And so it ends. For the past 45 days, we have read Scripture and prayed together. We have heard from some voices who do not speak the way we speak, considered thoughts from minds who do not necessarily think the way we think, and listened to the hearts of some whose affections for Christ match ours, even as their perspectives are radically different. For those of you who have read, talked, and prayed along with us through this Advent and Christmas season, Kim and I would like to say thank you for sharing this experience. We pray that these reflections have deepened your understanding of Christmas and strengthened your love for Jesus and your faith in him. May the work that God has kindled in your hearts through this season of devotion grow as you share the joy and hope of Jesus throughout 2018!
- Isaiah 9:2-6
- Watch for the Light, 308-320
- What will you remember from the collection of readings and conversations we have covered over the past 45 days? What has God taught you about the Advent, or about Jesus himself, that you will carry with you as you continue to live out your faith?
- “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Isa. 9:2). What will you do to reflect the light of Jesus to people living in darkness around you? Will you commit to pray daily for the strength and grace to show Jesus to people near you and far away who desperately need to know that God has sent a Savior to rescue them?
Begin praying the prayer from question 2 even today. Ask the Lord to give you a sensitive heart to recognize both the physical and spiritual needs in your world. Then pray that in the power of the Holy Spirit, He would use you to shine the light of Christ and the hope of the gospel to someone who is waiting to hear of the Son who was born to give them hope.
With only two days left in our Advent and Christmas devotional readings, today is the shortest entry in the entire book. What it lacks in length, though, it makes up for by focusing immediately on the incomparable love of God shown to us in the birth of Christ, as well as in the final salvation we will experience when our King returns to reign forever.
- Matthew 5:3
- Watch for the Light, 307
- Jesus was born to be a King who would hold no scepter and wear no crown on this earth. He lived as a King unlike any other king. How can we live in such a way to show that we as Christians below to this unique King and his Kingdom?
- Menotti’s poem (and Jesus himself in Matthew 5:3) said that his Kingdom belongs to the poor, yet we live as some a wealthy people in this world. How does the story of Jesus’ birth help you understand what it means to be spiritually poor when you approach God?
“On love, on love alone He would build his kingdom.”
Let your prayer today be a simple request that God would allow your life to be marked by the kind of love that only He can give. Pray that you would believe, understand, and rest in his love. Pray that his love would grow in you so that your interactions with others would clearly show the transformation that God has been working in your life through your faith in Jesus.
With only three more readings remaining in our Advent and Christmas journey, today’s writing focuses on Simeon, an often over-looked character whose contribution to the Christmas story could not be more clear. For all the statements we have read in recent weeks about Jesus’ coming to earth to bring hope for the poor, justice to the powerful, and strength to the weak, Simeon pointed beyond the temporary consequences to the eternal significance of Christ’s birth. Jesus came to bring salvation, light to the Gentiles and glory to Israel. His birth means that this world – and the death that marks the end of our time here – is only the very beginning of our eternal life with God.
- Luke 2:25-35
- Watch for the Light, 300-306
- Simeon received a unique promise from the Lord that he would see the Messiah before his death, and that promise carried him forward in hope and joy for years. If you were to receive a similar promise from the Lord, how do you think it would affect your approach to worship and your devotion to the Lord? How have the promises you have read in Scripture already influenced your approach to worship?
- Donne writes, “The Church prepares our devotion before Christmas day with four Sundays in Advent, which bring Christ nearer and nearer to us and remind us that he is coming to enable us… to depart in peace, because our eyes have seen his salvation” (302). How does meditating on the birth of Christ into our world help prepare our hearts to one day leave this world in peace? How can remembering his birth bring comfort to a Christian who fears death?
Read Simeon’s blessing to God from Luke 2:29-32. Then, remembering that God has revealed his salvation in full you through his Word, re-phrase these verses in your own words as prayer of praise and blessing to God.
“Lord, now you are letting your
servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”
If Shel Silverstein or Dr. Seuss meet your idea for quality poetry, then today’s entry might stretch you a bit. If, however, a creative and reflective piece portraying the thoughts of one of the wise men years after his journey to meet Jesus piques your interest, then T.S. Eliot’s contribution may be just the thing for you today. Here’s a hint, the most impactful insights come at the very end of the poem.
- Matthew 2:1-12
- Watch for the Light, 297-299
- In many ways, it’s difficult for us to imagine exactly how strenuous the magi’s journey may have been or how much they had to endure to finally meet the infant King. What are some burdens or hardships you have endured in your journey of faith, trusting that a day is coming when you also will see Jesus face to face?
