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                     Written by Rev. Stephen Wallace
 

We hope that this devotional book helps enhance your Celebration of Christmas. The next 25 days will be spent reflecting on the people and things of Christ’s birth. Enjoy and may we all be lifted up closer to Christ by them.

 This section looks at what God brings and how we are to respond:

Dec 1   Luke 1: 5--7     Zechariah – Disappointment but Faithful
Dec 2   Luke 1:8–20    Zechariah – Discerning God’s way
Dec 3   Luke 1: 21-25  Elizabeth – Showing Favor       
Dec 4   Luke 1: 26–35 Mary – Unexpected Turns in Life                   
Dec 5   Matthew 1: 19-20, 24-25 Joseph – Uncertainties & Trust                
Dec 6   Matthew 1: 20-23 Angels – Where to Find Direction                 
Dec 7   Luke 1: 57-64 John’s Birth – Carrying Though                                              
Dec 8   Luke 2: 1-5       Joseph – Living in the World Watching for God
Dec 9   Luke 2 5-7       Inn Keeper – Hard times                                         
Dec 10 Luke 2: 8-14    Shepherd & Angels - Joy Accepting                
Dec 11 Luke 2: 15-18, 20 Shepherd: Deciding What to Do                  
Dec 12 Luke 2:19        Mary: Keeping Track                          
Dec 13 Luke 2: 21-24  Jesus: Keeping Tradition                               
Dec 14 Luke 2: 25-28a            Simeon: Confirmation                                    
Dec 15 Luke 2: 36-38  Anna: Waiting                         
Dec 16 Matthew 2: 1    Magi: How much Effort to Give                                 
Dec 17 Matthew 2: 1-3            Herod: Disturbed by God’s Plan                  
Dec 18 Matthew 2: 3-6            Bible: Living Word of Help       
Dec 19 Matthew 2: 7-9, 12 Herod & the Magi: Traps
Dec 20 Matthew 2: 10-11 Magi & Jesus: Worshipping
Dec 21 Matthew 2: 11  Opening Treasure: Gold      
Dec 22 Matthew 2: 11  Opening Treasure: Frankincense
Dec 23 Matthew 2: 11  Opening Treasure: Myrrh
Dec 24 Matthew 2: 13-15 God: Protection                              
Dec 25 John 3: 16        Jesus: The Gift

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December 25  -           Jesus: The Gift

Scripture: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.    
John 3:16

Devotional Thought: On this Christmas Day the most important and powerful message that we need to hear is that God loves us.  God is passionately in love with us and that is not going to change.  God longs for goodness to fill our lives.  God is actively doing things to bring a bright future to us.

Now when I hear this passage I am tempted to respond like this:
“It says that ‘God so loved the world’, not that God loves me.  Surely this passage is meant to be taken in general terms.  Surely God isn’t that interested in me”.  Have you ever had that kind of response?

But then I look at how Jesus lived.  Jesus is the tangible reflection of God.  We can know God’s motives, perspective, and vision by looking at Jesus’ attitude, actions, and values.  So how did Jesus live?  Jesus lived surrounded by crowds yet focusing on the individual.  Jesus taught crowds of thousands but he would see the lone person sitting in a tree or crouching beside the pathway.  He made time for the individual and he cared what happened to each one. 

So when I hear this passage I have to put it into the context of the God that Jesus reveals.  When I do that I can’t leave it as a general love of all humanity but am moved to admit that God really does seem the individual.  God is passionate about each person.  In other words, God loves me!  God loves you, personally!  That is certainly great news to celebrate this Christmas Day.

Prayer: O God, I am humbled by Your love for me.  It can be hard to believe but Jesus showed over and over its truth.  Continue to remind me of that truth. In Jesus’ name I ask it.  Amen.

 
December 24   - God: Protection

Scripture: 13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
     14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”                                              Matthew 2: 13-15

Devotional Thought: Did you notice how God protected Mary, Joseph, and Jesus?  God sent the warning of the danger ahead and showed a way to avoid it.  It was up to Mary and Joseph to ignore or to act on that information.  They could have stayed and hoped for the best.  They could have turned a deaf ear and discounted it as silly.  Or they could listen to that warning and follow God’s direction.

