wished for outcome...that's what lobbying is. It is bringing up a sought for outcome until that outcome is achieved. So do you bring any serious petitions before the Lord in prayer?
And then what about this 'with thanksgiving'. Perhaps the situation may offer a positive outcome so being thankful won't be hard. But what about the other kind? We can find thankfulness in the fact that God is there with us and we don't have to face things alone. We can be thankful that He will find a way to make every situation turn out for good. [Romans 8:28] In reality we face many challenges in life that are not pleasant or easy. But thankfulness is believing that God has a plan that is for our good. [Jeremiah 29:11] Bringing our prayers to Him with thankfulness is in itself a challenge and an opportunity to see what He can do.
When we learn to find things to be thankful for in everything we face. When we learn to bring everything to Him in prayer, we will have His peace that is beyond human understanding. That brings us to verse two. Colossians 3:15Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.
Even as we are learning to follow the previous admonition we can enjoy His peace. Jesus didn't keep His peace from us as He knew we were human and are always growing in our faith. He offers us His peace in our hearts. Peace that helps us remain calm in times of stress. A serenity that keeps us stable. For as believers He has called us to peace. That means we can live in spiritual peace no matter what is going on around us. And we are called to be at peace with one another even when we don't agree. That is another thing we see missing in our world today.
You will notice that the verse begins with 'Let'. We get to choose whether we will let His peace rule in our hearts or not. Many Scripture verses begin with 'Let'. I believe that is because God wants us to always remember we get to choose. We can choose to be critical and stubborn and revengeful. These feelings drive out His peace. When they crop up we get to choose whether we will allow them to stay or let His peace rule. Finally, we are called to be thankful. Seems like we need that reminder as it crops up in many passages too. Perhaps we are too busy being grumpy to notice the things we have to be thankful for each day.
Finally we have this verse. John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Jesus didn't try to mislead us. He warned us that the world was tainted by sin and therefore we would face trouble. The funny thing is everyone faces troubles. The difference is we have Christ with us as we face them. He wanted us to know that some of the trouble we face will be because we side with Him.
In some ways, we think that when we become a Christian everything should be easy. We should have less troubles than others. But that is not true. We forget that Jesus came as a babe and immediately He was a fugitive. He was an innocent baby but Herod wanted to kill Him. Throughout His ministry there were those that called Him names, accused Him of working for evil, and the religious wanted Him dead. If He endured all that just because He loved us so much, how is it we expect the world to treat us any differently.
Jesus warned us that being a child of God comes with a price. He knew that the idea of having to endure to some extent what He did, would be chilling to say the least. He knew that we could lose heart when we faced some of the things we face. But He also told us that even as He had overcome the world we could too. And He was giving us peace to help us endure. Maybe not a peaceful life but His peace would be there every step of the way just as His Spirit would also.
So Jesus shares with us that dwelling in Him brings joy, love and now peace. But once again these blessings depend on our letting Him rule in our hearts and lives. He didn't wait until the world wanted Him to come; He came and wooed us.
He brought us these gifts but we must accept them. Even as Christmas is a time of giving we may need to look and see if we find these gifts of His active in our lives. Advent is a time of preparation. Getting ready to celebrate His birth. If we find our Christmas decorating and shopping getting hectic- If we find ourselves short on being kind and loving.- If Christmas has become a time lacking joy. Then perhaps we have forgotten that this is exactly why Jesus came at Christmas. He came to bring us peace, joy and real love.
December 22 The candle of Hope
Hope is an essential part of life, without it we die. Hopelessness does not always lead to physical death but it does lead to the death of really living. When we do not have hope we see no future. Jesus came at Christmas so that we would never have to be hopeless.
Revelation 1:8 I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” This verse is the guarantee we place our hope in. As we light this last candle before Christmas I think we need to review what we have been talking about these past weeks. But before we head there, I want us to see why Hope is important and why Advent is the season of hope.
This verse tells us that the Lord God is eternal and not only has He always been, but He is present today, and He will always be. There is no synonym for almighty. It stands alone. You cannot add or take away from it and still have almighty. God is like that, He is totally complete. So what He says can be believed. He will come again.
When we read the traditional devotions of Advent past we see that people were looking forward to redemption. They were looking forward to a Messiah that would bring them the three things we have been talking about. Even today where there is suffering and war, people are looking for a victor who will set them free and bring them a better life. They have hope and they cling to that as they look for salvation.
That hope has been achieved for us who know Christ. He has come and although He didn't bring an end to human suffering and death, He conquered eternal death and brought us a new life in Him. Now we look forward to His return when He will bring a time of peace to the world and then will take us all to spend eternity with Him.
Sure, we are excited to spend forever with Christ in heaven, but ought we not also be busy trying to bring as many as we can along with us? If we really believe that Jesus is going to come back again, and that He could come anytime, how should we be living?
Sometimes I wish He would come soon, but sometimes I am so glad He tarries. When I look at all those who will go into eternity forever lost, my heart hurts. I play WoW and one of the nice things is if I make a bad move or am overrun by the bad guys and die, I get a do-over. Life doesn't offer do-overs when we die. Physical death is permanent, but spiritual death does not have to be. That is why the first Advent was to important. Jesus brought a chance to receive eternal spiritual life. Now as each day draws us nearer to the Second Advent, we need to consider if we are looking forward to that.
For the unbeliever, we have the opportunity to bring them the Hope found in the first Advent. We can help them be prepared for the second Advent. We can give real hope to the world if we really believe that Jesus meant what He said. In all the verses we have been looking at and throughout the entire Bible, God desires to bring hope. This verse gives us hope that there will be a better time ahead for us, but if we want to really be using the candle of hope, we need to be sharing the fact that there is a Second Advent. It is the looking forward with hope to the time when Jesus will come again. This time He will come as a king.
1 John 2:28 And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming. This verse helps us review what we have been considering these past weeks in preparation for Christmas.
We have spent the last three weeks talking about the candles of joy, peace and love. These are the lights that should be burning brightly in our lives because Jesus came that first Advent. They are the lights that are to help point the way to Him in a world that is lost in the darkness of sin. How can we truly celebrate Christmas if He isn't the center of our everyday life. But as long as we have breath, we have hope.
Our lights are to be beacons that light the way towards His Second Coming. Like the old search lights that used to light up the night sky. We are to be those kinds of lights. They were first used to help planes land safely. During the wars they were used to search for enemy planes to prevent them from bombing. Then Hollywood used them to draw folks to their big events.
We can be lights that guide people safely to Christ. We can be those that warn of evil. We can become shallow in our faith and just be lights that look nice but have no serious purpose. Although John is trying to encourage us in this first verse. He tells us to be confident that Jesus will return. He tells us to live so that when Jesus comes we will not be ashamed of how we spent our lives. And he tells us that the only way we can expect to do all that is to abide in Christ and He in us. If we remember those things then we will have peace, love and joy shinning in us.
In closing as you celebrate Christmas and look forward to the New Year ahead let this verse be a reminder and a guide to you.
Titus 2:11-14 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.