- At the end of the poem, the wise man recalls that after seeing Jesus and returning home, his old kingdoms and the gods that other people clung to had lost their luster in his eyes. Think over the time that has passed since you came to faith in Jesus and the difference that He has made in your heart. What are some ideas or things that you once treasured that have lost their appeal to you now?
As you recall the things that no longer have a grip on your heart and how much Jesus has changed your affections, thank him for the work that He has done within you. Spend time today praying that Jesus would continue to teach you to love the things that He loves, and that the treasures of this world would continue to lose your interest.
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in his wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of his glory and grace.”
How much do you have in common with a poor, rural worker from Nicaragua living in the 1970s? For most of us, the answer is not much at all. So would you be surprised to find that the story of Jesus’ birth sounds much different to someone in that situation than it does to you? Hopefully not. To prove the point, today’s reading presents a conversation between a small group of Nicaraguans in the 1970s, discussing how the story of the wise men’s visit to see Jesus seemed intriguing and perplexing. Notice how the setting they live in colors their interpretation of the Scriptures, then consider how the time and setting of your life might color the way you understand the Bible as well.
- Matthew 2:1-12
- Watch for the Light, 287-296
- How did the characters in this dialogue understand what was most important in the Christmas story differently than you do? Which ideas or details clearly stood out to them that you would not have thought about as much? Why do you think these ideas were important to the people in this dialogue?
- Which parts of the Christmas story stand out in your mind as most important? What experiences have you had or what lessons have you learned that might cause you to notice certain parts of the Christmas story more than others?
Praise God for his wisdom and grace in selecting the time and place of your life so that you might know who He is and how He loves and saves us. Pray for faith and understanding to see God’s truth clearly in the pages of Scripture. Finally, pray for our brothers and sisters in other cultures to see Jesus clearly in the Scriptures as well as they celebrate the Christmas season with us.
Today’s reading is short, so this discussion guide is short. But don’t skip it. Soren Kierkegaard does not mince words, and his very brief reading cuts right to the heart of lukewarm Christian faith.
- Matthew 2:1-4
- Watch for the Light, 285-286
- What is the most important difference between the scribes who studied the whole of God’s Word without pursuing news of the Messiah and the wise men who had only a star and a rumor, yet followed those things all the way to Bethlehem?
- How much does God have to reveal to you to get you to respond and pursue him in faith? What does our slowness to believe and follow him reveal about our true heart condition?
In the brief spirit of today’s reflection, simply pray for your own heart today. Ask that God would make you quick to believe and respond to what He reveals. Then thank him for the gift of his Word that reveals Jesus to us and the fullness of God’s grace and plan for our salvation.
Happy New Year! It has been a great time these last several weeks working through the Advent and Christmas devotional readings with you, and we pray that you have been blessed with deeper understanding of the Christmas story and some great conversations along the way. We have one week of daily readings and discussions remaining, and today’s is an invitation to reflect on the work God has been doing specifically in your life of faith.
- Luke 2:5-6
- Watch for the Light, 280-284
- When have you faced a difficulty that you had to wait an extended period of time to see God bring resolution or healing? How did God’s response to your problem compare to what you expected Him to do?
- What has God been doing within you over the past year to grow your faith or understanding? What can you or should you be doing to cooperate with the work God has been doing in you?
To begin this new year, ask God for wisdom to understand what He has been doing and what He desires to do in you to make you more like Jesus in the coming year. Then pray that He would grant you a soft and willing to heart to receive all that He desires within you. Pray also for your immediate family today, that each of you would recognize the Lord’s work and rejoice that He is always leading us, instructing us, and shaping us in love.
On this last day of a passing year, Catholic monk Thomas Merton writes to remind you that not only this year, but all of time and this world is quickly passing away. According to God’s Word, Jesus’ birth into the world marked the beginning of the end times. The Father has set a definite time and day when Jesus will return to bring peace and judgment to his world. As you read through today’s essay, think of the ways God has changed your heart to prepare you for the day this world ends and his eternal Kingdom is established on earth.
- Mark 1:14-15
- Watch for the Light, 267-279
- What is unique and powerful about the news that God’s Son has been born into the world? How is this news different and greater than the constant stream of loud and dramatic headlines that shout for your attention on a daily basis?
