“Call Jonathan” by Pastor Randy

Call Jonathan… I can’t tell you how many times I received a text or a DM with that message. And when I would call Jonathan back it was more often than not because he: wanted a ride somewhere, wanted me to bring him a coffee, wanted to remind me of an upcoming event, wanted to let me know how I could be praying for him or for someone else, wanted to encourage me (he did this a lot), or wanted to let me know that The Bills were going to win.

Sometimes I would laugh because his urgency for me to call him back was often the same whether he was in the hurt and wanting prayer or if he was at Tim Horton’s wanting me to buy a ticket to the latest church dinner. No matter what the reason was though he always started off with, “Hey buddy” followed by a quick explanation for his call.

I would love to get one of those messages again. I would love to hear his voice and his signature laugh. I would love to see him walking down the road and offer him a lift. I would love to grab him an X-Large Coffee w/ 4 Cream at Tim Horton’s. I would love to get a reminder from him that we have coffee group coming up (it would have been today).

Unfortunately those opportunities are no more but still present are the opportunities to honor Jonathan by living life to the fullest, exuding kindness and becoming an advocate for those who may not look or act the same as we do, supporting and promoting local organizations, and helping to facilitate fellowship between a broad spectrum of individuals.

The next time you buy a ticket for a fundraiser, grab a coffee at Tim Horton’s, or root for The Purple Eagles or The Bills, remember Jonathan. I know I will and I hope it brings a smile to my face each and every time. Love you buddy.

For anyone wanting to read Jonathan’s obituary, or to get details about his Callings Hours this Wednesday and Service this Thursday, please click on the link below.

https://www.mitchellfamilyfuneralhomes.com/memorials/jonathan-doherty/4923630/index.php

“Merry Christmas!” by Pastor Randy

Merry Christmas everyone! I am truly thankful for each of you and the support and encouragement you have shown me this past year. I will be back with new blog posts in 2022 but in the meantime I pray that God will bless you this Christmas and in the New Year!!!

“This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly. As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet: “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.” [Matthew‬ ‭1:18-25‬ ‭NLT‬‬]

“At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child. And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them. That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.” [Luke‬ ‭2:1-20‬ ‭NLT‬‬]

“In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. God sent a man, John the Baptist, to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light. The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 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. So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.” [John‬ ‭1:1-14‬ ‭NLT‬‬]

Advent Week 4 – “Thursday” by Wende Swick

Last Sunday, my pastor gave the most beautiful definition of JOY.

He said that PEACE is “joy resting” and that JOY is “peace dancing”!  

Peace dancing – I love it!!! This definition resonates with my experience.

Joy is one of my favorite fruits of the Holy Spirit among the nine named in Scripture- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary provides these definitions for JOY:

Noun- the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires : DELIGHT; the expression or exhibition of such emotion : GAIETY; a state of happiness or felicity : BLISS; a source or cause of delight

Verb- Rejoice; Gladden; Enjoy

Did you know that JOY can be a verb? It’s true! I joy, enjoy, take joy, or rejoice, in Jesus, my Savior, and in my personal relationship with God, Maker of the universe, who knows me intimately and loves me unconditionally. I also joy in, or enjoy, many of life’s daily experiences, including special activities which are Christmastime traditions.

I have a few friends, and even my own mother, who have lost a child and find it hard to completely enjoy the Christmas season. The grief a mother experiences with such a loss is monumental. It’s understandable that during holiday seasons which are purportedly times of special joy, experiences may be tainted with sorrow and grief for many who’ve lost loved ones – not exclusively mothers and children. I understand this and my heart hurts with them, for them. 

I would like to share with you an aid I’ve incorporated in my life for many years now – one which has helped me choose joy and experience it so much that people sometimes comment on my joy, saying that it’s what they notice most about me. I love that!

At one point, while living in Hawaii if you can believe it, I went through a struggle with depression. At some point in the midst of it, I realized that I should thank God for three things before I got out of bed in the morning. I started doing that and quickly reached ten items daily. Before I knew it, I was bounding out of bed in the morning, brewing my coffee and sitting down with my prayer journal, recording things for which I was thankful. I went from ten to twenty things, and twenty is now my minimum each morning. It is amazing, actually, how MUCH we can be thankful for… how much GOOD (from God) occurs in our lives each day! 

Prayer journals are one of my favorite gifts to give others, because using one has transformed my outlook. After giving thanks, I pray for my needs, those of others, and ask questions, waiting for God to speak to me. (Prayer IS two-way communication, but I find it hard to wait long enough to hear sometimes. True confession.)

Using a journal to record my prayers and what God says to me helps me stay focused on prayer much more effectively. If you don’t already use one, I recommend you try using a prayer journal. It’s fun to go back and fill in how God has answered prayers. It also helps me remember whom to pray for, over time. 

Focusing on God (my source of JOY) and His goodness to me is a huge factor in my experiencing (most of the time), PEACE (joy resting) and JOY (peace dancing). When I’m out of peace or joy, it’s usually because my focus has been taken from Him and placed on other things.

Shalom & Simchah,

(Peace & Joy in Hebrew),

Wende

P.S. for JOY

This morning, as I visually took in the newly falling snow, my lit tree, etcetera, I was reminded of something related to JOY. Have you ever said or thought, “This is really good for my soul”?

I marvel that God, in His brilliance and great love, chose to design our eyes with rods & cones, to perceive the beauty of lines/shape/design and colors galore! He chose to place hammers, anvils and stirrups (bone set), ear drums, etc., in our ears, so we perceive beautiful music and other desirable sounds. Tastebuds… we don’t need them for survival, but who doesn’t enjoy a delicious meal or sweet treat? Aromas, perceived via our olfactory system, enhance dining and other experiences. Don’t get me started on the sense of touch! With our nervous system’s nerve endings in all the right places, those hugs, massages, or tickles we receive bring sensations of comfort, love and fun to our minds and emotions. 

I hope we each take time to savor or JOY in some of the things which bring pleasure to our souls this could-be-very-busy season.

Advent Week 4 – “Tuesday” by Dave Good

Hello friends, it’s Dave Good here again and this week we are delving into a topic we all seek and desire more of. I think we can all agree that joy is one of the most impactful emotions. The dictionary defines joy as the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation.

Who doesn’t want some great delight or happiness. I know I would love more joy in my life. Joy can be derived in so many ways.

Joy can come from a newfound relationship. Who doesn’t love the feelings associated with the prospect of a new love.

Joy can come from a new job or a promotion at work. The excitement of new career opportunities gives us such hope.

Sometimes we find our joy through the victories of our favorite sports team. Who doesn’t love the feeling of walking into work the next day after a Bills win.

Joy can come from the birth of a new child or grandchild. I don’t know about you but getting to hold my daughters for the first time was an unbelievable feeling.

How bout the purchase of a new car. Who doesn’t love the smell of a new car and the exhilaration of its acceleration.

Or how about the smell or first bite of your favorite food? The joy of tasting mom’s spaghetti or a perfectly done steak always puts a smile on my face.

These are just a few examples of what we find joy in. For the most part that list is all positive and harmless right? But what happens when our pursuit of joy causes us damage or harm? For instance, a new car is nice but can you afford that new car payment? How bout that perfectly grilled steak? Can you push away from the table when you are full or will your gluttonous side persuade you to eat the last bite? What bout that victory from you favorite team? Can you keep your celebration to a limit and not rub it in a friends face? As you can see there can be an ill effect to our pursuit of joy.

Another limitation of the pursuit of joy is that it never seems to last long enough. That new promotion is turning into a lot of work and longer hours. That new born baby brings with it sleepless nights and diaper changing. That new car turns into a repair bill after a few months. That sweet victory turns into the agony of defeat in just a week. All this pursuit of worldly joy can be draining and all in vain.

The pursuit of joy as we have seen,  can be good for us, bad for us, and often short lived here on earth. It is no wonder why people have a hard time truly finding joy. Joy can be very unstable and short lived. So what’s the solution to our pursuit of joy?  It is actually pretty simple and straightforward. The Bible tells us “but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!”

Did you catch that? I bring you good news that will bring great Joy to all people. Yes the Messiah has been born.  True everlasting joy is found in Jesus Christ. Jesus was born that first Christmas morning to save us from our sins.  Jesus died on the cross and later rose again so that we may have eternal life with the Father.  Jesus was born to redeem us from the punishment we rightfully deserve. We can now live with hope and a future. I don’t know about you but the hope of eternal life is the greatest sense of joy I’ve ever experienced. The Bible takes the joy of eternal life one step further in the following verse: “and those the Lord has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.”

Everlasting joy will crown our head. Gladness and joy will overtake us!!! When I read encouragement like that I find it hard not to let my emotions swell. We serve a great God who loves us and wants nothing but the best for us. Just to know God and worship Him is a source of joy that this world can not duplicate. There is nothing on this earth that gives more joy than taking refuge in the Lord and soaking in His love. That is where the ultimate joy comes from.

As we enter into this final week of Advent and get closer and closer to the birth of Jesus let’s hold on to that joy. I pray that the familiar words of the song “Joy to the World” that Pastor Randy shared yesterday would resonates even louder to you this Christmas. And I pray that the Joy of knowing Christ and His love becomes the source of your happiness. I promise you if you make room for Him and adore Him this Christmas will be the most joyous ever.

Advent Week 4 – “Monday” by Pastor Randy

Good morning! This is the final week of Advent and our theme is joy.

“Let the heavens be glad, and the earth rejoice! Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise! Let the fields and their crops burst out with joy! Let the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for he is coming! He is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with justice, and the nations with his truth.”
‭‭[Psalms‬ ‭96:11-13‬ ‭NLT‬‬]

When I think of joy the first thing that comes to mind is Isaac Watt’s classic Christmas Hymn “Joy to the World”. Let’s start the week off my meditating on the lyrics and then listening to a remixed version from Pentatonix.

Joy to the World , the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the World, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

Advent Week 3 – “Friday” by Pastor Randy (featuring a live performance of “Here This Christmas” by Pastor Russ Peters)

Hey friends, after receiving a number of messages in response to Wednesday’s “Refill with Randy” video regarding remembering loved ones at Christmas I wanted to share a song that my good friend Pastor Russ Peters wrote and performed live this morning at our P.A.C.T. Pastors Christmas Party.

This is especially poignant since Russ lost his grandmother just 2 days ago and will be performing this at her funeral tomorrow (Saturday). Please pray for him and his family at this time and also look for the studio release of this song. You can check out his other songs and videos on his YouTube page.

Advent Week 3 – “Thursday” by Pastor Randy

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” [John‬ ‭3:16‬ ‭NLT‬‬]

Good morning friends, as we continue to think about love in regard to Advent I wanted to focus on this very familiar passage but from a little different perspective.

Most Christians, at least from my generation, can rattle off John 3:16 on the spot because it has become the go to verse for summing up the good news of the gospel. And rightly so because it shares the action God took to save us as well as the action we must take in order to be saved. But take a minute to consider this passage in the content of Christmas.

We tend to focus on the birth of Christ and his entry into our world but in order for us to receive him his Father had to first send him.

Imagine for a minute what that had to feel like from God’s perspective. Even as the Shepherds were about to go and celebrate Jesus’ birth He was aware that He had literally just sent him to his death.

Through my work with families through Care-Net I have counseled couples that are doing everything they can not to have to give their child up. Sometimes though a judge may deem it necessary to send the child to stay with someone else for a time if it means that the child will be better taken care of. What happened on Christmas was the opposite of that though! God was willing to send His only son to earth… to those who were created by him but would not recognize him… to those who would mistreat him and eventually crucify him. God sacrificed His son in order to save us.

Friends.. that is love.

“When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” ‭‭[Romans‬ ‭5:6-8‬ ‭NLT‬‬]

Advent Week 3 – “Wednesday” by Pastor Randy

Good morning friends! I apologize for the temporary hiatus but I have been without power and internet since Saturday so I am playing catch up.

Speaking of power outages… today’s post will be my special “Power Out” episode of Refill with Randy. This third week of Advent’s theme is love and in this video I talk about remembering those loved ones we have lost. Take a look…

Advent Week 2 – “Friday” by Pastor Randy

Happy Friday! Spend some time today listening to the song and meditating on the words of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” performed by Casting Crowns.

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play
And mild and sweet their songs repeat
Of peace on Earth, good will to men

And the bells are ringing (peace on Earth)
Like a choir they’re singing (peace on Earth)
In my heart I hear them (peace on Earth)
Peace on Earth, good will to men

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on Earth, ” I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on Earth, good will to men

But the bells are ringing (peace on Earth)
Like a choir singing (peace on Earth)
Does anybody hear them? (Peace on Earth)
Peace on Earth, good will to men

Then rang the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep
(Peace on Earth)
(Peace on Earth)
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on Earth, good will to men

Then ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on Earth, good will to men

And the bells, they’re ringing (peace on Earth)
Like a choir they’re singing (peace on Earth)
And with our hearts, we’ll hear them (peace on Earth)
Peace on Earth, good will to men

Do you hear the bells, they’re ringing? (Peace on Earth)
The light, the angels singing (peace on Earth)
Open up your heart and hear them (peace on Earth)
Peace on Earth, good will to men

Peace on Earth
Peace on Earth
Peace on Earth, good will to men

Advent Week 2 – “Thursday” by Dave Good

Welcome back to the GSM advent series. My name is Dave Good and once again I am honored to share this time with you. I pray that you find our time together is beneficial to you. Advent is one of my favorite times of the year. A time to prepare our hearts for the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. A time to just focus on the true meaning of Christmas.