At times it seems like people expect to God to take care of both ends of the protection equation; giving the heads up as well as doing whatever act is necessary to provide the protection.  But God didn’t magically transport Mary, Joseph, and Jesus to Egypt.  They had to take action in response to the information God provided.  We too need to first listen for the information that God gives and then take action.  We need to trust that the message is motivated out of love for us and to commit ourselves to doing what is needed to follow it.

In your life are you hearing any cautions or seeing any red flags?  What is your response to those warnings?  What helps convince you that there is a true threat that needs to be heeded and what is just unfounded worry?  Are there actions that you need to take now in order to avoid the threat?  What will you do from here?

Prayer: O Lord, thank You for watching out for us.  Thank You for caring about us.  Help us to have open eyes and ears so that we can best see the way You show us.  Strengthen our trust so that we boldly take action in response to what You warn us about.  For this we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 
December 1    Zechariah – Disappointment but Faithful!

Scripture:  In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.       Luke 1:5-7

Devotional Thought:    Life can be very heartbreaking. We have dreams and desires that bring us joy and hope.  Yet when they hit roadblocks or fail to develop we can feel great disappointed. We can even be devastated by the loss of our dream.  Zechariah had the dream of being a father but year after year, decade after decade this dream slipped away until it was all but lost.  When faced with such disappointment it is easy for us to lose our way or to give in to the disappointment.  Yet Zechariah didn’t do that.  Instead he continued to be faithful in serving God.

What dreams have you had that have faded with the passing of each year?   How have you dealt with that disappointment?  Have you found yourself being less passionate about following God because of those disappointments?  What has helped, or could have helped, you to continue faithfully?

Prayer:  O Lord, disappointment is a powerful force to deal with in life.  It can squash our passion for You and build barriers to our living out our faith.  Help us to trust in You even when we don’t see the results we desire.  In Jesus name we ask it, Amen.


December 2:  Zechariah – Discerning God’s way

Scripture: Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense.10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.
    11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 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.”
     18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”
     19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”                                    Luke 1:8–20  

Devotional Thought:     Zechariah had an angel telling him what he was to do yet he still found it hard to follow.  No matter the reassurance given, signs, or even angels proclamation we still have to choose whether to believe.   What makes it hard for you to follow God’s calling?  Where do you think you are hearing God call and what helps you decide what God is asking?

Prayer: O God, at times we have a hard time hearing clearly what you want. Sometimes it is because of our sinfulness or selfishness, but at other times it is because of our inability to understand.  Help us to see Your will and way we ask. Amen.

December 23    - Opening Treasure: Myrrh

Scripture: - 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.                                         Matthew 2: 11

Devotional Thought: The third gift brought to Jesus was Myrrh. Myrrh was used as a perfume, used to anoint a person for a special role, used for purification rituals, used to embalmed bodies, and more. For Jesus this was a gift that reflected the special place he occupied in God’s plan.  He was unique and special.  Just as David was set aside to become King, Jesus was set aside to bring about God’s Kingdom. It was a gift that foreshadowed the sacrifice Jesus would make and how he would be crucified and buried.  It was a gift that reflected the purity found in Jesus. 

From the very beginning Jesus knew what his life was about.  He knew where he was headed and what that journey entailed.  The gift of myrrh didn’t proclaim new information to him but simply affirmed the direction that he already was committed to going.

What do you think God has set you aside to do?  What confirmation about the direction that you are to head has been given to you?  What anointing is God providing for you?  How is God offering to purify you?

Prayer: O God, thank You for the cleansing that You offer and the reassurance that you bring. It is such a help to have Your confirmation for the direction our lives are to take.  Clarify to us the direction we are to take.  For this we ask in Christ’s name.  Amen.

 
December 22  - Opening Treasure: Frankincense

Scripture11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.                                              Matthew 2: 11

Devotional Thought: Gift #2 was that of frankincense.  This traditionally was a gift for a priest.  It was a perfume that was to remind us of the sweetness of coming into God’s presence. It was an plant burned as a sweet sign during prayers of how those prayers rise up to God.

