Are you ready for the holidays?

It seems like a benign question, “Are you ready for the holidays?” In fact just about every random conversation that you have with a perfect stranger or people you know will begin with this question. While it seems like a simple question, it is actually begs to go deeper than trees, and cards, food and cookies and gifts.

The “holidays” whether you practice Jewish tradition of Hanukkah or Christian tradition of Christmas are based on what God has called us to do. These traditions are all about God and what God has done, so getting ready for the “holidays” begins with getting our hearts right with God. Getting ready for the “holidays” calls each of us to prepare our hearts, and spend time with God, listen to God and do things that are in line with what pleases God.

So what pleases God? Caring for each other and reaching out to those in need. Bringing our our checkbook and writing checks to those who are serving the poor, or their communities. Doing a special good deed that brings a smile to someone’s face who is in a changed circumstance this season. Reaching out to those who are sad or suffering. These are things that please the very heart of God. As we ask over and over, “Are you ready for the holidays?” remember it is a call to prepare our hearts, and please God with our actions, our words, and our deeds.

Advent Devotional, Dec. 25, by Pastor Sarah Dorrance

Advent Devotional, Dec. 25, by Pastor Sarah Dorrance

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” John 1:1-5, NRSV.

We were in the Italian catacombs around the outskirts of Rome. Our guide turned off the lights that were shining on the myriad of tunnels—and it was dark, everything was pitch black. A full minute in the dark seemed like an eternity. I was ready to have the light shine on us again, especially in this place, a place where those of the early centuries had been buried. It was an eerie feeling. How do you feel when you are in pitch darkness?

Jesus was God enfleshed—the Word—the Logos—who came to bring light into the pitch black darkness of the world. Through Jesus life came into being, and that life was the very spark—the illumination that shines into that darkness. Like the catacombs in which I had stood, is there a part of your life that seems dark that needs the light of Christ shining in it? Is there a part of your life that needs new life—the spark of “being” all that God created you to be? Come to the manger. Let the light of Christ shine on you; Let the life of the newborn child flow through you.

Prayer: Jesus, Savior of the world. Shine on me, Lord, shine on me. Let my worries and concerns become smaller as your light and life grow bigger and brighter. Thank you for the gift of the Christ Child who gives me new possibilities in this life and beyond. Amen

Advent Devotional, Dec. 22 by Kathy Van Arnum

Advent Devotional, Dec. 22 by Kathy Van Arnum

Luke 1:46b-55

Mary’s Song

It was 1971 and our family learned that my cousin was unmarried and pregnant. She and the child’s father would be married right away. Not only was her immediate family embarrassed by her actions but it spread to her extended family. I still remember another cousin remarking that this cousin had shamed the family. I remember feeling sorry for my cousin and her situation.

Two thousand years previously, a young virgin was engaged to be married and is visited by an angel. She is told she has been chosen by God to be the Messiah’s mother. I’m sure her family was shocked and embarrassed by the news and probably didn’t believe her story. The only person who immediately believes her is her cousin, Elizabeth, who exclaimed, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear. Blessed is she who believed that the Lord will fulfill his promises to her.

Mary is then filled with joy and God’s love and she sings “The Magnificat” or Mary’s Song. Her soul rejoices in God for choosing her to be Jesus’ mother. She praises God for all he has done and all he will do in the future.

There were probably many times when Mary recalled that song during the difficult times in her life. Perhaps when she went to the well for water and heard the snickering behind her back, or when she had to hurriedly pack and travel to Egypt to save her young son. Maybe Mary even found comfort in her song when she watched her son being tortured and crucified.

Is there a challenging task you need to undertake or is life so difficult right now you can only take one step at a time. If so, think of Mary and her trust in God and her joy in undertaking what God asked of her. Allow God to show you His love, peace and grace this Christmas.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we thank you for your love and peace. We praise you for always being with us in our journey and helping us in difficult times. Amen.

 

Advent Devotional, Dec. 21, by Carlee Lammers

Advent Devotional, Dec. 21, by Carlee Lammers

Psalm 113

We all come to the manger this season carrying something different. We can carry the stress of the Christmas season and all of its preparations. We can carry the joy of seeing loved ones and being with family. We can carry the sadness and emptiness from a difficult time or loss. We can carry sickness, worry and doubt. Our hearts can be filled with so much joy, or so much angst from so many things that we can often lose focus. It can be difficult to keep focus when our hearts weigh heavy. It can be difficult to keep focus when our minds are on the material items this season. As we light the candle of love, we receive a powerful reminder that love is at the center of the season. This season is more than our sorrow, more than our material things and more than the weight we carry.

