Sunday, December 25th

Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14

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Christ Candle

He is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.     Isaiah 9:6

 

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Artist: Matt Calhoun

 

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Saturday, December 24th

Isaiah 9:2-7, John 1:1-14

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By Ernie Forrester

In over thirty years of working with teenagers, one of my favorite phrases to share with students was this – All of you are products of your environment. After countless hours of listening and counseling young people with their important concerns about family, life, the future, etc., it was obvious to me that many will have a much tougher time overcoming who they are than others merely because of their environment.

What has your environment given to you? My environment provided HOPE for me. Even in my most negative moments I can always feel hope. When I read Isaiah 9:2-7 it is hope that I hear, potential hope I feel is anticipated by those the prophet was addressing. Zebulun and Naphtali, the tribes of Israel were under great distress from the Assyrian invasion in 732 B.C. Due to this invasion, there was darkness over the land. However, Isaiah brings hope and joy through the prophesy of Christ. Even in Israel’s times of rebellion and captivity, God gives His people joy and comfort by reminding them of their Savior’s coming.

For me it is what makes the Christmas story in John so meaningful. It is not like the other Christmas stories we find in the Gospels. This story is without shepherds, a king, or even a manger. In their place are God’s radiant grace and glory, and the star of Bethlehem is replaced with God’s life-giving light. Our Hope is found in the fact that the creator becomes the creature, the divine and infinite Logos took on finite existence, and in that sacrifice, provides all mankind an opportunity to have eternal life.

In the disappointment of our worst days we have the promise that there is a great light, the light that shines in our darkness.

His name is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

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Christmas Star

Artist: Marcus Polston

 

 

Friday, December 23rd

2 Samuel 7:18, 23-29; Galatians 3:6-14; Luke 1:46b-55

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David’s Prayer of Thankfulness

By Roxie Fiveash

When the Spirit of the Lord revealed itself in David, his first thoughts were not to rejoice but to revere and praise God. These are the most striking features of David’s prayers of thankfulness: he is at peace and freedom before God. He goes in and sits before God and acknowledges at the same time his own nothingness, and just how unworthy he is of all that God has already done for him. He speaks honorably of the Lord’s favors to him.

Considering what the character and condition of man is, we may be amazed that God should deal with him/us as he does. The promise of God includes all: if the Lord God be ours, what more can we ask? He knows us better than we know ourselves, therefore let us be satisfied with what He has done for us. What can we say more for ourselves in our prayers, than God has said for us in his promises? David ascribes all to the free grace of God. Both the great things He has already done for him and the things He had made known to him.

Many, when they go to pray have their hearts seek, but David’s heart was found, it was fixed; gathered in from its constant wanderings. Prayers from the tongue only will not please God, it must be from the heart, lifted up and poured out before God.

What an awesome God who could love us so! Indeed, how great He is! He determines all things from the beginning. There is none like Him. There is no one who will be as good to you or love you so greatly or honor you as highly. It is all for the honor and glory of His name.

Consider: We should be as humbled and awed as David was.

 

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Dreaming with God

Artist: Trace White

 

Thursday, December 22nd

Luke 1:46b-55; Isaiah 33:17-22; Revelation 22:6-7, 18-20

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By Bob and Alice Mason

My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has had regard for the humble state of His bond slave; for behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name.     Luke 1:46-49

Gabriel, who was sent from God to visit Mary, greeted her saying, “Do not be afraid Mary, for you have found favor with God, you will bear a son and will call Him Jesus.” Gabriel explained that she was chosen by God for this miracle and the Holy child will be called the Son of God.

Although struck with wonder, Mary chose to trust rather than doubt the Angel’s prophecy. She said, “My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.” Mary shared her good news with Elizabeth—isn’t that what we do? More importantly, because of her answer to be God’s servant, she embraced God’s plan of Salvation for all of us. We were blessed to be physically born in families to great parents who taught us about Jesus. Thankfully, because of Jesus we are not just physically alive, we are also spiritually alive. We know because Jesus is our Savior and one day we will see him along with Mary and our precious family members who now live in Heaven.

May the love, faith, and courage that lived in Mary live in each of us.

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Angel

Artist: Caleb Connor

Artist’s Description: The top of the page is the “bridge to heaven.” The trees are the golden apple trees in heaven. The checkered sides are the silver streets in heaven. The arms are red to represent the blood Jesus shed for our sins. The brown dress represents the cross that Jesus died on. The blue shirt represents the flood.