 Priests were often seen as the bridge-builders opening the path between God and people. Certainly ministers and priests have often failed to open that bridge but Jesus didn’t.  Jesus was the greatest priest and the one who forever put in place a pathway connecting God with us. The gift of frankincense given by the Magi foreshadowed the great work that Jesus would do in helping us to understand what God is like, what God’s desires are, and the plans that God has for us. 

 Jesus showed us God in tangible ways, in real life situations.  We can wonder how God would handle particular situations and those questions were answered by Jesus’ actions.  He lived as the perfect reflection of God.  He was truly the Living Word.

 What barriers are blocking the bridge between you and God?  We need to realize that those barriers are ones that we have put up because Jesus removed the ones from God’s side.  So why have those barriers been put up? What needs to happen to dismantle them?

 Prayer: O Lord, thank You for Jesus deleting the misunderstandings we had about You and showing us who You truly are?  Thank You for caring enough that You would reveal Yourself to us and open a pathway between us.  Help us to see the walls we are building and what we need to do to take them down.  In Christ we pray. Amen.


December 3    ­    Elizabeth – Showing Favor

Scripture: 21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. 22 When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.
23 When his time of service was completed, he returned home. 24 After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 25 “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”                                                         Luke 1: 21-25 

Devotional thought:     Elizabeth had lived with the sadness and cultural judgment of being without a child for decades.  But what appeared to be punishment wasn’t.  Instead God saw Elizabeth’s faithfulness and had plans to bless her in an amazing way.  She believed in God’s love and lived accordingly.  As a result good things happened.

When things are difficult or not what we expect it can feel like God doesn’t care…or worse. Do you believe in God’s love for you and live accordingly, even when things are not going smoothly?  How or how not?

Prayer:  O God, do not let negative experiences or dark time lead us to fail to live out our belief.  You have said You love us and have plans for our good.  Help us to live according to those promises.  Amen. 


December 4    Mary – Unexpected Turns in Life

Scripture:  In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."
    Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."  “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
     The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.                      Luke 1: 26–35              

Devotional Thought:  Mary’s life took a very unexpected and concerning turn.  Even though she wanted to be faithful, the future she faced was confusing and frightening. 

Life can be very frightening and uncertain. Where have you faced unexpected turns in your life’s direction?  How did you respond?  What signs of God’s plan were there that you could see, if any?

Prayer:  O God, when life takes scary turns we can be left frightened and hesitant.  It can take us awhile to process what we are to do.  We can also question if we want to follow.  Forgive us for being reluctant to change with you and help us to trust in your vision and direction. Amen.


December 21 - Opening Treasure: Gold      

Scripture: 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.                                              Matthew 2: 11

 Devotional Thought: Birthday presents!  What fun they can be especially gifts that are carefully selected for you.  What is the best gift you have ever received? 

 The Magi came and they brought three gifts.  The first one mention is gold. I don’t know if it was in bricks, nuggets, necklaces or what but I am sure it was much appreciated.  Gold is very useful in many ways including to wear and to pay for things. I wonder what that gold was used for?  It must have come in very handy in meeting the needs of Mary, Joseph and Jesus in those early years.

But the gold was more than just a useful gift.  It was also a gift with significance.  Gold was a gift for a king.  It was a gift that showed that the giver recognized that its recipient was very special.  It was a gift that showered honor and respect on the one it was offered to.  The Magi recognized how special Jesus was and came in attitude and action showing that reality.

When you think about Jesus is there an understanding of just how special he is?  Do you bring “gold”, at least in your attitude, that celebrates him as a king, as the one who has authority over you?  Do you honor him with your actions and humble yourself in his presence?

In our effort to make Jesus approachable we sometimes forget that he is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Ruler of all things.

Prayer: O Lord, we come humbly into Your presence.  We offer ourselves as Your servants.  Purify our motives and attitudes so that we only wish Your will.  Wash away the thoughts that say we can demand from You or that we are Your equal. In Jesus’ name we ask it.  Amen.