As we celebrate this second week of advent, our attention turns to peace on earth. I could imagine that the night Jesus was born there was anything but peace in and around Bethlehem. The little town was turned into an overbooked, overcrowded metropolis thanks to the census decree that was called by The Roman emperor, Augustus. Every Jew was to return to their tribal hometown to be counted for taxation purposes. That fulfills a prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.

The whole town was saturated with people. There were people in the streets trying to return to their family home. There were people stuffed into the local establishments enjoying a meal with friends and families. The inn was completely overbooked. I’m sure there were people in the markets scurrying about trying to buy goods and fresh food. The little town of Bethlehem was just buzzing with activity. The once small, quiet town was anything but peaceful at that time.

When you stop and think about it this is kind of how we spend every Christmas Eve. Most of us spend it preoccupied with stuff to do. We spend the day cooking or preparing a lovely meal for our friends and family and then we make that last minute run to the mall to ensure that we can cross every name off our Christmas gift list. After we spend the day driving home to spend quality time with loved ones. Christmas Eve usually turns into a lot of hustle and bustle most of the time. For a lot of people Christmas Eve is anything but peaceful.

Mary and Joseph were in quite the predicament that first Christmas Eve. Mary was having contractions and birthing pains and they had no place to spend the night. The inn was full, yet fortunately for them the resourceful innkeeper allows them to take refuge in the barn behind the inn. The Savior of the world was about to be born in a manger, among the animals. What should be a monumental celebration turns out to be more of an afterthought than anything else.

I think we have to be honest with ourselves. Our Christmas Eve traditions often turn the miracle of the birth of our Savior from a monumental celebration to an afterthought. We allow the hustle and bustle of the holiday season to rob us of our peace. We focus so much on the non essentials of Christmas that we lose our joy.

Mary had every right to complain about her situation and yet her circumstances did not steal her peace. She understood what was really happening at the moment her baby let out his first cry. She understood the prince of peace was here on earth. Her eyes were on the true meaning of Christmas and that will always restore the peace deep inside you.

Friends, I pray this Christmas we keep our eyes on Christ as we seek his peace as well as the joy and hope that is associated with his coming. Let’s try not to get too wrapped up in the business of the season and allow the stillness and serenity of Jesus to fill our hearts. Have a great rest of the week and may the advent season be a blessing to each and everyone of you.

Advent Week 2 – “Tuesday” by Pastor Randy

Happy Tuesday!!! For our second day of focusing on peace please take some time to listen to the song and meditate on the lyrics of Austin French’s “Peace on Earth”

Into darkness
Comes a light
Into silence
A baby’s cry
The birth of freedom
The death of fear
In a manger
Christ is here

Let there be peace on earth
Let there be peace on earth
Long awaited love
Heaven’s come for us
Let there be peace on earth

All division
May it cease
Every worry
May it flee
A weary heart finds
A thrill of hope
The world rejoices
We’re not alone

Let there be peace on earth
Let there be peace on earth
Long awaited love
Heaven’s come for us
Let there be peace on earth

Joy to the world, the Lord is come
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart prepare Him room
And heaven and nature sing

Peace on earth
Peace on earth

Let there be peace on earth
Let there be peace on earth
Long awaited love
Heaven’s come for us


Let there be peace on earth
Let there be peace on earth

Advent Week 2 – “Monday” by Pastor Randy

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
‭‭(Isaiah‬ ‭9:6‬ ‭NIV‬‬
)

On this second week of Advent our focus is on peace.

Most Saturdays I spend my morning helping out with Hands 4 Hope. As people gather to pick pick up food and clothes I have the opportunity to talk with each person and pray with them. I always ask what I can specifically pray for and, though I do get the usual requests for healing, for a job, for help with finances, etc., I have noticed one request that has become very prominent over these past two years—pray for peace.

In the midst of the pandemic, and an ever-growing political divide, peace seems more elusive than ever before. And yet we put our hope in the Prince of Peace to do what individuals and governments cannot do on their own.

Paul talks about this ministry of reconciliation in his letter to the Ephesians. He speaks specifically to healing the hostility between gentiles and Jews but we can see where it is applicable to all of the divisions that we experience today as well. Referring to Jesus in Ephesians 2:14-18 he says…

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.”

The only way that we will experience peace in our lifetime is by crucifying our desires, humbling ourselves, and allowing Christ to heal our hearts, heal our relationships, heal our nation, and heal our world.

Lord give us peace.

Advent Week 1 – “Friday” by Pastor Randy

From the haunting tune to the arcane language I have always loved listening to the great Advent Hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”.

For me it is a symbol of the beginning of Advent as it encompasses both the longing of the Israelites waiting for their Messiah as well as the longing that we have today for that same Messiah’s return.

It also embodies the hope that we have been focusing on this week as there is an inherent sense that rejoicing will be inevitable as the redeemer will come. So take a moment to meditate on the lyrics and listen along with the video.

Advent Week 1 – “Thursday” by Pastor Randy

For today’s Advent Blog I invite you to read and listen to the lyrics of Tenth Avenue North’s song “I Have This Hope” as you consider the hope that you place in Christ this Christmas Season.

As I walk this great unknown
Questions come and questions go
Was there purpose for the pain?
Did I cry these tears in vain?

I don’t want to live in fear
I want to trust that You are near
Trust Your grace can be seen
In both triumph and tragedy

I have this hope
In the depth of my soul
In the flood or the fire
You’re with me and You won’t let go

But sometimes my faith feels thin
Like the night will never end
Will You catch every tear
Or will You just leave me here?

But I have this hope
In the depth of my soul
In the flood or the fire
You’re with me and You won’t let go

Yes, I have this hope
In the depth of my soul
In the flood or the fire
You’re with me and You won’t let go

So, whatever happens I will not be afraid
Cause You are closer than this breath that I take
You calm the storm when I hear You call my name
I still believe that one day I’ll see Your face

I have this hope
In the depth of my soul
In the flood or the fire
You’re with me

I have this hope
In the depth of my soul
In the flood or the fire
You’re with me and You won’t let go

In the flood or the fire
You’re with me and You won’t let go

In the flood or the fire
You’re with me and You won’t let go

Advent Week 1 – “Tuesday” by Dave Good

Welcome to another Advent edition of GSM’s Refill with Randy Blog. My name is Dave Good and I am honored to have the opportunity to share a few words with you today. I pray this will be of benefit to you and deliver just a ray of hope to your life.

Pastor Randy approached me and asked me to share my thoughts on the subject of Hope. At first I thought it would be great idea to bring up the areas in the world that seem so hopeless. All around us we are impacted by the long-lasting pandemic, racial tensions, vaccine mandates, political strife, rumors of wars, and what seems to be nonstop chaos around the world. People everywhere are looking for something to hold onto, something to take refuge in, something to give them a sense of hope.

When I thought about the Advent season and our search for hope I immediately recalled the journey of the Magi to see the Christ child. The Gospel of Matthew tells the story of the Magi who followed a bright star to the town of Bethlehem “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”

No one is certain who the Magi were, how many there were, or where exactly they originated from, but we do know that they were searching for some hope. The Christmas narrative tells us that they had left their country in the east and followed a bright star through the desert for several weeks if not months. It is said that they led their caravan of camels and other animals on a journey in search of the Messiah—the long anticipated King of the Jews. They endured days of scorching desert sun and freezing cold nights. They probably encountered thieves and bandits as well as wild animals along the way. The journey was no walk in the park to say the least.

Another bit of information that the Gospel of Matthew shares with us is the valuable gifts the Magi brought with them. “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.”

They presented to the child gold frankincense, and myrrh, some of the most precious things in the world at the time. So to put this whole journey in perspective. The Magi leave their distant home, follow a bright star, and journey through the desert with valuable gifts, all to go see a child. To me the story seems a little absurd. What would make these men even consider this voyage? The only answer I can come up with is hope.

They were hoping the star they were following would lead them to the long awaited Savior. They were hoping to pay homage to the King of the Jews. They were hoping to worship and adore the Christ child. They were willing to risk it all just to find some hope.

Just like the Magi all of us are chasing after hope. How many times do you hear exchanges like, “I hope this happens or I hope I get this for Christmas or I hope the Bills win or I hope you feel better”? Hope is all around us and something we pursue on a daily basis. Hope often causes us to take risks or chances just like the Magi. Hope is definitely an integral part of life

My question for you is where, what, or who is your hope in? For some it’s a job. For others it’s a country. And for some it’s a loved one. We place our hope is so many things. I can’t decide for you what to place your hope in but I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you where my hope comes from. My hope comes from the Lord.

I can say that my belief in that same child the Magi visited some 2000 years ago brings so much hope to my life. I believe that the child born on Christmas Day grew up, died on a cross for my sins, and paved a path for me to have eternal life with my Heavenly Father. The name of that precious child is Jesus.

To be honest with you my hope in Jesus didn’t just come overnight. Just like the Magi I had to go on a journey to secure my hope and I misplaced my hope in many things along the way. Things like my career, my reputation, my status, my football teams, my talents and abilities, etc. And I will be honest with you, at some point or another all of these things have disappointed me. All of these things have let me down. The only thing I’ve found that I can always count on and hope in is my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. “But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.”

There is so much hope in the Bible and with a relationship with Christ. I pray that this Advent season you find your hope in the Lord. I pray that you prepare your heart for when he will come again. And I pray that the hope of the Lord becomes more real and alive to you each and every day.

Advent Week 1 – “Monday” by Pastor Randy

Advent is a season of remembering the events of Christmas past and getting ready for the time when Christ will come again. It is a time filled with anticipation, preparation, and expectation. It is also often marked by weekly themes, celebrated with the lighting of a different candle each Sunday, and so from now until Christmas we will be highlighting those same themes here. They are: Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy. And I say “we” because there will be some other contributors, such as GSM’s own Dave Good who will be writing tomorrow’s blog.


The dictionary defines hope /hōp/ as a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen. In relation to Advent we are talking about both the hope that the Jews had that God would send them a Messiah and the hope that we have today that, because that same Messiah (Jesus) came to earth on that first Christmas, died for our sins on Good Friday, and rose from the dead on Easter, we can be saved and will join Christ when he comes again.

It is the kind of hope that the Israelites held onto generation after generation, even while wondering when it would happen, and it is the kind of hope that we hold onto today even though nearly 2,000 have passed since Jesus made the promise to return.

Isaiah spoke to this hope long before Christ when he shared in 9:2 that, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” (9:2‬ ‭NIV)‬‬

A few verses later he would go on to paint a picture of what this hope, this light at the end of the tunnel, would look like. He says in vv. 6-7 “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” (NIV‬‬)

The reason why this gave them hope was not because they thought it would happen immediately but because they fully believed in The One Who said that it would indeed happen. They trusted that God would fulfill this prophesy when He deemed that the time was right.

Unfortunately I think that many times today we read about God’s promises in Scripture but we want instant gratification so when something doesn’t happen the way we want at the time we want it we tend to get cynical and our hope starts to wane.

The reality though is that if God has promised it but it has not happened, it’s not that it won’t happen but that it just hasn’t happened yet. Like our Jewish forefathers we need to have patience and perseverance trusting in The Author of our hope Who says in Isaiah 55:9, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

The fact is that Christ came at just the right time, he died at just the right time (“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” Romans‬ ‭5:6‬ ‭NIV‬‬), and so we can trust that he will return at just the right time. Until then we walk in hope.


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“Feeding Yourself Spiritual Food – Part 2” by Pastor Randy

Yesterday I posed the question, “How are you feeding yourself spiritually these days?” focusing on the fact that we aren’t supposed to starve ourselves, spiritually speaking, six days a week and then try to gorge ourselves on Sunday morning with the fruit of someone else’s study. Well, I said it more clearly yest- – – you know what, go back and read it. I’ll wait…

Ok, all caught up now? Good. I started to share about methods that can assist us in intentionally spending time with God and the first one I shared was “Listening to the Bible”. Now, I don’t need to to recap because you just read it, right? 😉And so right along with that I would say that the second method I have found invaluable when it comes to consistently spending time with God and finding nourishment in His Word is doing online devotions with other people. In particular, using the same YouVersion Bible App that I recommended yesterday (If you didn’t download it yesterday go back and do it. No… not now. I already had to wait for you while you got caught up. Do it afterward. 😇)

Just like the App (which I promise I do not have an endorsement offer with—though I am open to it. Call me!), has thousands of Bible translations to assist in your personal study they have tons of Bible Study Plans and Devotional Topics as well.

And, as much as I like doing personal devotions, one of the biggest benefits of using the App is that you can also do them with friends. For me this adds accountability, encouragement, and fellowship to the mix, which definitely helps me stay more consistent. And, since it is online, each person can do it when they want and geography does not play a part in who can join in.

Currently I am doing a devotional by Jordan Raynor with a couple guys of which one lives a few houses down from me and the other about 70 miles away. Even cooler is that they have never met but we can all connect by studying God’s Word together and applying it to our lives.

So what about you? What helps you stay consistent and accountable in your daily walk?


Do you have others that you are growing together with?


Let me know and come back tomorrow for Part 3!!!

“The Greatest Gift of All” by Dave Good

Welcome to the final edition of the Take Five Advent series. I hope our various styles and viewpoints have been a blessing to you. Over the last four weeks we have been preparing our hearts for Christmas and the birth of our Savior, Jesus. Today, I’d like to wrap up the entire series with some words of encouragement and hope. Let’s see if we can discover the true meaning of Christmas and receive the greatest gift of all. Jesus.