 

Wednesday, December 21st

1 Samuel 2:1-10; Genesis 37:2-11; Matthew 1:1-17

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By Eric Cline

In the passage, Genesis 37:2-11, we meet Joseph who was born to an elder Jacob. Jacob made Joseph a colorful, richly ornamented robe because he had been born to him at an old age. Joseph, the youngest of twelve sons, is hated by his brothers due to Jacob’s love and favoritism for Joseph. Joseph began to dream. A series of dreams foreshadows events that will occur later, as accounted in Genesis. These dreams continually show similarities of submission, which causes the brothers to rebuke Joseph, eventually selling their brother into slavery.

In the passage, Matthew 1:1-17, we see the genealogy of Jesus. We see fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon and fourteen from exile to Jesus. We can follow the lineage of Jesus from David, the son of Abraham.

In reflection, both these passages show God’s plan in motion. From Joseph who was eventually sold into slavery and became the savior of his nation to Jesus who was crucified by the Romans and became the savior of the world. We also see how jealousy, deceit and differing opinions can lead to acts of disobedience. However, God always has our best interest at hand and if we put our faith in him we see his miraculous works.

During this advent season we are reminded that God is always near, he is there in spite of ourselves. We can also be comforted that God speaks to us through various ways; our God is personal. He longs to have a relationship with us.

So this Advent season, focus on what God has given to us. Not what our neighbor has or what we do not have. Be silent and listen for God; he is speaking. Let us listen…

 

 

 

Tuesday, December 20th

Genesis 21:1-21; 1 Samuel 2:1-10; Galatians 4:21-5:1

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By Ed Pittman

Where did it all begin?

As we read in Genesis, God made several promises to Abraham, a man of faith, based on his faithfulness and obedience. One of those promises were that Abraham and his descendants would become a “great nation.” But Abraham and his wife Sarah reached old age and were still childless. They had given up on having descendants as God had promised. As was the custom of that time, Sarah gave her handmaiden Hagar to Abraham so he could have descendants. A son was born of that union with Hagar and he was named Ishmael.

Before Ishmael was born, God had made a covenant with Abraham that He would bless and protect all of Abraham’s descendants. God would still keep that covenant. In Genesis 21:1, we are told of the birth of a son to Abraham and his wife Sarah. Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah was 90. They named their son Isaac. Ishmael was a teenager when Isaac was born and in Genesis 21:9, we learn that Sarah was concerned that Ishmael was “mocking” Isaac and she felt that he threatened Isaac’s inheritance. Sarah asked Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away. Abraham provided food and water to Hagar and sent them into the desert. The food and water ran out and Hagar and Ishmael were having a difficult time in the dry desert. God heard the boy crying and provided a spring for water and a promise to Hagar that He would provide for and bless the boy and make him a “great nation.” The Bible tells us that Ishmael grew and became a great archer and that he married an Egyptian girl and became a nation with many descendants. The promise to Abraham in his covenant with God would be revealed through Isaac, his son with Sarah.

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Tree of Jesse

Artist: Jenna Lee Kalland

 

So how does this story relate to our celebration of Advent?

In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians explains to the Jewish Christians the Doctrine of Liberty and Faith. Many of the Galatians were holding on to the Old Testament law and customs. In his letter, Paul explains the law and contrasts it with the promise God made to Abraham. Many of the Galatians were struggling with living in adherence to the law or living free of the law by faith in Jesus Christ. In Galatians 4:21, the Apostle Paul revisits the story of Hagar and Sarah. Paul instructs the Galatians that Hagar and Sarah represent two covenants. Hagar was a servant woman and Sarah was a free woman. He explains that Abraham’s son by the servant woman, Hagar, was the result of Old Testament law and custom. Isaac, being born of the free woman, Sarah, was a result of God’s promise to Abraham. Paul explains that they, the Galatians, were also children of the promise. For the Galatians to live by Old Testament law would be for them to live under a doctrine of servitude instead of living a free life of liberty with faith in Christ.

God’s promise to Abraham that he would be a great nation with many descendants was revealed in the birth of Isaac, his son with Sarah and a line of descendants that would include Jesus of Nazareth.

As we light each Advent candle this month of December 2016, let us remember that we too are the children of the wonderful promise of God when we live in faith to our lord, Jesus Christ.

Dear Lord, be with us

as we celebrate with

Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace

the birth of Jesus,

the Christ Child.

Amen.

matt

Artist: Matt Calhoun

 

Monday, December 19th

Genesis 17:15-22; 1 Samuel 2:1-10; Galatians 4:8-20

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By Michelle Cowan

The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines TRUST as “belief that someone or something is reliable, good, honest, effective, etc.” and FAITH as “strong belief or trust in someone or something, belief in the existence of God”. Such two words are on one hand often the hardest to live out but on the flip side are also the cornerstone of our walk with God as Christians.  Hannah and Abraham, two prominent biblical figures, each uniquely exemplify both trust and faith in God no matter the circumstances, reminding us that God is always with us.