 
December 20   - Magi & Jesus: Worshiping           

Scripture: 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.             Matthew 2: 10-11

 Devotional Thought: What is your first instinct when you come into the presence of God?  Whether it be in prayer, study or in a service how do you ‘position’ yourself?  Do you jump right in with all of the things that you need?  Are you focused on the situations that you are in right now?  Or is the first instinct one of amazement and awe about the precious opportunity that is being offered to you?  After all isn’t being invited into the presence of God quite a gift?  Isn’t it a treasure?  The Magi bowed down and worshiped when they saw the child Jesus.  Their instinct wasn’t to ask about where they could stay, or to see if there was any dinner left over.  They knew how richly blessed they were to be standing in that doorway at that moment.  They were ‘overjoyed’ at God’s gift of being part of this event.

 Worship is to be a prime part of our focus and outlook.  We are a people who have been gifted with so much but do we recognize that?.  Yes we have hardship, and heartache, and failures, and more.  But we also have precious experiences that have been showered upon us.  We have doors opened for us that we haven’t earned and that are wonderful blessings.  Do any of those kind of blessings come to your mind? 

 I guess what I long for is for followers of Christ to be known as a people of celebration and thankfulness for all that God has done and will do.  I long for us to be people that lift others up by our gratitude for all God is doing.  I long for me to be a person that stands in the doorways and is in awe of the privilege given to me…and can do nothing else before worshiping.

Prayer: O God how wonderful You are.  Your care is more than we could ask for and certainly is beyond what we see.  You choose to love in amazing ways and to bring life when we can demand neither.  Accept our praise O Lord.  In Jesus’ name we lift it up. Amen.

December 5      Joseph –Uncertainties & Trust       

Scripture:  Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit…. .24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.                                                                                 Matthew 1: 19-20, 24-25             

Devotional Thought: How hard it is to trust in what other people tell us when it comes in the middle of disappointing, confusing, or challenging situations.  Joseph had some difficult news given to him and he had to decide how he would respond.  Even before the angel spoke to him, Joseph had chosen to act with compassion and kindness.  But then, after talking with the angel, Joseph chose to be even more supportive and involved. 

How do you respond when people disappoint you or do things that confuse or challenge?  Are you set to your perspective and assumptions about them or the situation, or are you willing to see God work in unexpected ways.  Are you willing to step out in new directions even when others may not approve or understand?

Prayer: God it is hard to step into a future that is different, even contrary, to what we anticipated.  When others disappoint us it can be hard to stay in the situation.  Help us put our trust in You and listen intently for Your direction.  In Jesus’ name we ask it. Amen.


December 6    - Angels – Where to Find Direction

Scripture: Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
Matthew 1: 19-23 

Devotional Thought: It was a crossroads.  I wish the road that was best to take was clearly marked but it wasn’t.  There were attractive and sensible things about each possibility.  So which should I take? Which one did God wish for me?  How should I decide?

That last question is perhaps the most important.  To put it another way: “where are we to get direction or guidance?”  Where do you look for answers?  What helps you pick one pathway over another?  Joseph turned to his dream with the angel.  Scripture is used as an effective source by many. Mentors are sought out by some to help identify issues and clues for what to do. 

So where do you turn for guidance?  What process do you use to make those key decisions in your life…or even the mundane decisions?  How do you identify and tap into God’s plan?

Prayer: O Lord, it is a blessing to have you reach out to us to provide direction for our lives.  You do not leave us on our own but shine a light to help us find our way.  Shine that light on our situation so that we can find the way you know is best.  This we ask in Christ’s name. Amen.

December 19 - Herod & the Magi: Traps

Scripture: Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
    After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.....12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.                                                          Matthew 2: 7-9, 12

Devotional Thought: “But I thought she was my friend!”  “I really fell for that one.”  “Well that is not what they said they wanted.”  Have you ever been surprised in a bad way by what another has done?  Have you ever felt set up?  What kinds of traps have you found yourself in?

The Magi were being set up by King Herod.  We clearly see the King’s selfish motives and how he wasn’t interested in worshiping anyone but himself.  He put on a good show but God wasn’t deceived.