Christmas has many meanings to different people. To some, Christmas is about family and friends. Christmas signifies an opportunity to gather with loved ones, have a wonderful meal, and just spend time together. Unfortunately, the year 2020 has put a damper on the majority of the festivities. The company Christmas parties and large gatherings have been deemed unsafe and cancelled. Even the large family dinners have been discouraged. The traditional means to celebrate Christmas will be challenged for sure.   Despite all the restrictions, I want you to know that Christmas will still be a joyous time. I encourage you to utilize technology like Zoom and phone calls to keep in touch with those we can’t gather with. Although family and gatherings mean a lot, it is not the true meaning of Christmas.

To others, Christmas is all about the presents.  Christmas is the time of year when the tradition of gift exchanging takes over. Everyone spends their free time thinking about what present to buy or what present they would like to receive.  The kids make out a Christmas list and send it to Santa. Grownups have to answer the tough question served up by their loved ones simply stated, “What do you want for Christmas?”  The whole world shifts their attention and energy to picking, giving, and receiving the perfect gift. Despite the good intentions behind the gifts of generosity, this is also not the true meaning of Christmas.

The true meaning of Christmas is derived in the life of Jesus Christ.  There are some of you who may be asking, “Who is Jesus and why is He so important?” I’m glad you asked. Jesus is the only begotten Son of God. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us’” (Matthew 1:23) (NLT).

The birth of Jesus was the culmination of God’s plan to save the world from our sins.  Sin entered the world as soon as the forbidden fruit was consumed by Adam and Eve. The result of their sin was separation from God. There was a wedge formed between the world and God the Father. At first, God gave the people a system of sacrifices and burnt offerings to resolve their sin issue. This system however was only temporary and offered no long term solution to the separation from God. There needed to be a more permanent solution and that solution is Jesus

God decided from the very beginning that the first Christmas night was the perfect night to give the world the greatest gift of all, Jesus. Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary. He lived a sinless life to become a sacrifice for our sins.  “And you know that Jesus came to take away our sins, and there is no sin in him” (1 John 3:5) (NLT).

Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead three days later. This perfect sacrifice restored our relationship with God and gives us a way to eternal life. “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6) (NIV).

On that first Christmas when the baby Jesus was born in a manger in the town of Bethlehem, it was the beginning of the salvation of the world. God sent His Son to give us life. To me, that is the true meaning of Christmas.

Friends, I’d like to conclude this entire series with an invitation to receive the greatest gift of all: the gift of eternal life through Jesus. If you don’t know Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, I’d love for you to pray this prayer with me.

If you just prayed that prayer with me, I’d like to welcome you into the community of believers. I would also like to congratulate you on accepting the greatest gift ever given.  You now possess eternal life though belief in Jesus Christ. I pray that this series has touched your heart. I pray that this Christmas has a meaning unlike any other Christmas you have ever celebrated.

On behalf of the Take Five team and Go Scatter Ministries, I would like to wish you a very Merry Christmas filled with the love of Christ.  May the true meaning of Christmas resonate in your heart all year long and may the peace and joy fill you each and every day.

Blessings

Dave

“Good Good Father” by Wende Swick

For as long as I can remember, I’ve made use of Advent calendars, historically fancy calendars made from paper, with windows you open daily to view a new verse or picture, leading up to the birth of Jesus. I’ve given those calendars to my niece and nephews, used them with students, etc. If they had glitter on them, all the more festive!

In recent years, I’ve used 3-D wooden calendars whose compartments with doors or drawers hold daily gifts. My first Christmas with my husband, I bought him an LL Bean tree-shaped calendar. The drawers are too small to hold more than a piece of candy and a little gift tag. Thus, that is exactly what I place in them. Each tag tells him where to look for the day’s gift. Some are on or under the tree, some hanging in a doorway (mistletoe!) or on the wall (plaque) and others on a table, stovetop or pillow- or at his office, or the home of a relative. Each gift is selected with care, and not just in December. When we visited Letchworth Park at the peak of fall foliage, for example, I bought him a leaf ornament with the location and year printed on it. Spreading out the acquisition of gifts allows me to put thought into each one and capture memories from throughout the year. It’s also easier on the purse if you acquire gifts over time. I try to bestow gifts which bring pleasure to the various senses… home-baked goods and specialty candies for taste (Bye’s caramel corn with cashews went into a tin nutcracker container this year!); CDs of special Christmas music for hearing; seasonal candles for sight and smell; mistletoe and coupons for adventures for the sense of touch/kinesthetics; personal messages on cards, decorative items, etc. for sight. I try to make or choose gifts which show that I know and love my husband and that I care about what HE likes. I want to let him experience the fact that I value him, that he’s important to me. I also want him to experience the elements of surprise and pleasure as he discovers, opens and enjoys daily gifts during Advent. I try to do some of these things, howbeit not daily, all year long.

God treats me/us in this way. He knows me even more intimately than I know myself. He loves me. He cares about what I like, want and need. He values me. I am important to Him. He loves surprising me and bringing me pleasure! Each of these is true of you as well.

Ever since I surrendered my heart and life to God, I’ve experienced and enjoyed growing intimacy with Him. I have learned that He is a good, GOOD Father, who loves me (and you!) VERY MUCH. I experience His love expressed in various ways…from the words on the pages of His Word to Him surprising me with things that bless my heart! He knows each of us so intimately that He brings us exactly what will communicate His deep knowledge of, and loving care for, you and me.

He does this in both personal and professional areas of my life. In recent months, my colleagues and I have been overwhelmed by God’s goodness to us! We have seen parents choose to keep their babies rather than abort them and experienced the joyous privilege of seeing those precious babies in ultrasound images. We’ve seen His astounding provision of all our financial needs at Care Net Center of Greater Orleans. We have watched God answer prayers literally before we’ve voiced them, with the answers showing up right after we’ve prayed…obviously set in motion before we prayed with His heart and mind. We have seen so many individuals, churches and organizations bring us beautiful baby clothes, diapers, furniture and more, to help meet the needs of clients we serve. We’ve received not only necessities, but also stylish jackets for moms, boxes of food for those who need them and wonderful books and toys for babies/children. The Gideons have provided us generously with Bibles. We’ve been pleased to see people receive those, receive Jesus into their hearts and lives, and even take Bibles to give to others! It is glorious to watch God meet others’ needs, to experience people’s generosity and to be a part of it.

When I first started working at Care Net, there was a sticker on my bulletin board which reads “I am PRO Abundant Life”! (I am, and I was thrilled to see it expressed that way!) My colleagues and I, marveling aloud together, expressed and affirmed that “Everyone wins!” when you’re walking with God and serving Him. We wondered aloud why anyone would choose not to be in relationship with Him.

Christmas is a great time to take stock of where we are in our relationships with God, and to do what it takes to be as close with Him as possible. Someone once spoke this truth: “You’re as close with God as you want to be.” Thankfully, He wants to be very intimate with you and me!

“A Grandfather’s Gift” by Kyle Holz

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4) (NIV).

Christmas is a time of giving, love, happiness, joy, peace, and so much more. There are always gifts we get or receive that have a lot more meaning than others. Lately with my aunts and uncles, instead of getting them a tangible gift, my wife and I decided that a donation on their behalf to a charity they support would be best. This has a lot more meaning and lasting impression than a box of chocolate, etc. As I get older, giving gifts that have meaning seem to be more important. There is something special about touching other people’s hearts and sparking true happiness inside of them. As we age, I truly believe that we find giving gifts of meaning go farther than many other gifts under the tree. One of the most meaningful gifts I have ever received was from my grandfather, who is no longer with us. When I talk about gifts that touch the heart, this was truly one that touched mine.

For those of you who don’t know, my grandfather lived a very long and healthy life. Towards the end of his life, he battled cancer.  The doctors told him that he only had six months to live. Fast forward and he lived over ten years.  God wasn’t done with him. He had a plan for him! Over those ten years of battling cancer, he struggled with pain, sickness, and bouts in the hospital. Through it all, my grandfather stuck close to Jesus and developed the strongest relationship he ever had with Him. Despite his circumstances, he exuberated happiness and positivity which touched so many lives.  He was a shining light for all to see and an advocate for Jesus! My grandfather loved Christmas; I should mention!

My grandfather gave me his watch with a letter he had written.  He held onto the watch as a Christmas present for me; it was his last Christmas. I didn’t receive the watch until February 1st 2019 as the letter was dated.  Without actually typing out the whole letter or giving away too many details, I want to highlight what stood out to me. There are random times when I swear God nudges me to read the letter.  I picture my grandpa telling Jesus to send his family members little reminders. This letter is the reminder for me! In the letter, my grandfather had mentioned wearing the watch to keep his memory alive and that he would always be around me. That watch is old, used, and worn, kind of like my grandpa was just before his passing. I should mention that the watch was part of many happy times too!

A watch and a letter from my grandpa have made me feel so special. When I get the nudge to go upstairs and sit quietly to read the letter and hold the watch, there is a special connection happening. To see his handwriting and remember his voice in my head, to know that something so special to him was passed on to me is such a beautiful and moving reminder for me. It helps his legacy live on.  I know that he is with Jesus and that Jesus has wiped away his tears and promised him no more pain or death! But, oh, what I would give to hear him say, “I am so proud of you,” just one more time.

“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) (NIV).

One of the most recognizable verses is found right in the Bible. Thinking about the watch and the letter that had meant so much to me, I couldn’t help but think of John 3:16. God gave His only Son to you and me.  His most prized possession, the one He loves, was given to you and me. Have you ever actually sat down in the quiet and truly took in what Jesus did for us? Have you thought about the facts that He was beaten so badly, mocked, spit on, and hung on a criminal’s cross? None of it was done for Him. He did it for us. I am moved to tears when I truly take this thought in. I, Kyle Holz, don’t deserve any of it. Thirty plus years of my life I chose to do things my way.  I chose to purposely mess up. I had repeatedly said ‘no’ to Jesus and ‘yes’ to sin. No matter how many times I messed up, Jesus was always there in the background. His selfless love allowed my chains to be broken and for my addiction to not have a grip on me. You know what? Jesus offered Himself on the cross because He loves me ever so dearly. That is a gift that means so much to me. He gave me the true gift of forgiveness.  Just like the watch and the letter that my grandfather selflessly gave to me with meaning, Jesus selflessly gave up Himself to bear the weight of all of our sins. I’ve mentioned it multiple times before, but there is importance to the gift we can give to Jesus.  That gift is ourselves, and I cannot reiterate that enough! No matter where you are or what you have done, Jesus loves you and He is waiting with arms open wide!

“My body and my heart may grow weak, but God is the strength of my heart and all I need forever” (Psalm 73:26) (NLV)

Like the watch that my grandfather had given me, he had grown old and worn. His body and heart had grown weak, but he relied on Jesus for his strength. Jesus gave him the gift of life. He chose to accept the gift and acknowledge what Jesus did on the cross. Will you choose to accept and acknowledge the meaningful gift that Jesus wants to give you? It is the most beautiful and significant gift that can make yours and His Christmas complete!

I hope you have enjoyed following us along this Advent journey together here at Go Scatter. From my family to yours, I hope that you have a wonderful Christmas that is full of cheer. Spend time with your loved ones and cherish these moments.  Don’t forget to open the gift Jesus has for you.  Go ahead and open the Christmas gift for him, that is your heart! Have a blessed Christmas!

Challenge:

Give someone a gift or do something nice for someone you may think doesn’t deserve it. That is where love and forgiveness come into play.

“The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey” by Debbie McClarin

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness, a light has dawned….For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given…and He will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:2,6) (NIV, NKJV).

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey became a favorite almost immediately.  Maybe it was because it was introduced to me by the author herself. Susan Wojciechowski visited the school where I was teaching.  A former librarian in the Rochester area, she had a wonderful backstory to this amazing children’s book.  But, let me say, it is not just for children.  Susan wanted to write a story about the light of Christmas but to come at it from a unique perspective.  Sitting at her computer, God gave her the inspiration that she needed.  She shared that she sat there, typing away, and without stopping wrote the whole story.  This story did not even need editing to go to publication (or at least very little!).  It was truly a Christmas gift from God to her and then to the countless others that have read it.  This backstory and the story itself have been gifts to me, and I have given this book as a gift numerous times.

Jonathan Toomey, an excellent woodcarver, is known as Mr. Gloomy because of his sadness and the distance he puts between people.  He especially does not like Christmas.  Thomas and his mother, the widow McDowell, enter the story when they want him to carve a nativity scene.  Their connection grows as he carves each figure.  You will have to read the story to see how it all plays out!

For me, it is a story of how God can change our darkness into light.  My story is not the same as Mr. Toomey’s or the widow McDowell and Thomas,’ but just the same, I experience times of darkness, grief, and loneliness like most people do.  I love how the author interwove the Christmas story into the characters’ lives.  It reminds me that the coming of Jesus means that we can be transformed.  I find that the illustrations are also instrumental in bringing this meaning to my heart.  Just as in this story, transformation is not always immediate.  Jonathan Toomey was experiencing the message of Christmas through his carving of the figures along with the kindnesses of the widow and Thomas.  Whenever I read this story, especially out loud, I get choked up.  It always touches something deep inside of me reminding me of Jesus’ love and light. 

It has also been a gift to me to grow in understanding of others’ darkness and brokenness, especially as it relates to deep grief.  Although each and every person’s experience is different, this story teaches me to remember that grieving is a process.  It can’t be forced or put on a timetable.  The healing can fluctuate from growth back to despair and then more growth.  Small kindnesses and spending time with someone can help bring bits of light to their darkness, each time allowing the light of Jesus to do a healing work.  But as in this story, it is God’s love through Jesus that ultimately brings the deepest healing. 