Psalm 113 encourages us to praise the name of the Lord always. This Advent season, we shouldn’t have to carry the weight of the world with us to the manger. We believe in a God who simply loves. He loves us in our sorrow, our joy, our weakness and our strength. This season, we should come to the manger with praise. Praise for the one who created us, praise for the one who sent us His son because of love. A love that we should carry with us, and a love that should rule our hearts. When we let love and praise fill our hearts, our journey to the manager brings us closer to the one who can fill our hearts with so much more than sorrow and angst.

Prayer: We thank you, Lord, for your love this season. We ask that you help keep us focused on you so that we may praise you for your incredible love. Help us focus on your love, and not what weighs heavy on our hearts, as we journey to the manger. Amen.

Advent Devotional, Dec. 19, by Barry Salisbury

Advent Devotional, Dec. 19, by Barry Salisbury

Luke 13:31-32 Revised Standard Version (RSV)

At that very hour some Pharisees came, and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”  And he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course.”  

During advent, sometimes we get so focused on Jesus coming to earth as a baby, we forget to remember “the rest of the story.”  For, as this scripture clearly states, from the moment Jesus was born, He was sent with a purpose….. of spreading light in a dark world. He was surrounded by “foxes” who chose to attack rather than believe him.  Yet he was never deterred by them; nor should we be.

God also sent each of us with a purpose…to spread His light in a dark world.  There is no better time than Advent to do just that.

Mother Teresa said it well when she said:  There is a light in this world, a healing spirit more powerful than any darkness we may encounter. We sometimes lose sight of this force when there is suffering, too much pain. Then suddenly, the spirit will emerge through the lives of ordinary people who hear a call and answer in extraordinary ways.

May we be the “ordinary people who hear a call and answer in extraordinary ways.”

Dear God,

Please help us this Advent to hear you amid all the noise.  Don’t let us get deterred by the foxes. Help us to answer your call in extraordinary ways, so we can spread your light to brighten this world. Amen.

 

Advent devotional, Dec. 18 by Howard Van Arnum

Advent devotional, Dec. 18 by Howard Van Arnum

Hebrews 10:32-39

During this season of Advent, we are preparing ourselves in both mind and spirit for the birth of the Messiah, the birth of Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 10:33 caught my attention. “In just a little while, the one who is coming will come and will not delay”. In John 14:3, Jesus tells us “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you with me that you also maybe where I am”. Are we ready for the return of Jesus? Are we living a life that is Christ-like? This is a question we should be asking ourselves!

Advent is a time of preparation for the birth of Jesus. This should also be a time to prepare, as He promised, for his return. In weeks past, we have been talking about our God stories and being disciples of Christ to all people and all nations. Advent seems to be a good time to practice discipleship, to tell our God stories.

The angels appeared to the shepherds to announce the birth of the Christ Child. We can be like those angels and tell our God stories. We can be ready for Jesus when He returns for us to take us to the room He has prepared.

Reflection: What are we doing during Advent to prepare for the birth of Jesus? What are we doing during Advent and every day to prepare for the promised return of Jesus? Will we be ready?

Prayer: God, you send us your son to teach us how to live as you want us to live. During this season of Advent and every day, continue to guide us so that we may be disciples and share our God stories with all people and all nations as you have willed us to do. May we be prepared for Jesus when He returns for us. Amen.

 

 

Advent Devotional, Dec. 17 by Susan Swann

Advent Devotional, Dec. 17 by Susan Swann

Jeremiah 31:31-3

MAJOR PRESS RELEASE: God announces New Covenant!

It’s a revolutionary new plan based on Jesus. It is not written on stone tablets but on our hearts and now we can know God personally!

Can you imagine hearing this news back in the ancient days of the Old Testament? It must have seemed so radical at the time. Jeremiah prophesied that a wonderful future was coming for God’s people by the New Covenant that would be fulfilled through the work of a Messiah. This announcement marks a pivotal point in the history of God and his relation to his people. It’s when the people first heard they could have an intimate and personal relationship with God. They would no longer need teachers, or high holy men in order for people to “know the Lord”. He said, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God; they will be my people…and they will ALL know me from the least of them to the greatest”.

So today, our “New Covenant” generation has total access to God. How awesome is that? All we have to do is set our hearts and minds on him and He hears us. As the season of advent arrives each year, we celebrate with abundant joy as we know this great prophesy of old was indeed fulfilled through the birth of a baby named Jesus. Today we can walk in great confidence, knowing that our Lord rests in our hearts. We can pick up our very own Bibles, at anytime or any place and learn of the history of God’s people, and of Jesus and of His great works. But most importantly, we can talk to Him daily, anytime or anywhere. He declared there would be a new covenant all those years ago. And we have seen that God keeps His promises.

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for loving us so much that you wanted a personal relationship with each one of us. Thank you for your gift of Jesus and the Holy Spirit through which you have made it possible to dwell within us. We ask for your help and encouragement this advent season as we strive to get to know you more.  Amen.