 How painful it is when we think we can trust someone only to find that we have been played.  The motives of others are not always pure and we can find ourselves being used to do great harm.  So what are we to do? Are we to be so jaded that we don’t trust anyone?  Are we to be distant to everyone else?  No. We are certainly not to let the traps set by others turn us into negative people always expecting the worst.  But we also need to be wary; as Jesus said: “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).  That means listen for the Holy Spirit’s poke trying to get you to ‘go home another way’.  Listen for the Holy Spirit’s nudge that warns you not to go down a certain pathway.  It means when something stirs inside you with an unsettled feeling pay attention and see if God is trying to help you avoid a trap.

 Are there traps you need to avoid right now?

 Prayer:  O God thank You for watching out for us and for helping us to see the traps in life.  Continue to nudge, poke, and stir us.  Amen.

  
December 18  - Bible: Living Word of Help

 Scripture:  When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
    for out of you will come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’”                  
Matthew 2: 3-6                       

 Devotional Thought: When asked about the Messiah the teachers and priests looked to the Scriptures to find the answer.  The Scriptures are often called “living” and this is because these writings have a way of coming alive to speak to our particular situations.  Certainly we need to be careful about manipulating Scripture to say what we want it to say or be selective in hearing what it says.  But we also need to avoid discounting the power that it has to give direction, encouragement, and insight.  Over the years I have been amazed at how the same passage of Scripture has spoken in relevant ways to very different situations.  New insights or messages keep coming from passages that I was well familiar with.

 As you look at situations in your life how can you listen to the ‘Living Word’ of Scripture for wisdom?  Is there anywhere that you are discounting what it says because it is uncomfortable or not what you want?  This might be a challenge to stop something or it might just as likely be a message of how precious you are (many of us have a hard time really believing that is really true).

What do you need to go to Scripture to find insight?  Do you need someone to help you navigate to find help from it?  Who can you turn to for that help?

 Prayer: O Lord, what a blessing to have a place day in and out where we can go for guidance, reassurance, and help.  Help us to understand Your message in Scripture and how it applies to our lives. Help us to hear it accurately and clearly. In Christ’s name we ask it.  Amen.

December 7    -John’s birth: God’s Plan for Us vs. the World’s  

 Scripture: 57 When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.
59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, 60 but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.”
61 They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.” 62 Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. 63 He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God.                                                   Luke 1:57-64

 Devotional Thought: So many pressures push in on us in life.  Marketers, friends, family, businesses, organizations, and more push to get us to move in one direction or another.  It is easy to just ‘go with the flow’ or to allow ourselves to be shoved along as others desire.  Sometimes that is fine, good and the right way to go.  However, at other times those pressures lead us in a different way than what God desires.  John came face to face with that pressure when asked about his new son’s name.  It might not seem earth changing but it was a clear decision.  Would he follow what God asked or give in to the pressure of friends and family? 

 Where are you pressured?  What pressure do you find the hardest to withstand? On what issues might God be asking you to take a different path than others?  How will you choose?

 Prayer:  Lord, help us to listen for Your voice and to make it the one we choose over all others. Encourage us and lead us in Your way in big and small choices. This we ask in Christ’s name.  Amen.

 December 8    - Joseph: Living in the World Watching for God 

 Scripture: In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)And everyone went to their own town to register. 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: 1-5

 Devotional Thought: Joseph was dealing with the demands of life.  The government required him to go to Bethlehem and that called for so many preparations to be made, time to be spent, and energy to be expended. Just focusing on what had to be done could take his full attention.  It was a lot to do and by focusing only on life’s demanding situation it would be easy to miss out on God’s presence.  Life’s busyness and loudness can make it hard to hear God’s voice, or to see God’s movement. Yet God was/is moving and speaking.

 In what ways do you quiet the noise of life?  How do you look beyond the demands of life to see God’s hand at work?  What are the things that make it hard for you to see or hear God’s presence or moving?

 Prayer: Dear God, We thank You being present in our world and in our lives.  Thank You for breaking in on the mundane and the demanding moments of life.  Open our eyes so that we can see You.  Open our hearts so that we may feel Your love.  Open our souls so that we may know Your healing, hope, and salvation.  This we pray in Christ’s name.  Amen.