Many times when friends and family had young children, I gave the families this book.  Often I would read it out loud to them.  My hope has always been that it would be a spiritual gift to them along with the actual physical book.  Maybe at that point they were too young to fully grasp some of the things that I shared above, but I believe that they still connected to the unique way of looking at the Nativity scene as described while Mr. Toomey was carving the figures.  Kids love animals and within this story we can see things from their perspective.  The boy, Thomas, is important to the meaning of this story, so again they have a point to connect to.  Sometimes a familiar story can be gone over quickly.  This story helps us to stop and think about Jesus’ birth in a different way.

When I have given this book to people, I include this note below and explain how I met the author at my school. Knowing how an author wrote a story increases its meaning and connection.  I think it expresses my thoughts behind the gift:

Mrs. Wojciechowski shared that she barely recalls writing this book because it was inspired by God; the words just flowed out of her without her having to think about them.  Although publishers always have the authors make many, many changes, this time they didn’t have her make hardly any at all.  This is very unusual.  She also told us that she had been wanting to write a Christmas story, not one about Mary and Joseph specifically, but a story about how Jesus came to make a difference.  You will notice that in the pictures at the beginning of the story Mr. Toomey is in the darkness.  At the end of the story he is pictured in brilliant light.  Mrs. Wojciechowski wanted her story to remind us that Jesus came to be the Light of the World for us.  You will notice many other changes as well as she weaves the story of Christmas into her characters’ lives.  I hope that you will read this book many times and that it will become one of your favorites.  Learn from it and remember that Jesus is here to help you.  I pray that you will show kindness to others especially when they are sad.

I always love stories where characters go through inner transformation.  Think about classics like A Christmas Carol and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.  While all three of these stories are very different, in each one the characters’ hearts are changed.  Their darkness is turned into light.  Their sorrow is turned into joy. Their loneliness is turned into connection.  I hope you will read The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey and experience how Mr. Toomey’s life went from darkness to light because of God’s love.

“In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5) (NIV).

“The Love Language of Gifts” by Pastor Randy LeBaron

If any of you have read Gary Chapman’s famous counseling book, The Five Love Languages, you know that in it he teaches that we all show and receive love in five primary ways: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Physical Touch, Gifts, and Acts of Service. At different times I went through the process of discovering which ones were highest for me, and “Gifts” always popped up near the top which actually surprised me,

The reality is that I enjoy getting gifts as much as the next person, but I never thought of it as a significant way for me to feel loved. Once I thought about it more, I realized that I scored so high not so much because I liked getting gifts but rather because I loved giving them. To me gift giving is a long and painstaking process because I try to put a lot of thought and care into each item that I purchase or create. To me it is not so much about the material gift but the thought behind it. I like for the recipient to know that I KNOW THEM and know what they need or what would make them smile.

When I get it right it is an incredible feeling. When someone reciprocates in the same thoughtful way, I feel grateful… blessed… seen… understood… known. Things like my wife making my mother’s signature Wacky Cake for my birthday or a friend taking me to a Bills’ game means more than words can describe. And when it comes to Christmas, I have been given many thoughtful gifts over the years. My favorites are homemade items from my kids.

That being said, the greatest gift that I have ever received was being wrapped 1,974 years before I was even born. Jesus, the Messiah wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger, was the greatest gift because His birth gave my birth, and yours, meaning! Subsequently, His death and resurrection have made it possible for me, and you, to be reconciled to our Heavenly Father and ultimately KNOW andbe KNOWN by the Creator of the universe.

“‘Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going.’ ‘No, we don’t know, Lord,’ Thomas said. ‘We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ Jesus told him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!’” (John 14:1-7) (NLT).

Challenge…

Friends, if you have not yet unwrapped this most precious gift, then I encourage you to do so today. If you confess Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, not only will you be saved, as Scripture says in Romans 10:9-10, but you will be given the gift of renewed hope by the One who knows you better than anyone else and Who has the power to give purpose to your life.

“We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.) And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:24-28) (NLT).

“The Christmas Narrative” – Advent Scripture Reading

Please spend some time today, at the end of this third week of Advent, to meditate of The Christmas Narrative represented in the following two passages.

“At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child. And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them. That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.” (Luke‬ ‭2:1-20‬ ) NLT‬‬

“Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?” “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote: ‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are not least among the ruling cities of Judah, for a ruler will come from you who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’ ” Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!” After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod. After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, and they stayed there until Herod’s death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called my Son out of Egypt.” Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance. Herod’s brutal action fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: “A cry was heard in Ramah— weeping and great mourning. Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted, for they are dead.” When Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt. “Get up!” the angel said. “Take the child and his mother back to the land of Israel, because those who were trying to kill the child are dead.” So Joseph got up and returned to the land of Israel with Jesus and his mother. But when he learned that the new ruler of Judea was Herod’s son Archelaus, he was afraid to go there. Then, after being warned in a dream, he left for the region of Galilee. So the family went and lived in a town called Nazareth. This fulfilled what the prophets had said: “He will be called a Nazarene.”” (Matthew‬ ‭2:1-23‬ ) NLT‬‬

“Away in the Manger” by Dave Good

Happy Thursday! This week the Take Five blog has been exploring our favorite part of the nativity story. As we are getting closer and closer to the birth of Jesus, it is important to take a few minutes and highlight the circumstances surrounding the birth of Christ.

The Gospel of Luke gives us a detailed narrative of His birth. Let’s take a minute and read what Luke has to say:

“At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child. And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born” (Luke2:1-6)(NLT).

The next verse in the Gospel of Luke is the verse I would like to examine.  “She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them” (Luke2:7) (NLT).

I’d like to translate that verse into everyday terms. Mary gave birth to Jesus, wrapped Him in some cloth and laid him in an animal feeding bowl.  Take a few moments and let that verse sink in. We have the long awaited Messiah of the world born in a barn, wrapped in cloth, and His first bed is a filthy trough. That whole image is hardly fitting for the King of Kings.

Now the question arises, “Dave, why did you choose this aspect of the nativity narrative? I mean don’t you want to talk about the miracle of the virgin birth, the angels proclaiming the good news to the shepherds, or the wise men who visited from afar?” All those details are very interesting and important, but for me the details of His birth resonate the most to me. 

There was nothing pretty about the birth place of Jesus. It was basically a smelly barn filled with livestock of various kinds. Jesus was born amongst the sheep, goats, and cattle. Again, this is hardly the place for the Messiah to be born. Shouldn’t the Messiah have been born in a palace, in a kingly manner, surrounded by other members of royalty? How could God allow His only begotten Son to be born in a barn?   Didn’t Jesus deserve more?

All these questions made me ponder the circumstances a little further. To me, that verse gives me so much hope in life. My personal reflection on the humble beginnings of Christ led me to this encouraging conclusion. If Jesus Christ, the Lord of Lord, King of Kings, the Messiah can start His life, His ministry from the brink of obscurity, then why can’t we do the same? God could have very easily chosen the perfect married couple, living in a beautiful house in the suburbs as the perfect setting for His birth. Instead, God chose an unwed couple and the outskirts of Bethlehem as the ideal destination. Here is the conclusion that I drew from the manger.  God doesn’t need everything to be perfect or the beginning to be perfect in order to save the world. God can use the adversity of life and the humble beginnings to bring joy to the world. So don’t worry if your life started off on the wrong foot. Don’t worry if you aren’t in a pretty situation. God likes to turn humble beginning into joyous endings. The key is to follow the example of the three wise men and allow God to be the guiding star in your life. If you put your life in His hands, I promise you His plans are perfect. Take a look at my favorite verse and decide for yourself. “’For I know the plans I have for you’ — this is the Lord’s declaration — ’plans for your well-being, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope’” (Jeremiah29:11)(CSB).

The verse says the plan is perfect not the life. Don’t misconstrue that fact. The plan God has for our life is perfect. We just like to mess up the plan. There was only one man who was able to stick to the plan and live a perfect life. That is the same man who was born in the manger on the first Christmas day, Jesus. 

Friends, I pray you allow the humble birth of Jesus to give you the hope in your life. I pray that you trust your life to God, who can take the most adverse situation in life and bring hope to it. I pray that you are comforted by the fact that it isn’t how you start life that matters, but it is how you finish life that impacts the world. I lift up your situation with prayer and offer you the hope of Christ. I extend to you the fact that God doesn’t need you to be perfect or be in the ideal situation to impact the world.

I hope the words of this blog give you a ray of hope and encouragement. As always, have a great week and hope you join us again.

CHALLENGE…

  • Spend some time today thinking about how Jesus’ life began and how God wants your life to end. It’s never too late to get back on the perfect path that God had planned for us!

“Harbinger of Good News” by Wende Swick

As soon as an audible quote of, or reference to, the following Bible verse commences, I chime right in, my rote memory kicking in:

Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” Luke 2:10b-12, KJV

During my elementary years, I attended a Monday afternoon religious education class at the CCD center of the Roman Catholic church I attended growing up. One Christmastime, I was selected for the role of head angel. (Perhaps this is because I was the tallest student in my class!?!) I recited the above verse from Luke, draped in a white gown and, if I remember correctly, feathery wings and a golden tinsel halo. I stood at the apex of a heavenly host of young angels on risers, declaring this great news to whosoever would listen.

One of the definitions of the term ‘angel’ is ‘a messenger or harbinger’, and many add ‘from God’. I only know a few people who have seen actual angels, spirit beings who’ve never been human, but I have met people who have served as messengers of God to me, and I trust that I serve in that capacity for some of the people I encounter in my lifetime.

I have had the privilege of sharing the ‘Good News,’ or the ‘Gospel’ with others. It’s not that different from the message I delivered in an angel costume at around six years of age from some risers at St. Bartholomew’s Church. God CHOSE to come to earth in the form of a man, as Jesus Christ (Yeshua, in Hebrew), because He LOVES YOU. He knew you and I would be imperfect, but He wants to have a relationship with us, and to enjoy our company and our worship, and to have us enjoy HIS company, now and forever. Thus, He came, born as a babe, to die in our places (yours and mine), so that we can rise again after our physical bodies die, to live with Him forever. The price for our imperfections and our purposeful choices which hurt God, ourselves and others, is death and eternal separation from a perfect God. “What fellowship has light with darkness?” ( 2 Corinthians 6:14) the Scriptures ask. God is absolute light, and we choose to allow darkness into us. However, …the Gospel, the Good News, is that we can be cleansed, forgiven and made right, through the blood of Jesus… something we celebrate at Easter, but which can be celebrated every day of the year, including at Christmastime, when we celebrate His birth… Christ + mass = Christmas.

May your Christmas be joyful, and may you know that you will enjoy eternity with God! (We each make the choice whether or not we will.)

“If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” Romans 10:9-10, KJV

CHALLENGE…

  • Have you ever seen, or talked to someone who has seen, an Angel?
  • Share a time when you acted like an Angel by sharing the Good News with someone.

“The Three Wise Men” by Kyle Holz

“Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.’” (Matthew 2:1-2)

The story of the wise men has always stuck out to me.  It’s not always one that people would necessarily talk about first when you think about the many different Christmas narratives.   It has always intrigued me when I think about these men bringing gifts to the Savior.  Here is a narrative that almost sets the stage for our modern-day Christmas and gift giving.  But, what sticks out to me most about this narrative is the fact that three men (or kings), were led to Jesus from a star and were used as part of the plan to ensure King Herod didn’t find Jesus as he wanted Him dead. God has a true plan and a true love for a relationship with us.  He guides the way to protect His Son here on earth.  You never know who might be part of the plan, including three wise men who we do not know much about!

“King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, ‘Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?’ ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they said, ‘for this is what the prophet wrote: And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are not least among the ruling cities] of Judah, for a ruler will come from you who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’” (Matthew 2:3-6)

King Herod felt threatened and disturbed by the fact that a potential religious king would come and overtake him or be more powerful. When the wise men came to tell him of this news, that they were going to worship Jesus, he knew that the Jews expected the Messiah to come soon. Civil unrest was a huge thing with Herod in Jerusalem. News of the birth of the Messiah had the opposite effect on him and his government compared to the hope of the Jewish people.  Herod came up with a ploy to find out where Jesus was so that he could kill Him. But we soon learn as we read further in Matthew, that evil will not prevail and that God and His plans will succeed!

“Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, ‘Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!’ After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” (Matthew 2: 7-11)

These wise men had such great faith as they traveled hundreds of miles to deliver these gifts to Jesus. As part of what the season is about, they were filled with great joy of seeing the Messiah in person and giving Him these gifts. An amazing piece to this story is the fact that they were guided by the star in the east to Jesus.  Suspense and expectancy build as the climax to this story is about to take place. What really struck me was in verse 11 when they entered the house, and all of them bowed down to worship Him. Under regular circumstances when children are born, we don’t usually bow down and worship them.  This is a little perplexing.  The great faith they had in a baby being the one true Messiah is amazing.  Their faith was unwavering, and they could feel His presence.

While Jesus doesn’t need material things, these gifts that they had brought were the true essence of it being the thought that counts.

  • Gold- associated with kings and Jesus was the King of Kings!
  • Frankincense- used for worship in churches; people would use this for praise and worship towards Jesus.
  • Myrrh- this is a type of fragrance used on dead bodies to help them smell more pleasant. This symbolizes Christ’s crucifixion.

“When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.” (Matthew 2:12)

God led them in faith to the King of Kings in the flesh on the earth. A star shone on the earth to let them know that Jesus was born! He also used them to help ensure that Herod would not make his way to Jesus.  We thank God for His plans and how He uses us to expand His Kingdom and plans here on earth!