- Merton wrote, “We live in the time of no room, which is the time of the end. The time when everyone is obsessed with lack of time, lack of space, with saving time, conquering space…” (272). As the end of this Advent and Christmas season is drawing nearer, what steps will you take to ensure your lifestyle and your schedule will have protected room for the voice of the Savior?
For those of us who have committed our lives to Jesus, the time of the end is not merely a time of fear, chaos, and confusion – it is a time of inexpressible joy! As Merton writes, “It is the time to ‘lift up your heads for your redemption is at hand.’ It is the time when the promise will be manifestly fulfilled, and no longer kept secret from anyone. It is the time for the joy that is given not as the world gives, and that no man can take away” (277). In your time of prayer today, share your joy and eager anticipation of Christ’s return with God, telling him of your desire to be with him forever. Pray also that the Lord would reveal to you if there are trappings of this world that your heart is clinging to, holding you back from looking with full joy at the promised freedom of Christ’s return.
If you have never had an opportunity to read Philip Yancey, today’s essay should inspire you to seek out more of his books. His writing combines historical insight, pastoral warmth, and deep-seated faith to help you understand God’s works for us and love him more fully. From Christmas cards and abortion to unstable dictators and cosmic battles, today’s reading will grip your imagination and encourage you to think more deeply about Christ’s visit to our planet.
- Revelation 12:1-6
- Watch for the Light, 251-266
- Yancey points out that though our Christmas cards all feature peaceful, serene depictions of the Nativity, the gospels present a stark and complex story that troubled many. Do you find yourself tending to think of Christmas, and maybe Jesus himself, as a one-dimensional story that only leads to peace, simplicity, and goodwill for all? Why do you think we often overlook the parts of the gospel story that emphasize Mary’s fear, Simeon’s grim prophecy, or Herod’s murderous plotting?
- Have you ever considered that Joseph taking Mary along to Bethlehem may have been a protective act to shield her from the shaming response of neighbors in her small town (255)? How does this possibility affect the way you think of Joseph and his role in the Christmas story?
- Yancey writes, “Often a work of God comes with two edges, great joy and great pain… (256). When was a time in your life that you experienced both joy and pain as a result of your choice to obey or honor God? Is there anything God has been asking you to do in obedience to his leading that you have been slow to obey because you see the pain that will come?
- What was your first response to reading of Revelation 12 as a re-telling of the Christmas story from the perspective of heaven (see pages 262-266)? Have you heard of this before? How does hearing of this help you understand more completely what Jesus was doing by stepping out of heaven to visit “this fifth-rate little ball”?
Today praise God for his wisdom to send Jesus at a time and in a way that his vulnerable young life would be preserved even as He was born into poverty and humility. Next, praise God for his powerful victory, sending his Son to earth to rescue his people from the evil one. Finally, praise God for whatever else has caught your attention in this story. May we never run out of awe as we thoughtfully consider all that God has done to save us and show us his love!
Quirinius. Herod. Pontius Pilate. Caesar Augustus. None of these men are Christians, as far as we know. And apart from the life of Jesus, at least three of them would be remembered as little more than a name on a list in an obscure footnote of an uneventful season in an unimportant place. But they were part of Jesus’ life on earth, and their stories help us understand the story of Christ with greater depth and meaning. Today’s reading explores the significance of the historical facts surrounding Christ’s birth and connects that historical moment to the moment we live in today.
- Galatians 4:4-6
- Watch for the Light, 247-250
- Why do the gospels give such specific details about the exact time and place of Jesus’ birth? How does knowing the exact circumstances surrounding his birth encourage or strengthen your faith in Christ today?
- Jesus was born to a poor people, a group considered unimportant and dominated by foreign rulers. Yet He chose to join them in those circumstances and rose victorious from that poverty. Gutierrez says, “It is in the concrete setting and circumstances of our lives that we must learn to believe…” (250). What do you see in our world that causes you to feel hopeless, powerless, or unimportant? Do you see evidence of Jesus meeting us in those dire circumstances and bringing life and faith to his people?
Take time to pray over those circumstances you just listed, asking God bring mercy and justice to the broken. Are you grieved by deep poverty? The ongoing evil of abortion that plagues our nation? The broken state of so many homes and marriages? Tell these things to God, and pray that He would use us – his people, the body of Christ – to bring hope and healing to the afflicted. Finally, praise the Lord for the confident hope we have Christ is coming soon to bring peace, justice, and salvation to all who are waiting for him.