 December 17  - Herod: Disturbed by God’s Plan    

 Scripture: After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”  When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.
Matthew 2: 1-3                    

 Devotional Thought: Herod was disturbed.  Disturbed?  Herod was anxious, suspicious, threatened, and unwilling to accept what God had planned.  He was well known for doing anything necessary to protect his claim to the throne; including killing family members.  So he was ‘disturbed’ that here was a new threat to his way of doing business.  He was upset and willing to do whatever to wipe out this possibility. Herod didn’t want change, even change that brought God’s very presence. Herod didn’t want any new power to arise in the hands of another, even if it would bring healing and blessings to multitudes.

 Now to be honest aren’t we sometimes a bit disturbed by God’s plans as well?  We aren’t sure how it will all play out and if it will take things in the direction that we would like for them to go.  We are not sure that we want the changes in our life that what God has in store would require.  So when the exciting news is shared of what God is going to do we can be disturbed.  Been there?

So we have a choice to make: will we be disturbed and fight what God is bringing or will we call on our trust in God’s love for us to defuse our insecurity and fear?  Will we be like Herod or like the Magi?  Will we support the work of God or will we hold on tight to how we envision things (or are comfortable with)?  Where are you disturbed?  How are you responding to that disturbance?

 Prayer:  Lord, You can make us feel so uncomfortable and unsettled.  Your ways challenge us and push us to grow, change, and take action. You do not want us to stay wounded and scarred but to find healing and wholeness.  Move us beyond our being disturbed so that we can find Your salvation.  In Christ we ask it.  Amen.

 December 16  - Magi: How much Effort to Give     

 Scripture: After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 
Matthew 2: 1              

 Devotional Thought:  How much effort to give.  That is a question that we answer dozens of times every day.  How much energy will we spend focusing on what a coworker is saying?  How much passion will we put into our time with family members?  How much strength will we bring to doing the chores or tasks?  How much effort will we send God’s way?

 The Magi heard that a King was to be born. Now it would have been nice if he was going to be born the next block over.  It would have been great if he was going to be born in a timeframe that didn’t involve taking a lot of time off of work (or whatever things those Magi had going on at the time).  It would be nice if they could take part in this very special event without having to invest a great deal of time, money, and effort.  But that wasn’t the option for them.  Instead they had to choose if they were willing to put in more than just the minimum.  They had to decide if they would really make an investment in being part of what God was doing.

 Daily we are challenged with the question: “How much effort will you give?”  Will we make the effort to live as Christ asked: with kindness, goodness, peacefulness, self-control, etc….?  Will we make the effort to make a positive difference in the lives of others?  Will we choose to do random acts of kindness, planned actions of care, and even grace-filled actions for those who certainly ‘may not deserve it’ but need it?  So how much effort are you making?  If you were with those Magi would you have packed your camel or begged off because it was just too much effort?  Right now is there an ‘effort’ that you need to make?

 Prayer:  O God, fill us with passion for You and Your plan.  Energize us so that we act with such passion that others are lifted up.  Forgive us for times of laziness and make our future one of stepping out like those Magi.  In Christ’s name we ask it.  Amen.

 
December 9    -Inn Keeper: Hard Times and Way           

 Scripture: 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. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and 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 2:4-7

Devotional Thought: Ending up in the stable was surely not the plan that Joseph or Mary envisioned when they began their journey to Bethlehem.  That journey was hard enough to endure, but then to end up spending the night in a stable made it even harder.  It would be wonderful if following God’s direction always came with joy, ease, and comfort.  Instead there is often difficulty and struggle in that journey.

 Sometimes people give up when the way becomes dark and troubling.  Sometimes people assume that they are ‘off course’ when everything isn’t easy and ‘successful’.  But Scripture shows us over and over again that faithful followers have had to endure extremely difficult situations.  Hardship doesn’t mean you are off course.  Instead we need to continue following God’s call in spite of those difficulties believing that God will help us through them.  We can also hope that those very hardships will bring some kind of blessing to us or others. 