Their steadfast faith and devotion to Jesus was one that led them right to Him in the flesh! As Christians, we can take something from this! We can acknowledge that Jesus came in the flesh to die for our sins. He gave us the ultimate gift of salvation. We need to acknowledge Jesus as our King and Lord of our lives. As I mentioned in my previous blog, Jesus gave us the ultimate gift and wants the ultimate gift from us, ourselves. Bring Jesus your best gifts as He is worthy. The three wise men’s narrative lives on in our season of giving gifts to those we love.

May He bring you peace, hope, love, and joy this holiday season!

Challenge:

This holiday season, as you give a gift; remember the gift God gave you, His only Son!

References: https://www.biblestudytools.com/bible-stories/three-wise-men.html

www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%202&version=NLT

“A Shepherd’s Tale” by Debbie McClarin

I have always loved sheep. I’m not really sure why, but since childhood I have been intrigued by them. As my family would walk along country paths, I would always be the one lagging behind because I was watching the sheep, talking to them, and if there was a brave one or two, scratching them behind their ears. Maybe it was the picture in my mind of King David as a boy shepherd. What young Jewish boy doesn’t have David as his hero, slaying predators and then Goliath?! “The Lord is my shepherd. The Lord is my shepherd. The Lord is my shepherd.” This makes for a good cadence for walking when young feet and legs are getting tired. “Are we almost there yet?” “He leads me on paths of righteousness. He leads me on paths of righteousness. He leads me on paths of righteousness.” I keep moving, step by step. The path is long, dusty, and rocky. But, sometimes when I am tempted to do wrong…I think, He leads me on paths of righteousness, and it helps me to make a much better choice.

At a young age it was determined that I would follow in my father’s footsteps and become a priest.  This decision really was a joy to me as I have always wanted to serve Yahweh God.  I was part-way through the training by the rabbis and priests when I found out that there were special priests who were shepherds for the Passover lambs.*  My heart leapt and I sought out how I could follow this path.  My love for and knowledge of sheep helped to procure me this position.  And, that is how I ended up being in that field on that most holy of nights. 

The flocks of Passover lambs are the only herds of sheep that do not have to go out into the wilderness.  We were not too far from Bethlehem.  Taking care of the lambs brought me great delight.  There was a sense of constant vigilance because for a lamb to be accepted as a Passover sacrifice, it must be free from any injury, defect, or blemish.  I loved watching over these precious creatures.  While it did pain me to think that most of them would be sacrificed to atone for our sins, it was part of who I was as a young Jewish man.  All my life we had celebrated Passover, remembering that the Angel of Death passed over any Jewish household that had the blood of a perfect lamb spread along its door frame.  There was great rejoicing every year in remembering God’s miraculous deliverance of the Israelites from the cruel enslavement of the Egyptians.

These thoughts and more often went through my mind as we guarded and cared for these lambs destined to provide the Passover sacrifice.   That particular night it was crisp and clear, maybe a little colder than usual.  The stars were definitely bright, and as it was my turn to be in the Migdal Tower watching over the sheep and lambs from up above.  Tradition stated that the Messiah would come from the “tower of the flock.”  I thought of that every time it was my turn to watch from up high in the tower.  What did it really mean?  So many years, and still no Messiah.  Obediently, we continued to follow the Jewish traditions and celebrate the yearly feasts, never losing hope that one day He would come.

Sometimes the nights seemed extra long and I would get sleepy.  This night, however, was different.  I could never find the words to describe the sense of electricity in the air, but even the sheep seemed to feel it.  They wouldn’t settle down, moving from place to place instead of sleeping, and the repeated “baa baa” could be heard instead of the gentle sound of their sleeping breaths.  I kept watching for intruders.  Were there wolves nearby?  Was there a storm brewing somewhere despite the clear sky?  Could they hear voices somewhere that we could not hear?  “Just keep watching over them,” was the voice I heard from God in my mind.

My eyes were roaming back and forth over the expanse of the field.  As I turned to gaze over the field once again, there was an indistinguishable glow, wait, no, it was not a glow, it was a brilliant light!  I shouted down to my fellow shepherds from my place in the tower, “What is that amazing light?” I admit it; I was a bit frightened!  Then I heard the words, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.  For there is born to you today in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”*  I had to stop and think.   Could I really be hearing an angel announcing the coming of the Christ, the Messiah?  But the angel continued to speak, and I had to listen. “And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

Just when I realized I had been holding my breath that whole time the angel was speaking and began to fill my lungs back up with the night air, that majestic angel was joined by a whole multitude of angels!  I mean, there was no chance of us ever counting how many, even if all of us shepherds worked together to do so.  It was the most amazing thing I had ever seen.  Their words of praise filled the air and every cell of our bodies.  “Glory to God in the highest!  And on earth peace, goodwill to those on whom His favor rests.”

I wanted to shout praises along with them.  I wanted to bow down in humble reverence, but that was to come just a while later.  We began saying to each other, “Now, we have to go now, right now, to see this baby Savior!”  I don’t think we ever ran that fast in our lives.  Somehow in our exuberance we found the humble place where Joseph and Mary and the precious newborn baby were.   Then the time for humble reverence came.  There He was; the most beautiful baby that I ever saw.   How could it be that He was wrapped in swaddling cloths?  They were the very same cloths we used to protect the Passover lambs.

Tears began to roll down my cheeks.  I gazed at this baby, this perfect baby.  He was a baby with no blemish, injury, or defect—the perfect Passover Lamb.  Our Messiah.  God had sent the Messiah in the form of a baby.  Our Savior.  My Savior.   We could not contain ourselves, and yet after a time we left, and all along the way we praised God and told the story to whoever would listen.  “For there is born today, for you, a Savior who is Christ the Lord!  Glory to God!”

*Scripture passages/references: Psalm 23: 1,3; Luke 2: 4-17; Exodus 11, 12 (NKJV/NIV)

*Historical information:  https://steppesoffaith.medium.com/the-real-truth-about-the-shepherds-on-that-first-christmas-night-c32296181a27

Challenges:

Read through any of the above passages and put yourself into the narrative.  What do you hear?  See? Smell?  What emotions are flowing through you?

What part of the story above most resonates with you?  What might God be trying to say to you or wanting to do in your life this Christmas season? 

Like the shepherds, go and share the good news of Jesus’ birth!

“The Shepherds Told Everyone What Had Happened” by Pastor Randy LeBaron

Although I do love each element of the Christmas narrative, if I were to pick out one piece that stands out the most to me these days, it would be the account of the angel of the Lord appearing to the shepherds. Please take a moment to read and meditate on it. It is found in…

Luke 2:8-20 “That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.” (NLT)

It should not be a surprise that, as an evangelist, I would be drawn to the event where the participants all take part in sharing the good news—the very definition of evangelism. First, you have the angel of the Lord, later joined by many other angels, sharing with the shepherds. Then you have the shepherds themselves going around and sharing the good news with others after witnessing the promised Messiah in the manger with their own eyes.

One of the things that I often emphasize when teaching about evangelism, is that every Christian is expected to actively participate—not just the experts or extroverts. This passage is proof of this because even though it starts with an expert, an angel was literally “a messenger” after all; it ends with simple shepherds sharing the good news with anyone who would listen.

A lot of Christians tend to over complicate things and become reluctant to share the gospel because they feel like they lack biblical knowledge or fear rejection. The reality is, much like with these shepherds, evangelism is simply sharing the good news that you have witnessed firsthand. You do not have to take a theology course before telling your personal testimony to others and you do not have to fear rejection. Our job as Christians is simply to proclaim the good news about Jesus. Success does not depend on the response of those we are proclaiming it to.

Another thing to note is that the shepherds weren’t sitting in the temple praying when this happened; they were in the middle of a shift at work. Not only does God call common people to evangelize, but He also calls us to do it in the midst of our everyday lives. God wants to use who we are to share His good news where we are.

Another example is when Jesus revealed Himself to the woman at the well in John 4. She subsequently left her jar to go and tell everyone about this man who knew everything about her. One minute she was so focused on her sin and shame that she was getting water during the heat of the day to avoid running into others and the next she was actually running toward those she had wanted to avoid because her focus had shifted onto the possibility of Jesus being the Messiah.

This Christmas my prayer is that each of us, like the shepherds, would become so excited about what we have witnessed Christ do in us and through us that we would be willing to share the good news of the gospel with others, and without hesitation!

CHALLENGE…

Read through the Christmas narrative found primarily in Matthew 1-2, Luke 1-2, and John 1.

Share which person or event stands out to you the most and why.

Ask God to give you the name of one person you can pray for and share Christ with this week. Let us know so that we can be praying for them and for you—that the Holy Spirit would prepare his/her ears to hear and prompt you when an opportune time arises.

* This is meant to be an interactive blog so please share some of your responses with us.

“The Magnificat/ Mary’s Song of Praise” – Luke 1:46-55

‭‭As we come to the end of of second week of Advent spend some time today meditating on the Song of Mary after she learned that she would give birth to The Messiah.

Luke‬ ‭1:46-55 “Mary responded, “Oh, how my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed. For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me. He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear him. His mighty arm has done tremendous things! He has scattered the proud and haughty ones. He has brought down princes from their thrones and exalted the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands. He has helped his servant Israel and remembered to be merciful. For he made this promise to our ancestors, to Abraham and his children forever.””

“Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” – An Advent Prayer

In keeping with our theme of the week here is an Advent Hymn that is very much a prayer…

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.


Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.


By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne

Source: LyricFind

Songwriters: Tom Howard / R. H. Pritchard / Charles Wesley

Come Thou Long Expected Jesus lyrics © Warner Chappell Music, Inc, Universal Music Publishing Group

“Silent Night” by Dave Good

Hello!!!! I hope you had the opportunity to read the blog from Day 1. If not, I would encourage you to take a look at the entries from our Take Five team. Last week we discussed some of our favorite things about Christmas. This week we are going to discuss and explore our favorite Christmas hymn.

The hymn I chose is “Silent Night.“   If you have ever attended a Christmas Eve service, you have probably participated in a candlelight vigil. The preacher finishes his or her Christmas message and candles are distributed to each and every churchgoer.  The church lights are lowered, and darkness fills the air. A single flame is lit in the sanctuary and passed from person to person.  After a few short moments, the entire church is filled with flickering flames. Looking around, it is a truly serene and beautiful atmosphere. Once the candles are lit, the familiar notes of “Silent Night” flow from the worship band. The result is a wonderfully peaceful moment in time. 

The atmosphere created by the words of “Silent Night” creates a similar effect. Let’s take a moment and break down this beautiful song, verse by verse.

First, let’s take a look at the title, “Silent Night.”

Contrary to the title, that night in Bethlehem was anything but silent on the night Jesus was born. “At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child. And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.” (Luke 2:1, 3-7) (NLT). The entire town was completely occupied, there was not a hotel room left to be found.  The only option the expecting couple had was the stable of an innkeeper who had compassion on them. Mary and Joseph made their way to a barn to seek shelter for the night.

Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
‘Round yon virgin Mother and Child
Holy infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

The first verse of the song was written to describe the moments after a child is born   If you’ve have had the privilege of experiencing the birth of a child; it is the most incredible blessing in the world. There is a moment, immediately after the birth, that transitions from urgency, noise, and chaos to an incredible feeling of serenity–the moment when all the screams and commotion are transformed into joy and peace. It’s the moment when the newborn is laid on the mother’s chest and tears of joy flow from the parents’ eyes. The long awaited child is here, the bonding between the mother and child has begun.  The room filled with doctors and nurses soon clears and the exhausted mother and child are allowed to finally rest and usually fall asleep in each other’s arms.  What an incredible moment in time!  There is a peace and tranquility that is present that is hard to describe; it just has to be experienced. 

Silent night, holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight!
Glories stream from heaven afar;
Heavenly hosts sing Al-le-lu-ia!
Christ the Savior is born!
Christ the Savior is born!

The second verse portrays the announcement of the birth of Jesus to the shepherds. “That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!” (Luke 2:8-11) (NLT). Imagine how frightening this moment must have been. The night is dark. The only sounds to be heard are the animals and the crickets. Then, out of the blue, the angels of the Lord light up the sky with glory and song.  I don’t know about you. I’ve never seen an angel, and while I’m sure they are beautiful, this would have scared the living daylights out of me.  I’m sure they let out a few screams and yelps. Once they regained their composure and gathered themselves, they were greeted with the greatest news in the history of mankind. These lowly shepherds were the first to be told that the Savior of the world, Jesus, was born on this day. In just a few moments, the shepherds went from fear and panic to joy and exaltation. This exact thing takes place when we accept Christ as our Savior.  Our life goes from out of control and fear to restoration and peace with the Father. 

Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth

The final verse tries to depict the image of the precious baby Jesus lying in the bed of hay; His face so innocent and full of the glory of God.  There is nothing more precious than a sleeping baby. Their calmness and sweetness are reflected in their peaceful existence. The very last line, “With the dawn of redeeming grace,” points directly to the upcoming amazing grace still to come.

Friends, “Silent Night” is more than a song to sing during a Christmas Eve service.  The words of this song bring joy and hope to a world looking for salvation.  Next time you hear the words of this beautiful song, try to envision yourself gazing into the sweet, innocent face of the baby Jesus. Look at His radiant face and thank Him for what He was born to do. He was brought into this world to die for our sins and offer us salvation.  If you honestly take a moment and let that sink in, you will be filled with thankfulness and joy.  I pray that the words of this blog and the analysis of this song bless your life.  Lyrics are so powerful and if you let the words of this song soak in, you will soon be filled with the joy experienced by those shepherds.  Christ the Savior is born! Hallelujah!!!!!

Please join us next week as we continue to prepare our hearts for the coming of the Lord. Have a great week and I hope you join us again.

