By Meg Bucher, Crosswalk.com
The world comes into focus as we discover Christmas. Each year God peels back a layer, rich with newly appreciated memories and formative ones of the present. There’s something uniquely grand about the birthday celebration greed attempts to block and political correctness to subdue. Carefully crafted by its Creator, and grandly announced by angels, it’s impossible to squelch the hope of the entire planet birthed.
What does Advent mean? Jesus. “Derived from the Latin word, ‘adventus,’ the word advent means ‘arrival’ or ‘coming,’” Joel Ryan explains. An advent wreath often symbolizes the celebration of the Advent season, each Sunday lightning a candle on the wreath to symbolize the anticipatory Light which came into the world the first Christmas. “Generally, the themes that correspond to each week fall into these categories: Week 1: Hope (or promise); Week 2: Preparations (or waiting or prophecy); Week 3: Joy (or peace); and Week 4: Love (or adoration),” Asheritah Ciuciu explains.
Meditating on the following Scriptures will help us to focus as a family on the greatest gift of all time …Christ Jesus, Savior of the World.
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Hope - Week 1 Advent Reading: Luke 2:1-21
“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” Luke 2:11
My neighbor once gave me a Christmas Cactus, which she told me only blooms at Christmas-time. I forgot to water it most of the winter, re-potted it in the spring, but continued to neglect it the rest of the year. Beyond my ability to care for it, it survived! The first week of the Advent (Christmas) season, God said, “it’s time,” and it began to flower.
“Many Jews were looking for a political leader to deliver them from Roman rule,” NIV Study Bible explains of Luke 2:11, “But this announcement concerns the Savior who would above all deliver from sin and death.” That day in the town of David, God said, “it’s time,” and born was the Savior of the world, a vulnerable baby boy who needed to be held and nurtured and loved. Born to hold, nurture, and love us for all time. The apostle John wrote:
“He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.” (John 1:10-13)
When Zechariah lost his ability to see God clearly, he lost his speech along with it. He doubted the vision he saw. He questioned the message. At his son’s birth, his speech was restored. Jesus restored our hope with His.
God built the possibility of hope into our DNA. A gift of grace allowed by the sacrifice of that baby boy born in the town of David. The opportunity to break free and follow Him home. The power of purpose as our feet tread the dirt of this Earth.
God said, “it’s time,” and like the wind blows when He says and the seas calm at His hand, Heaven came to earth embodied in His Son. And we not only get to partake in this love story …we are the center of it. Reading through the account of His birth in Luke reignites our hope in the Lord’s timing, not only to bring Jesus into the world but in our own lives.
Preparation - Week 2 Advent Reading: Matthew 1:18-23
“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God with us’).” Matthew 1:23 NIV
“Immanuel” explains how God came for us, is here with us, and is coming back for us through Jesus. The celebratory countdown to Christmas isn’t meant to spotlight our generosity, but His. When I feel hurried by my self-created hustle I linger a little longer in His presence. The best way to lose your Christmas spirit is to make it all about what we’re getting and giving. Focus on the right “present” ignites the Spirit of Christmas. In the thick of presents about to hit many homes; and the dread of those who don’t have gifts to give; it’s vital to pull the true light of Christmas into focus.
“They will name him Immanuel (Hebrew for “God is with us”).” Matthew 1:23 (MSG)
This promise fulfilled a verse written approximately 800 years earlier! The treasures tucked inside these verses danced together with the over eight centuries between them, until God whispered, “it’s time.” Somewhere around 740-680 BC, Isaiah, whose name means means “the Lord saves” penned,
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14 (NIV)
Matthew, whose name means “gift of the Lord,” recorded his words within 50-70 AD:
“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).” Matthew 1:23 (NIV)
How does the Lord save? Through the gift of the Lord. Jesus.
We’re not always assured the final witness to inspired words, as a sign normally fulfilled within a few years taking 800 unravels the scope of God’s timing. Isaiah’s words warned the stubborn king Ahaz, the great-great-grandson of King Saul, but he stubbornly refused to listen and submit to the Lord for direction. (New International Encyclopedia of Bible Characters/Matthew Henry Commentary.)
Beyond ancestral traditions and surrounding customs, we must own our truth as individually and honestly as the Creator of our soul observes. Presents don’t fulfill human hearts; souls are satisfied by the presence of Jesus. God’s gift is ready to bless us upon opening. Grace waits because He knows us. Jesus is enough for all of us. Are you seeking Christ this Christmas? Simply let go and believe. He’s already here. Jesus. Savior. Immanuel. As we read through this week’s reading, let’s prepare our hearts to be filled by the Holy Spirit in the presence of our Savior.