 So how do you respond to hardships?  Do you give up? Do you assume you are going the wrong way?  Or do you recheck God’s call and then push ahead?

 Prayer: O Lord, we don’t like difficulties and hardships.  Struggles can make us doubt that we have heard You accurately or are headed in the right direction.  Reassure us of Your calling and help us to persist in the journey.  For this we pray in Jesus name.  Amen.

 
December 10  - Shepherd & Angels - Joy Accepting

 Scripture: And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,  14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
                                                            Luke 2: 8-14

 Devotional Thought: Today wouldn’t you like some “good news that will cause great joy”?  It seems like we talk a lot about finding happiness and contentment.  We search in all sorts of places for what will bring joy but have a very difficult time finding it.  We can come to the conclusion that our life is just filled with little (or no) true joy.  We can convince ourselves that heartache, difficulties, grief, failures and the like all make it impossible for us to find joy.  Yet that is not true.  Joy is offered to us just as it was to the shepherds.

 The truth is that we can have joy if we are willing to receive it.  That doesn’t mean that we will never have hardships or sadness.  Instead it means that we can have joy in spite of those difficulties.  God has done things and continues to do things that offer each of us the opportunity to receive joy.  Joy found in the beauty in our world that we can drink in, beauty in friendships, beauty in moments of kindness, and more.  Do you reject or accept joy?  How?

Prayer: O God we are so blessed by You. Thank You for showering us with such kindnesses.  Forgive us for rejecting so many of Your gifts and help us to see the joys that are offered us. In Jesus name. Amen.

 December 15  - Anna: Waiting         

 Scripture: 36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.                         Luke 2: 36-38             

Devotional Thought: Wait, wait, wait, wait…..wait.  Whether it be sitting at a stoplight on the way to an urgent appointment, waiting when you are hungry in a restaurant, or waiting as you long for that special person to call, waiting is hard.  Waiting is especially difficult when we are waiting to experience what we have longed to take place.  When we have believed something for weeks, months, or even years it is such a joy when it comes to be.

 Anna believed.  For so long she had trusted God and believed.  What a tremendous joy it must have been when she saw that baby Jesus.  What excitement it must have brought both to see the Messiah as well as to have what she accepted as true for so long become reality.

 We are asked to believe as well.  We are to trust what God has promised and to live out that trust.  We are to live in anticipation of what will come.  How are you living in anticipation, or failing to live in anticipation?  Are you living with more security, joy, and hope because of the promises God has made to us?  How does that impact your choices?  Are you willing to make decisions trusting that the future Christ proclaimed will become reality? 

 God has not fulfilled all of the promised we have been made but that doesn’t mean that we can’t live in anticipation just like Anna.

Prayer:  Lord, even though we ‘know’ how wonderful it is when that ‘knowing’ becomes ‘being’.  What joy when we can see the fulfillment of Your promise. Thank you for those fulfilled promises. In Christ we celebrate. Amen.


December 14  - Simeon: Confirmation         

 Scripture: 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God.

Luke 2: 25-28a                       

 Devotional Thought:  “See!  I told you so!”  I imagine that you have said those words at some point in your life and thought them many more times.  We can know that something is right or true but when others don’t it can challenge us.  Do we give up on what we believe?  Do we just stay silent about it until it appears?  Or do we still proclaim what we know so that others can be encouraged, guided, and blessed by it?

 Simeon wasn’t passively waiting until things happened.  Instead he was watching, actively waiting, praying, and most of all living knowing what was coming.  Finally it became clear for all to see and he rejoiced!  He celebrated!  Not because he was ‘right’ but because he knew the help, the healing, and the salvation that was now here.  What was once only a dream and a promise was now taking tangible shape in this baby.

Where do you see a confirmation of what you have been told?  How can you live trusting in what was promised?  How do you need to celebrate what has finally become ‘real’?

  Prayer:  Trustworthy Lord, thank You for reassurances given and confirmations provided. We work to trust You in all things but these ‘confirmations’ give us such comfort and strength.  In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.