CHALLENGE…

  • If you have participated in a Christmas Eve Candlelight Service please share what your experience was like? Did you find it meaningful? Why?
  • Both Dave and Kyle (in Tuesday’s blog post) wrote about “Silent Night”. Why do you think that this is such a popular song? What stands out to you? The words? The melody? The meaning?
  • Spend a few minutes quietly listening to thus sing and meditating on it’s words. https://youtu.be/h8lJWj3R7ng

“Handel’s Messiah” by Wende Swick

Handel’s Messiah is a powerful musical composition which moves me. I don’t remember the first time I heard “The Messiah,” but I’ve had friends who host an annual “Messiah Sing” in their home, where folks are invited to participate in a very personal singing of Handel’s masterpiece.

When I lived in Jerusalem between 2007 and 2010, I became friends with Irene Poe Duce Levy, who translated Handel’s Messiah into Hebrew, with the help of a friend. (Irene is an American-born woman who’s related to Edgar Allen Poe. She made her way to Lebanon by ship in the 1940s, as one couldn’t travel to ‘Israel’ at that time. Modern-day Israel, as you may know, was ‘born’ in 1948, after Irene was already living there. Once in Lebanon, she made her way south to Israel by land. She can communicate in Hebrew and Arabic. Into her late 90s, Irene was still teaching Hebrew lessons at her congregation in Jerusalem. She is over 100 now!) I was in Jerusalem at the second performance of Handel’s “Messiah” in Hebrew, and bawled like a baby. It was very beautiful and powerful to be in the nation where our Messiah, Yeshua, (‘Jesus’ in English) was born, lived, died and appeared after His bodily resurrection, and to hear this performed in their native tongue. WOW!

I also received an invitation to, and happily attended, a community performance of Handel’s “Messiah” once living back in the Adirondacks after 2012. A family friend was playing in the brass section of the orchestra which made this performance more personal and enjoyable for me. It was performed in a cozy church sanctuary where the audience was invited to sing along with certain parts. This warmed my heart, which was already alive with a Christmas glow.

Here are lyrics I pulled from an online source:

“Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.

Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned.

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.


Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low, the crooked straight, and the rough places plain.

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given,
and the government shall be upon His shoulder:
and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion;
Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee.
He is the righteous Savior.
And he shall speak peace unto the heathen.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned every one to his own way;
and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Let us break their bonds asunder, and cast away their yokes from us.
Hallelujah! for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.
The kingdoms of this world is become the kingdoms of our Lord,
and of His Christ: and He shall reign for ever and ever.
King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.
Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power,
and riches, and wisdom, and strength,
and honor, and glory, and blessing.
Blessing, and honor, glory, and power,
be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne,
and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.
Amen.”
 
Those of you who've been to a performance of Handel's Messiah, or listened to a recording of it, may recognize the various parts overlaid in the culminating "Hallelujah Chorus" and recall beautiful harmonies which stay with you:
“Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah
 
For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah
For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah
For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth (Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah)
For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth (Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah)
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah (Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah)
For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth (Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah)
Hallelujah
 
The Kingdom of this world
Is become
The Kingdom of our Lord
And of His Christ
And of His Christ
And He shall reign forever and ever
And He shall reign forever and ever (And He shall reign forever and ever)
And He shall reign forever and ever (And He shall reign forever and ever)
And he shall reign forever and ever (And He shall reign forever and ever)
 
King of Kings (Forever and ever hallelujah hallelujah)
And Lord of Lords (Forever and ever hallelujah hallelujah)
King of Kings (Forever and ever hallelujah hallelujah)
And Lord of Lords (Forever and ever hallelujah hallelujah)
King of Kings (Forever and ever hallelujah hallelujah)
And Lord of Lords
King of Kings and Lord of Lords
 
And he shall reign forever and ever (And he shall reign)
And he shall reign forever and ever (And he shall reign)
 
King of Kings forever and ever
And Lord of Lords hallelujah hallelujah
And he shall reign forever, forever and ever
 
King of Kings and Lord of Lords
King of Kings and Lord of Lords
And he shall reign forever and ever (And he shall reign forever and ever)
 
Forever and ever, forever and ever (King of Kings and Lord of Lords)
 
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah
Hallelujah

CHALLENGE…


* Be sure to check out last week’s and today’s Episodes of “Refill with Randy” featuring Wende Swick!!! You can find last week’s episode here https://youtu.be/0ODrKH5YxJA and today’s will premiere on FB and YouTube at 8:15am.

“Silent Night” by Kyle Holz

Silent Night

Silent night, holy night!

All is calm, all is bright

Round yon virgin mother and Child.

Holy Infant, so tender and mild,

Sleep in heavenly peace,

Sleep in heavenly peace.

Worship through music is one of the key ways I connect to the Lord.  While I am not very musically inclined, I spiritually connect the most through song.  In moments of worship and raising my hands to the Lord, I get absolute chills.  I feel the Lord’s presence and it means I am connecting with Him. When I hear “Silent Night” at Christmas time, I really feel that heavenly peace and connection with Jesus. Going to church and hearing that song, the cares of the world are drowned out.  You almost feel as if you are invisible! Sitting and listening to “Silent Night” while staring at the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree, driving in the car in the dark listening to this song and seeing the snow and houses lit up—these are such wondrous moments.  Little did I know that this song that gives me such great peace came from someone who had a rough back story.*

If you’ve never heard the story of how “Silent Night” came to be, it is quite the story that illustrates how God works in people’s lives and creates something beautiful. Joseph Mohr was born in circumstances that made him socially unacceptable, therefore, he was an outcast. Joseph’s father had abandoned him and his mother. Without this father figure, God orchestrated a father figure in his life which was the church choirmaster. Joseph had musical abilities and learned many instruments, along with a musical education. He ended up becoming a priest and was ordained at 23 years old. Joseph wrote a poem that was inspired by a painting of Mary and the three wise men. Franz Xaver Gruber composed the music to Mohr’s poem. Joseph sang the song and Franz played a guitar.  The song was played shortly after midnight on the morning of December 25, 1818 at the St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf, Austria. The organ at the church wasn’t working so they performed it with just a guitar. An organ repair man heard the song and brought it back to his hometown.  A family of singing sisters heard this song and incorporated this into their set as they traveled around. The song eventually became a German tradition at Christmas. “Silent Night” was performed for the first time in Central Park, Manhattan in 1839. It was then translated into English by John Freeman Young in 1863.

It is an incredible example of how God takes something broken, from the pit of despair, neglected by society, and turns it into something beautiful. One of the single greatest moments in history, and God reminds us with this song.  A song that is really so simple, yet it cuts so deep.  I love this story because it shows me how God can use anyone.  He gives us all these talents to make such a huge impact in the world. Joseph’s talent for music was used by God to touch hearts and bring about peace. Little did Joseph know that this poem would turn into a Christmas music staple.  This poem would have such a profound impact on how it touched hearts and how it still continues to touch hearts today.

This has always been one of my favorite Christmas hymns.  There is something so calming and peaceful about the song.  The overall elements of the song just soothe my soul. It is moments like these when I hear the song during the holidays, where it just moves me to tears.  I can picture that night; Jesus was lying in the manger. His parents were by His side and He was sleeping in ‘heavenly peace.’ Everyone there I can imagine was in a ‘heavenly peace’ as well. All I can think about is the fact that this peace was driven by the single greatest moment in history. Imagine the awe and wonder in everyone there, what that moment must have felt like seeing Baby Jesus in that manger.  God sent His Son, Jesus, in human flesh to die for our sins. Jesus, the only one who can bring us peace; He is the Prince of Peace!  Joseph ends the poem in such a powerful way…with Christ our Savior being born!

Silent night, holy night!

Wondrous star, lend thy light;

With the angels let us sing,

Alleluia to our King;

Christ the Savior is born,

Christ the Savior is born!

Challenges:

“O Holy Night” by Debbie McClarin

Holy. Set apart. Sanctified for God’s purposes. This is how I have always heard “holy” defined. That night when Jesus was born was truly a holy night. It was like no other night before it or after it. There in the sky was a miraculous star shining over the town of Bethlehem. An angel proclaimed to lowly shepherds, “I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you today in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord.” Then angels burst forth from heaven shouting, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests” (Luke 2:10, 14) (NKJV). These words were proclamations that God had come to earth in the form of a tiny baby. The baby Jesus was sanctified for God’s purposes. “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel,” which means God is with us (Matthew 1:23 and Isaiah 7:14) (NIV). Truly it was the holiest night.

But what about the song, “O, Holy Night”?  Some interesting facts* are that it was written as a poem by a man who was not a church-goer, at the request of the local French Catholic priest.  Music was added to the poem by a Jewish man. “O, Holy Night” was the first song ever broadcast over the airwaves.  An assistant to Thomas Edison read the words from Luke chapter 2, and then played this song on his violin, all to the wonder and astonishment of anyone who heard it.  The words we sing now are changed somewhat from the original, but what remains the same is the song’s popularity and spiritual depth.

Reading about the history of its creation makes me even more appreciative of the song.  God can use anyone!  You, or I, do not have to be a perfect Christian person to do something amazing for God!  That is exciting to me! 

I have heard this song sung many times over the years.  My favorite time to hear it is at a Christmas Eve service when, no matter how many times I’ve heard it, it still brings tears to my eyes and shivers to my body.  It is beautiful as a solo, but I love when the congregation gets to sing it!  When the music is soothing and peaceful, I feel calm.  When it begins to crescendo, my spirit also soars!  When we get to the powerful words of “Fall on your knees, O hear the angels voices, O night divine, O night when Christ was born…” I feel like we should all be on our knees worshiping the baby Jesus just as the shepherds did that night. 

There are some words in this song that stirred up some controversy back in the 1800s, and maybe those issues are still a sticking point today. Did you notice the phrase, “Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother, And in His name all oppression shall cease”? This did not sit well with some folks during that time. I find this stanza meaningful for several reasons. First and foremost is because Jesus loves everyone no matter their color or their role in life. It breaks His heart to see people in slavery or any kind of bondage. He does not want people to be in shackles whether it was in the first century, the 1600’s, or today. Yes, today. Slavery abounds. It is in different forms than the days of cotton or tobacco plantations, but it still exists. The United States is not exempt. These words are meant for freedom!

I think I connect with this section for several reasons. Here in Rochester, New York where I live, there were important happenings in regards to abolition in the 1800s. Frederick Douglass,** a former slave who became a strong abolitionist speaking and writing tirelessly to gain freedom and rights for other slaves and free persons of color, lived and worked in Rochester for part of his life. There is a New York State historical marker along the north end of the Genesee River, not too far from my home, that states that it was the final ‘stop’ of the Underground Railroad. Harriet Tubman’s house is about two hours from Rochester. The western NY area is the birthplace of the Free Methodist denomination. Benjamin Titus Roberts wanted everyone to be able to worship freely and equally no matter what color or socioeconomic status they were. He was an abolitionist as well. These and other matters led him and a group of people to start the Free Methodist denomination, the first church being in Albion, NY. The Free Methodist Church today continues to fight against slavery in the Set Free Movement. These parts of history that surround me physically and historically create greater meaning for this part of the song.

Part two of the above quotation is, “And in His name all oppression shall cease.”  We know that oppression continues today.  It will continue until we are in heaven.  But—there is good news!  Jesus, through His death and resurrection and the work of the Holy Spirit, can break chains and oppression that we experience.  People are set free from addictions, depression, and anxiety.  Difficult situations can be remedied or improved.  Relationships can be restored.  Work places can become areas where people are empowered not degraded.  Ethnic differences can be embraced rather than causing division.  Yes, these types of oppression and more can be released with prayer, but they are also released with praise to Jesus, our Savior. “He knows our need, to our weakness He’s no stranger….let all within us praise His holy name….Christ is the Lord, O praise His name forever…” 

O, what a holy night.  Thank You Jesus for coming to be with us.

Challenge:

  • Go to YouTube, Spotify, etc., and listen to several versions of this Christmas hymn. Really listen to the words. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ElJ0fiD0lkc)
  • Notice where in the song you feel moved. What is God saying to you? Is there a place within you that He wants to set free?
  • What are some things you can do this year to focus on the holiness of the Christmas season?

https://christiantoday.com.au/news/four-things-you-didnt-know-about-o-holy-night.html

https://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/occasions/christmas/o-holy-night-original-lyrics-composer-recordings/

https://www.beliefnet.com/entertainment/movies/the-nativity-story/the-amazing-story-of-o-holy-night.aspx

Frederick Douglass statue near the sign signifying the last stop of the Underground Railroad. Rochester, NY

O Holy Night image: currentcatalog.com

“O Come, O Come Emmanuel” by Pastor Randy LeBaron

Please share one of your favorite Advent/Christmas hymns and why it is meaningful to you.

I have a confession to make, when it comes to Christmas songs I fall into the crowd that plays them early and often. Hymns, carols, old classics, or new choruses, it doesn’t matter as long as it puts me in the holiday mood. That being said, even with all the great choices out there like “Joy to the World,” “Hallelujah,” and “Mary, Did You Know?” my favorite song is actually a 19th century translation of an older Latin hymn using a metrical paraphrase of the O Antiphons.* With its haunting notes, and lyrics that echo the longings of the prophets, every year I look forward to singing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Take a moment please and meditate on each verse taking note of the invitational prayer that each verse begins with.

“O Come, O Come Emmanuel” by The Piano Guys

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who orderest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory over the grave.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, great Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times once gave the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
An ensign of Thy people be;
Before Thee rulers silent fall;
All peoples on Thy mercy call.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

One of the things instilled in me throughout my time in seminary was that you cannot fully celebrate the joy of Christmas without first experiencing the anticipation and expectation associated with Advent—the reason being that you lack context. If you truly want to understand why the birth of Christ was such a monumental event, you have to spend time learning about the history and hardships of the Jewish people as well as the messianic prophecies, particularly those found in Isaiah, which foretold of the one who would come to set the captives free.