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Joy & Peace - Week 3 Advent Reading: Genesis 21:1-6, Luke 1
Sarah said, ‘God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.'” Genesis 21:6 NIV
Set apart from the fleeting feeling of happiness, joy defines what Jesus came to give. In Christ, joy flows through our lives. Sarah was ninety …of course, she laughed at the thought of giving birth. (Genesis 18) Yet as God promised, she and her 100-year old husband Abraham had a son named Isaac …which means “he laughs.” Life isn’t always funny, but it is overflowing with joy …if we choose to accept it. Zechariah, when an angel of the Lord foretold John the Baptist (his son)’s birth, this was his initial reaction:
“How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” (Luke 1:18 NIV)
Elizabeth did give birth in her old age, much like Sarah! But this time, John the Baptist, who the angel said would be filled with the Holy Spirit, and great in the sight of the Lord. (Luke 1:14-16) As we read through this week’s Advent readings, we can be reminded of the impossible joy and peace the Lord brings to our lives, through Christ Jesus, in His perfect timing.
God loves us completely, and we are made to journey in joy! His love doesn’t lessen when we fall down. In fact, He seeks to share a laugh with us and reveal joy in hard moments. He’s accepted us. That’s why Jesus was born. Christmas is closeness with God. Joy is the attitude of gratitude.
In the North where I live, Christmastime signals every bird that can’t bear the winter’s cold to start flocking together. Millions of birds dance together in the sky, instinctively gathering and swooping and soaring until they’ve accumulated enough of a mass to drift as a dark “bird cloud” away with the warm air.
“…Look at them fly. It looks like God is taking pretty good care of them, doesn’t it? Remember that you are more precious to God than birds!” Luke 12:24
Birds are not even in my top 100 of favorite …or even likable creatures. Yet, over the years, I’ve come to admire the way they just know what to do. Luke wrote,
“…God cares for every little sparrow …Since you are so much more precious to God than a thousand flocks of sparrows, and since God knows you in every detail—down to the number of hairs on your head at this moment—you can be secure and unafraid…” (Luke 12:6-7)
Birds don’t realize they are small or incapable. They operate confidently on carefully designed instincts. Humans seek to be loved because deep within the design of our nature is a Creator who is love. Our confidence is found in Him, through Jesus.
“My little flock, don’t be afraid. God is your Father, and your Father’s great joy is to give you His kingdom.”Luke 12:32
He came into this world a small baby in a manger. His light caused others to flock to Him and follow Him, shifting and moving and gathering and cackling and spreading the Word. Long after Christ gave His human life on the cross, the birds continued to fly and stories of Jesus spread. His Word still flutters and gathers. Christian faith is moving and shifting. God’s not surprised. We all instinctively seek the joy of Jesus. The joy and peace we have in Jesus are immeasurable.
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Love - Week 4 Advent Reading: John 3:1-20
“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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” John 3:16-17 NIV
God’s compassionate love is expressed through the Son who chose to endure humanity, knowing ahead of time “Merry Christmas” would eventually become an intolerable offense to some. He loves us for who we are …not who we search to be. Jesus was born to restore our standing with His Father. God’s heart isn’t offended by our struggle. He sees our plight and looks for moments to guide, assure, and comfort us. The Voice paraphrase of John 3:16 reads:
“For God expressed His love for the world in this way: He gave His only Son so that whoever believes in Him will not face everlasting destruction, but will have everlasting life.” John 3:16 (VOICE)
Christmas is like hopping on a sled and swishing down the hill, faster than we can brace for but worth hopping on. Blinded by stinging snow as we sail down the hill, the world’s cold, cruel, and politically correct statutes are blurred by hope. Our entire existence is a snap of God’s fingertips.
Christmas is the whole point of life. It grants us the opportunity to have a relationship with our Father in heaven through Christ Jesus by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in every believer. Without the Baby born in a manger, we were doomed to watch the sled zip by, never quick enough or smart enough or agile enough to catch it and hop on. Jesus holds it, waits for us to accept the ride, and then joins in as we scream with glee all the way down the hill …of life.
NIV Study Bible, Copyright © 1985, 1995, 2002, 2008, 2011 by Zondervan.
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