December 11  -  Shepherds: Deciding What to Do

 Scripture: 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. ….
20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
                                                                        Luke 2: 15-18, 20

 Devotional Thought: You know that moment when you have to make a decision? You know that instant where you’re faced with different choices, which lead you in very different directions, and one has to be picked?  It might be in taking a job, choosing to initiate a conversation, offering an apology or accepting one, volunteering your time, or a million other things.  There is a moment where you have to choose.

So what do you use to make that choice?  What are the guidelines, the criterion, or the vision that you use to make that choice?  Do you just ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ or is there some bigger picture that your choices are decided by?  Are your decisions made by how they will enable you to reach your goal or by how they will push it away?  The shepherds had to decide what goal they would pursue.  Would they just put their heads down and ‘keep the sheep’ or would they experience something more? Would they make a choice which caused some ‘issues’ in their lives in order to have the possibility of sharing in something great?

 How about you?  Are you willing to be part of something great or are you just surviving or existing?  How can the choices before you now lead you to something grand?

Prayer:  O Lord, You have invited us to be part of something larger, something greater, something marvelous.  Help us to be able to see the repercussions of our choices.  Help us to know which choices will lead us to You. In Christ we ask it.  Amen.


December 12   - Mary: Treasuring/Keeping Track  

Scripture: 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.                                              Luke 2: 19

 Devotional Thought: Mary was keeping track of all of these little tidbits.  The promises made by the angels, the celebration of the shepherds, and the experience with Elizabeth and the baby in her womb.  Mary noticed them, remembered them, and thought about them.  She saw them as a gift to hold on to.  A gift that would help her not just exist in life but to be able to thrive in life.  A gift that would help her to trust God, recall the goodness of God, and to believe in the ‘impossible-possibilities’ that God said were going to take place.

 I know that it can be hard to face life’s blows. I also know that when we have failed to ‘treasure up’ the things that God has done in our sight we can find that trusting and thriving even more difficult to do.  We need to notice the signs and blessings that God gives to us along our life’s road.  We need to take action to intentionally remember and recall those things in both the good and bad times of our life. Because when we remember and recall the treasures God has shown us we live from a place of security and power rather than from one of fear and uncertainty.  We can face deep darkness and choose to believe in the light.  We can trust in a God who loves even when we do not feel that kind touch or hear that caring voice.

What things do you have to ‘treasure up’?  What can you do to remember them (e.g. journaling about them) and to recall them?  Do you need to spend some time pondering what God has done or is doing for you so that you can find the gift for your future?

 Prayer: God of so many gifts, help me to see those signs of Your love, kindness, and care.  Bring to my sight those signs that show how trustworthy You are.  Help me to recall them in the low times of my life so that my trust doesn’t fail nor my hope disappear.  For this I ask in Jesus’ name.  Amen.  

December 13  - Jesus: Keeping Tradition      

Scripture: 21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.  22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”                Luke 2: 21-24

 Devotional Thought: Traditions can be a pain or a rich blessing.  Traditions can remind us of something great or they can become a meaningless action with forgotten purpose.  Traditions can define us, give us an identity, and help us navigate the valleys and mountains of life.  Too frequently traditions are jettisoned without understanding what they mean or offer.  Just as frequently traditions are rigidly held to with no true understanding of what they are all about.  Sometimes traditions are continued in ways that even go contrary to what their true purpose was in the beginning.

 Mary and Joseph held on to the traditions and they passed them along to Jesus.  They saw their power and richness and shared in them.  Jesus also shared in the power and richness of traditions.  He saw the meaning they carried (e.g. baptism, Passover) and he made them a part of his life.  Yet he also pushed back on some of the traditions.  Jesus was one who demanded that the meaning be understood and that traditions didn’t become meaningless actions, or worse, destructive restrictions. 

 What traditions bless your life?  Why?  What traditions do you need to better understand so that they can be the intended blessing?  Are there any traditions in your life that need changing because they have taken on the wrong meaning? 

 Prayer: God of the ages, You have offered us tools to remember the promises, the gifts, the love, and the hope You offer.  Help us to cherish those traditions powerfully and wisely. In Jesus name we ask it. Amen.

 

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