Many of the verses in this song are inspired by, or taken directly from, Scripture.

For example:

Isaiah 7:14 “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (reference to Emmanuel)

Isaiah 9:2 “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” (reference to Day-Spring)

Isaiah 11:1 “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” (reference to Rod of Jesse)

Isaiah 11:2-3 “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” (reference to Wisdom from on High)

Isaiah 11:10, 12 “In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious… He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; he will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth.” (reference to Root of Jesse)

Isaiah 22:22 “I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” (reference to Key of David)

I do love that this song is permeated with prophecies, but I am also thankful that it is equally pervaded with prayer. As each verse begins with a plea of those who longed for Christ to come the first time around, it also serves as a reminder for us to pray in expectation for Christ to come again. And so, as we continue through this season of Advent together, let us sing and pray…

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”

“Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:20b)


What are some of your favorite Christmas Hymns/Carols?

How early do you start playing Christmas music? How early is too early?

What practices do you participate in during this season that help you experience the anticipation and expectation associated with Advent?

Advent – Week 1 “Scripture Readings”

Take some time today to meditate on these passages as we finish the first week of Advent and prepare to start Week 2.

Isaiah 9:2, 6-7 “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine… For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!” (NLT‬‬)

Romans‬ ‭13:11-14‬ “This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living. Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.” (NLT‬‬)

Advent – Week 1 “Prayer” – Pastor Randy LeBaron

FYI – each week of Advent starting on Sunday each of our TAKE 5 bloggers will take turns answering a question or commenting on the same theme. That takes place Sun-Thur. On Fridays I will be posting an Advent Prayer that coincides with that week and then on Saturday I will simply post a passage of Scripture for you to meditate on your own.

O’God of Christmas past
and of Christmas still to come.
We pray to You during this first week of Advent
and ask that you fill our hearts with the same longing for Messiah
as those who watched and waited centuries ago.
Help us to be mindful of all of our desires at this time and to cleanse our hearts by casting aside any that take our eyes off of You.
Let us live is such a way that should Christ return tonight
he will find us doing those things expected of us and be pleased.
In Jesus’ name,
Amen.

ADVENT – DAY 5 “Getting Into the Christmas Spirit” by Dave Good

Advent is a time of anticipation, preparation, and expectation. What are some things that you look forward to each year as you prepare for Christmas, and what are some things you would suggest that we all do in anticipation of Christ’s coming again?

For those of you who may be new to the blog, my name is Dave Good. Thank you for taking time out of your day to join us as we prepare our hearts for the Christmas season and more importantly, the coming of the Lord.

I have to make a confession, and my family would support this statement, I am not completely in the Christmas spirit yet. So, in the attempt to foster this, I decorated the majority of my front yard with hundreds of red and white Christmas lights and a vast assortment of inflatable devices while slowly transforming the inside of my house into the North Pole. I have to admit my Christmas spirit is emerging.

I am going to play the part of Captain Obvious and remind you that the year 2020 has been a really long and challenging year. We are enduring a world-wide pandemic. We have had to endure social lockdowns and restrictions.  We have faced challenges such as social injustices. We are currently trying to finalize a highly contested election. The year 2020 has challenged us in just about every aspect of our lives.

With all that being said, I’d like to flip the script on the year 2020 and inject some hope into this letter. Geez Dave, now that you have us dwelling on all this adversity, how in the world are you going to do that? I’m glad you asked. Let me pull out one of most inspiring verses in the Bible.

Matthew 12:21 “And his name will be the hope of all the world.” NLT

Friends, this Christmas season is all about Jesus. He is all that we hope for and all that we need. Jesus came into this world as an innocent babe lying in a manger. His arrival caused joy to the world and signifies a hope to all mankind. I don’t care how bad this world gets. No matter how this world seems to fall apart. The fact is that we have hope to hold onto in the life of Jesus and His salvation on the cross. Our hope is solidified in the life of Jesus, period. He is all that we need.

That being said, I have a few favorite things that I enjoy about the Christmas season.

Time with my family. Christmas is one of those times where you just want to be home or go home. There is something about being surrounded by the ones you love. It’s a time to enjoy each others’ presence, a time to share a great meal, and a time to show others we love them with gifts and generosity.

Christmas cookies. I love to gather the family around and decorate cookies. My favorite is good old-fashioned iced cut out cookies. I don’t care what shape they are, just cut them out and top them with some icing and some sprinkles. The trick around our house is you have to eat them fast or hide a few for later.

Christmas movies. What holiday season would be complete without Christmas movies? Whether it’s Christmas Vacation, The Polar Express, or the wonderfully made and predictable Hallmark movies. There is just something about each one that lift your spirits.

Christmas presents.  Who doesn’t like presents?  I have to admit I’m really hard to buy for. Each Christmas season my family and friends ask for some ideas and I always give them the same response. “How ‘bout some golf balls and Buffalo Bills’ gear.” I’m just at a period in life where I really don’t have a lot of wants. What I love most of all is buying gifts for others. Christmas is a time to show others you care and love them. I love to see the look of delight on my kids’ faces or a look of appreciation on a friend’s face. It is so much better to give than receive.

Christmas is such a festive time of the year. We tend to spend several weeks preparing for the big day. I challenge you to approach this year in a different way. Make sure you take some time to enjoy the season.  Take some time to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas. Don’t get absorbed by the hustle and bustle of an already exhausting year. My prayer for each and every one of you reading this blog is simple. May this Advent and Christmas season be filled with love and joy. May the true meaning of Christmas fill our hearts and may Christ be ever-present in every family dinner, every present unwrapped, and every “Merry Christmas” we speak this year.

REFLECTION QUESTIONS…


What are some things that you personally are struggling with in trying to prepare for Christmas while still feeling the effects of such a difficult year?

What were some things you like to do to get yourself into “The Christmas Spirit”?

It is easy to simply focus on the infant Jesus this time of year but Matthew 12 reminds us that Christmas is part of a much bigger picture. What can we do to keep both the cradle and the cross, Jesus’ birth, death, resurrection, and promise to come again, at the forefront of our minds?


This is meant to be an interactive blog so please share some of your responses with us.

ADVENT – DAY 4 “Advent Traditions at Home and Around the Globe” by Wende Swick

Advent is a time of anticipation, preparation, and expectation. What are some things that you look forward to each year as you prepare for Christmas, and what are some things you would suggest that we all do in anticipation of Christ’s coming again?

Last night, with Thanksgiving behind us (just!), the Christmas classics began showing in earnest on TV. One channel broadcasted “Frosty,” another “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” and a third, “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.” As a child, I loved watching “Rudolph” and some of these other animated shows. It still strikes something deep within me to hear the music, narrators’ voices (Burl Ives ring a bell with anyone, or Danny Kaye?) and the classic lines from these programs.

As an adult, I’ve continued some traditions from my family experience, and developed new ones of my own. Sadly, some have been lost, like Christmas caroling door to door and returning home for shared refreshments afterward. Perhaps that one should be brought back? In China, friends and I carried lit candles as we caroled door to door one year—a very memorable and heart-warming experience!

Among those retained from my childhood are the following:

My mother would pack our Christmas stockings full of treats- small gifts, candy, and practical items like socks, a new toothbrush, etc. Always, there would be an orange. I continue this tradition, making sure to include some nuts, holiday candy and topping it all off with a teddy bear who sticks out of the top! My mom would set our stockings at the foot of our beds, and whenever we awoke in the a.m., we were allowed to open them…2 a.m., 4:00 a.m…., BUT we couldn’t go downstairs, where the tree stood encircled with gifts for a family of eight, until my parents arose, and dad slipped down to turn on the tree lights, adding to the ‘magic’ of the season!

My mother and I picked Ground Pine (before it wound up on the protected species list!), from which we created wreaths and sold them to earn $ for Christmas gifts we’d bestow. I continue to create wreaths, firstly, for a front door decoration, and sometimes extras to bestow upon family or friends, and secondly, so that it feels like Christmas! There are some traditions which truly help ‘make’ the holiday, and for me, wreath-making seems to be one of those. However, instead of collecting Ground Pine, which has been outlawed for years, I simply ask the tree vendors for branches they lop off trees they sell, for fitting in tree stands- a much simpler way to get greens!

I always hang mistletoe in a doorway, so that whoever wants an excuse for extra kisses during the holiday season may avail him/herself of it!! While in Lebanon during the Christmas season of 2011, I happened upon a floral shop which had BALLS of Mistletoe suspended in front of its shop! (I’d never known that’s how it grows- in a sphere!) I bought one, broke it into sprigs and hung them with burgundy ribbon, from front door and classroom door lintels of neighbors and co-teachers. I actually had folks whose doorways I didn’t decorate ASK me for some! It was a new and welcome tradition to some. No wonder!! I also understood finally, the tradition my mom and others had of creating ‘kissing balls.’

I’ve always loved using Advent calendars, where you open a window every day during the month of December, counting down the days till Christmas. Some paper calendars have a Bible verse inside each window telling the Christmas story, others a picture. In one German town, I actually saw a building with 25 ‘windows’ created with shutters on its exterior, for this purpose! I’ve given my nephews paper Advent calendars annually for years, perhaps long after they’d ‘outgrown them,’ because it does MY soul good to think of their use! This year, I gave my grandsons a calendar which contains a small Lego character or item behind each window, and those pieces get added to a winter scene which accompanies the actual calendar. I actually use wooden Advent calendars from LL Bean and The Christmas Tree Shops for my husband and daughter now. In each little drawer, opened daily during the month of December, is a gift tag which directs them to where they’ll find their gifts for that day- whether in their offices, on the tree or other. Shhh… don’t tell them, but this year’s gifts include things like a tin nutcracker containing Byes’ caramel corn, an Amaryllis potted bulb, and a small holiday ceramic cake pan with pumpkin bread. This is a fun tradition I look forward to annually!

My mom used to create an Advent wreath, which would, by Christmas Eve, hold three purple candles and one pink candle. This wreath decorated our dinner table during the month of December. Some years, I have done the same. I’ve bought the candles for this year, and intend to ask for boughs when we go for our tree next weekend. (Helpful hint: wreath frames can be found at a Dollar Tree near you! Every once in awhile, you come across one which contains candle cups. If not, you can use candle holders for tapers inside any round evergreen wreath.)

Whatever age I’ve been, attending a Christmas Eve church service, whether at midnight or earlier, has been a key part of the holiday for me. When we light candles each of us is holding, as we stand together in a giant circle ringing the sanctuary, or in rows in front of our seats, the sharing of the growing light is a powerful tradition which often brings tears to my eyes.

Gift exchanges with people I care about are also a vital part of Christmas celebrations for me every year. It’s not so much about the gifts themselves as it is the expression of the love shared between and among us.

As we look forward in anticipation of the return of Jesus, our Messiah, there are a few things I think are good for each of us to be doing…. expressing the love we have for God and for each other often and freely; gathering together regularly to worship Him- something we will enjoy doing FOREVER!!; practicing generosity, as our heavenly Father is SO VERY generous with us, and making sure that we keep clean, pure hearts before Him. He came and died for us; the least we can do is live for Him!

I pray your family and you enjoy a beautiful Advent season.


REFLECTION QUESTIONS…

What are some of your favorite animated Christmas specials that you still watch and enjoy as an adult?

Are there any special things that you make every year such as a wreath or favorite holiday snack? (And am I the only one who had not heard of “Ground Pine” or “Kissing Balls”? 😇 ~ Pastor Randy)

Wende mentions many good scripturally-based activities that we should be engaged in during this season (and all year round) such as expressing love, gathering together, and practicing generosity. What are some ways that you plan to participate in each of these?


This is meant to be an interactive blog so please share some of your responses with us.

ADVENT – DAY 3 “Christmas Is What You Make It” by Kyle Holz

Advent is a time of anticipation, preparation, and expectation. What are some things that you look forward to each year as you prepare for Christmas, and what are some things you would suggest that we all do in anticipation of Christ’s coming again?

Christmas has always been my favorite time of year from childhood on. My family has always instilled this love of Christmas in me. My grandfather had a love for Christmas, and he started a tradition that our family would get together on Christmas Eve every year. We still do that tradition. This is a time of presents, warm hugs, food, and, of course, being together. I might be biased, but my family gives the best hugs! My aunt on my father’s side loves Christmas and decorations. I have a great love for everything Christmas. From childhood on, I would decorate the tree, house, and anything that I could. I remember being so excited to take $20 and go through the dollar store and buy my relatives Christmas gifts. There would be great excitement on my face watching them open their gifts. Giving was something that was always instilled inside of me.

There is something about the preparation and the anticipationn of Christmas. As soon as Thanksgiving had passed, it would be all about Christmas. Excitement would fill my whole body as I was eagerly waiting for the season. I regularly would decorate inside and outside, play Christmas music, and open the Advent calendars my aunt would get us every year. I can remember as a child opening up each door and closely monitoring how long until it was Christmas day. While I was very excited about presents myself, I was more excited about seeing my friends and family open their gifts. I always found such enjoyment with this.

Here and now, having a family to celebrate the season with, takes on a whole new meaning. There are certain traditions like: decorating early, watching Elf, watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” The Polar Express, and blasting Christmas music.  These are all new traditions my family has started as well as continuing some of the ones while I was a kid like Christmas Eve with my mom’s side of the family. It is a month-long celebration and anticipation of Christmas day!

We all know that 2020 has been a rough year and I really believe we all need the spirit of Christmas.  It is an entire season of peace, hope, love, and joy that the season brings.  I recently saw a Hobby Lobby Christmas commercial where at the end it says, “Christmas is what you make it.”  That really struck a chord with me. This country needs Christmas. I know it is kind of silly to think about ‘magic and wonder’ of the season.   But, to see the wonder and anticipation in children eyes, to see the spirit of giving at its best is so refreshing for the heart and soul. We need the promise of Christmas and that is the promise of Jesus.

It is easy to forget the true meaning of Christmas and what the season is about with all of the hustle and bustle of the season.  As a whole we tend to get lost in the present buying and gift giving, along with prepping for food and guests.  While the 2020 holiday season may look a bit different because of COVID, we haven’t lost the true meaning of Christmas.  The true promise of Jesus isn’t lost. Some of the big ways that helped me to put things into perspective are lighting the Advent candles and my father reading each Sunday from the Bible.  Little did he know that this would have a profound impact on his two sons.  The Advent candles and Bible reading are traditions I am passing down to my son and daughter.

I challenge you this holiday season to take a look at the true meaning of Christmas and remember that God sent His Son, Jesus, in the flesh to die for our sins.  Take a read through Matthew chapter 2 on your own time.  The wise men had full anticipation that Jesus was finally here on earth and they prepped for this moment. They got together expensive items of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 

Matthew 2:11  “They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” (NIV)

The wise men prepped for this moment and with hope and great anticipation, they followed the great star to Bethlehem. The wise men worshiped Jesus for who He was and honored Him.  They gave valuable gifts as He is worthy of the best gifts they had to give. Jesus is worthy of the best gifts that we have to give.  He just wants you as the gift. Come to Him and accept Him.

There is nothing wrong with the anticipation and the hustle and bustle of the season. There is nothing wrong with traditions, good food, family time, etc. It is important to have all of these things as I cherish the holiday season for these moments. Just remember the real reason for the meaning of the season. Don’t get lost or stressed out trying to make others happy if it means you are losing sight of the true meaning. Remember that above all of these things, the ultimate gift you can give to Jesus and to yourself is to turn your life over to Him. That is a true Christmas miracle!


REFLECTION QUESTIONS…

What were some of your your family’s favorite Christmas traditions when you were growing up?

What are some things you do during the Advent Season to keep the “Real Meaning of Christmas” forefront in your mind?

What else sticks out to you from Matthew 2?


This is meant to be an interactive blog so please share some of your responses with us.

ADVENT – DAY 2 “Expecting Jesus” by Debbie McClarin

Advent is a time of anticipation, preparation, and expectation. What are some things that you look forward to each year as you prepare for Christmas, and what are some things you would suggest that we all do in anticipation of Christ’s coming again?

Welcome to Week #1 of Advent Reflections.  In all honesty, I struggled to get this blog started.  But, I just started writing, and got out some of my frustration, and then deleted it!  I believe God then gave me the words to write.  I hope you are blessed by what He gave me to share.

Growing up, there were a lot of fun Christmas activities.  I always liked helping my mom decorate the Christmas tree.  There were some favorite ornaments that I liked to hang.  Our tree was never ‘finished’ because my mom would always be rearranging the ornaments, getting it to be just-right.  I do that now to some extent, but I like to say that it’s done!   Each ornament has a story.  I enjoyed making cut-out Christmas cookies, especially the decorating part (and the eating of the cookies).  My grandparents usually came over on Christmas Eve, which meant that we got to open their gifts.  Yay!  My other grandma often stayed overnight, so she was with us first thing in the morning.

I think I was in high school before we started going to a Christmas Eve service.  My favorite service was at our little, very old but beautiful, church up on the corner close to our house.  At the end of the service, when it was time for the candle-lighting, we moved into a circle around the perimeter of the sanctuary.  The only light was the glow of the candles reflecting on the stained-glass windows. We sang a song—probably “Silent Night”—and I could see all the faces of my church family.  I was filled with warmth and awe. There was something so impactful about that moment that it is etched into my memory.  It was also at that church that I first heard about Advent and got to participate in some of those traditions, like making Chrismon ornaments and learning the meaning behind the symbols. I like the time of preparation.  Oh, yeah, and Christmas caroling with cookies afterward!

Fast-forward to adult years.  Christmas Eve service is still one of my favorite aspects of the season.  After a service of Scripture readings, congregational carol singing, and special music, it is the time for candle-lighting.  Starting from the front, the flame is passed from person to person while we are singing “Silent Night.”  The sanctuary lights are dimmed and candlelight glows brightly but warmly.  As the last lines of the song are completed, and the candle flames have reached the back of the sanctuary, the first chords of “Joy to the World” begin.  “The Lord has come!”  The excitement builds for those of us who know what comes next.  As we get to the last verse, “He rules the world with truth and grace….” everyone raises their candle high into the air.  The light in the sanctuary glows even brighter.  It’s Christmas now!  I don’t think I have ever gotten through those moments without shedding a few tears because it is so moving and beautiful. 

When I was working as a teacher, I always enjoyed the last few days before vacation.  Most times the teachers did not give a lot of work that week, we got the kids caught up on back assignments, and it was a time to just enjoy them as people.  I was able to do some fun holiday activities, with an educational twist, that were a lot of fun.  We did holiday puzzles and learned about Christmas customs around the world.  Even now I sometimes hear about a cultural tradition and remember that I learned it when teaching it to my students.  Earlier in my career, all the teachers would wear Christmas sweaters, shirts, ties, etc.  Then it changed into “ugly” sweaters, but it was still fun.  I loved when we did Secret Santa exchanges. 

In recent years, on Christmas day, I have gone to some friends’ house for a small gathering of delicious brunch and good company.  Then I head out for my family’s get-together.  We have rotated who hosts it, which is a good idea!  A few years back we decided to not spend so much time preparing food and started doing cheese/crackers, cookies, fruit, breads, etc.  People can eat whenever they want.  This has worked out really well.  And of course, opening presents.  When my nephews and niece were little, their gifts were a surprise.  Then we moved into me taking them out shopping and they could pick where they wanted to go for lunch or dinner.  I still buy some surprise gifts!  This was a great time for one-one conversation and learning about stores I had not frequented before! 

Christmas music, decorating the tree, shopping for gifts, and wrapping presents are all fun, but in all reality, sometimes it is overwhelming, especially when I was working.  There were many times that I was finishing wrapping at the last minute even though every year I got an early start.  Some years I have chosen to not put up my tree and only do limited decorating.  That usually comes with mixed feelings, but it is a good way to have more energy to focus on what matters relationally and spiritually.

I am very aware of people who struggle at this time of year.  People have family or personal issues that are heightened during this time.  Depression and anxiety increase.  For some it is the first Christmas since someone passed away.  Maybe the anniversary or memory of a death, a divorce, or a falling out happens during the Christmas season.  Rooms filled with colorful decorations might also be filled with tensions and hurtful words.  There might be a mixture of joy and pain, fun and stress—that is probably the reality for the majority of people.

More than any other time of year there are high expectations which are hard to live up to.  More than any other time the reality that life is not exactly what was expected is glaring you and me in the face.  But, more than any other time of the year, there is the birth of hope. 

There is the birth of Jesus!  “Behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all people!  For there is born to you this day, in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!” (Luke 2:10-11) (NKJV).  “And you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins…they shall call His name Immanuel…God with us” (Matthew 1:21, 23) (NKJV).  This is the expectation that God wants us to have.  His people had been waiting for centuries in expectation for the coming of the Messiah, Jesus the Savior.  He has come!  We can expect Him to save us from our sins.  We can expect Him to be with us.  It is promised.  It really does not matter if the tree is up or if the presents are all wrapped perfectly (or not at all) or if our lives do not look like a beautiful Christmas card. 

This is a season to spend time in the presence of Jesus.  Allow Him to heal your hurts and restore your soul (see Psalm 23).  Try writing a letter to Jesus telling Him about your struggles.  Stop in the midst of the busyness to see the faces of those around you—look into their eyes.  Hear their hearts, not just their words.  Love them with God’s love and let them love you.  As you look at the Christmas tree or wrap presents, name your blessings and give God thanks.  Listen, really listen, to the words of Christian Christmas songs. Read the Christmas story in the Bible.  Read it again.  What parts stand out to you?  What might God be saying to you in those passages?  Find a Bible or book study that speaks to your heart.

Maybe you have happy Christmas memories, maybe you don’t. Maybe this year’s celebrations are filled with happy expectations, maybe they aren’t. No matter what the situation, Jesus is still your Savior. He loves you. He was born for you. He is still God with you.


REFLECTION QUESTIONS…

When you decorate for Christmas do you set aside a specific time to do it all or are you always adding more throughout the month?

With many restrictions this year due to COVID in what ways do you plan to observe Advent and Christmas Eve if Candlelight Services and Small Group Gatherings are not an option?

What are some ways we can reach out in love to those who may be experiencing grief or hardship this Christmas? If you yourself have been in that position in the past what were some positive things that others did to show you that they cared?


This is meant to be an interactive blog so please share some of your responses with us.

ADVENT – DAY 1 “Ready & Waiting” by Pastor Randy LeBaron

Advent is a time of anticipation, preparation, and expectation. What are some things that you look forward to each year as you prepare for Christmas, and what are some things you would suggest that we all do in anticipation of Christ’s coming again?

Long before coming to a saving knowledge of Christ or being called into the ministry, I looked forward to celebrating Christmas with great anticipation as most young children do. I found that my family’s traditions enhanced the time leading up to December 25th and aided in increasing my excitement for the day. I look back now with nostalgia at that time of my life even as I realize that Christmas has taken on a new meaning for me now which includes new traditions. One thing that has stayed the same though is that the elation I experience this time of year has never waned.

Growing up I would say that the foremost focus of Christmas was on getting gifts. I didn’t know a lot about Jesus when I was a child, but you can be sure that I was on good terms with Old Saint Nick. Every year there would be gifts wrapped and placed under the tree by my parents long before the actual day but then, on Christmas morning, there would always appear new gifts with the familiar tag attached, “From Santa.” It was fun picking up and shaking all of the packages that had been laid out beforehand in an attempt to guess what they could be, but the “Santa” presents were special because they always seemed to be bigger or better than the others—something that I truly wanted. It was fine if my folks wanted to give me socks or some generic version of a toy, but it was Santa, or rather Grandma and Grandpa as I found out when I was older, that gave me such amazing gifts. I received things like my first Big Wheel, The Dukes of Hazzard Race Track, a tape recorder (the one everyone started out with that was a black rectangle that lay flat and chewed up every other cassette that you placed in it), and even my very own TV. (Yes, it was only 13” inches and was B&W but it was mine!) Every year I was like the boy from the classic movie A Christmas Story who, only after unwrapping all of his other presents, was surprised to find out that his father had saved the best for last. Ralphie received his very own Red Rider, carbine action, 200-shot, range model air rifle and Randy learned repeatedly that good things came to those who wait. Oh, and that you WILL shoot your eye out! 

Fast forward a decade or two after finding out that Santa wasn’t real (I learned the hard way when one year there simply were no extra gifts hiding around the corner after everything else had been opened), after learning the true meaning of Christmas, and after intentionally forming traditions with my own family and the church families that I pastored. The emphasis I had placed on “getting” gifts has been replaced with “giving” them but some things are still the same. I still love watching all of the movies and television specials dedicated to this season (Charlie Brown, Elf, The Muppets Christmas Carol, and It’s a Wonderful Life are among the many staples in my house), I still love belting out Christmas carols whether in the shower, in my car, or walking down the aisle at Walmart, and I still believe that the best things come to those willing to wait. To that end, I thought a good passage of Scripture to focus on for this first week of Advent is…

Luke 12:35-38 “Be dressed for service and keep your lamps burning, as though you were waiting for your master to return from the wedding feast. Then you will be ready to open the door and let him in the moment he arrives and knocks. The servants who are ready and waiting for his return will be rewarded. I tell you the truth, he himself will seat them, put on an apron, and serve them as they sit and eat! He may come in the middle of the night or just before dawn. But whenever he comes, he will reward the servants who are ready.” (NLT)

Waiting is doable when you know the time and the date, like December 25th for example, but it is hard to stay vigilant when you do not know either. I think the uncertain times that we have been living in over this past year have helped us gain some perspective on this. Between wondering when the pandemic would end, the protests would subside, and a president would be announced, we all have learned how exhausting it can be sitting on the sidelines waiting for a solution and how easy it is to find ourselves focusing on other things. So, knowing that many who were supposed to be waiting and watching for Jesus on that first Christmas ended up missing out on meeting the Messiah, we need to make sure that we are that much more intentional as we anticipate the Advent of Christ’s Second Coming. We need to make sure that we do not get so distracted with the things of this world that we too will miss him. Like the servants waiting for their master to return, we need to be constantly ready, always alert, and perpetually prepared.

We do this by making sure that we that we are consistently doing those things that help us to keep in step with the Spirit and keep our eyes focused on Christ. Just as you might decorate your house, watch the movie Elf, put Run DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis” on a loop, and read Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol to help put you in the Christmas spirit, it is much more important that we spend time in the Word, in prayer, in worship, and in fellowship with other believers so that we might remain in Christ’s Spirit. And, in addition, while we are waiting we should do what waiters do—serve.


REFLECTION QUESTIONS…

What were some of your Christmas traditions when you were growing up and what are they now?

What are some practices you can commit to that would help you keep your eyes on Christ?

What are some practical ways you can serve God and others during this season of Advent?


This is meant to be an interactive blog so please share some of your responses with us.