1 Samuel 2:1 – 10 (Hannah’s Prayer)

It was custom in early times for men to practice polygamy (having more than one wife), and although not the most ideal situation, Hannah actually encouraged her husband, Elkanah, to do just this, as she was unable to provide a son for him.  One can only imagine what mockery she most likely dealt with on a daily basis from other very fertile women who had many children!  Were there tears shed?  Yes, of course, there was nothing a Hebrew wanted more than to have a son & Hannah’s desire was strong.  Did she ever doubt God?  Here’s where it gets crazy, the answer is NO!  Hannah diligently prayed for God’s will to be done in her life, constantly praised God, received encouragement from others in the faith (specifically from Eli) and never once doubted that in time, God WOULD provide her with a son.  When she did finally birth a son, she named him Samuel, meaning “asked of God” and at the tender age of three, brought him to the temple to dedicate him to God; a payback and way of thanking him for what he’d done for her.  Hannah’s life was a testament to a firm, solid, unchanging faith that in this fast-paced world we live in today is hard to come by.  The lesson to learn?  Well, that one is simple – hope in God will never fail.

Genesis 17:15 – 22 (Abraham’s Promise)

Abraham, was hand-picked by God at age 65 to be the father of the Jewish people and in essence, of the Jewish faith.  He was to be the example of God to others, spreading his word throughout the lands.  So, one would expect a person of this stature to be of utmost faith and trust in God, right?  Well, Abraham was just that, but the humbling part of which we all can relate to, is he did at times doubt God and really thought he was crazy!  He’d made a covenant with God, and thus was promised that he would be the father of a great nation & have many sons.  But, he was married to Sarah, who was barren & unable to have children.  Abraham thought it’d be quite incredible for either of them to have children at such a late age, but God provided and twenty-five years later over seeded his doubt, by providing them a son, Isaac (meaning “he will rejoice”) when he was 90 and Sarah 100 years old.  Abraham in total became the father of seven sons, most notably Ishmael.  Shortly after Isaac’s birth, God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son, and he intended to again, follow God’s command, but an angel stopped him.  Abraham’s faith was tested, but he remained obedient at all times and was rewarded for his faith.  The lesson to learn here is clear.  Even people of faith have doubts, and that is okay!  When it seems like the impossible is in front of you, be like Abraham.  Remember that God will never forget you and has committed to always fulfill his promises, seeing you through ANYTHING life throws your way.

 

Sunday, December 18th, Candle of Love

Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19; Isaiah 11:1-10; Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12

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Candle of Love

By Stephanie Coyne

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.     Romans 15:13

I recently pulled out the last box of Dove soap from my bathroom cabinet. It’s smell was fresh and clean—not too powerful—but enough to change the tenor of my morning’s mood. I hesitated as I held it in my hands, questioning whether I really needed soap with my shower that morning. My fingers lingered on the edge of the paper box.

Smells are important sensory cues for all of us. In fact, smell triggers emotions and memories more successfully than any other sense. My grandmother’s memory is tied to the smells of Dove soap, fried okra, and when I’m feeling particularly sentimental, the smell that comes from a bucket of crickets, ready to be baited on the hook of a cane pole.

She was masterful with a batch of okra (because she was patient), quick on the pull of a downed bobber (because she was patient), and gracious with her soap (because she loved). She always put a new bar of soap out for her guests, even for her family members. Although she liked things to be “just so”—she appreciated neatness—she also had something in her that wanted to make her guests feel welcomed and honored, perhaps even privileged.

This gesture of hers was not as obvious as offering the fatted calf, and for a child like me, I never even noticed the non-marred bars. And when I finally did notice, my first thought was not, “how lovely,” but was instead, “how wasteful.” Teenagers.

When we were cleaning out her house after her move to an assisted living facility, I found a bunch of used bars of soap underneath her bathroom sink and I took in a breath of embarrassment for my teenage haughtiness. I wondered if she ever opened a new box for herself or just always used the leftover bars.

A couple of years ago, as we cleaned out her assisted living apartment after her death, I again found myself in her bathroom. In her cabinet were numerous boxes of bar soap. I called my Dad in and said, “someone could use these.” He replied, “Yep. Take ‘em.” And so I did. And I’ve used ‘em.

For two years, I’ve used them. And every time I’ve opened the cabinet to get a new one out, the smell would hit me and I would remember my grandmother. She was kind; she welcomed; she loved.

I wonder if the Spirit’s language is smell. Riding on the back of a fragrance, the Spirit  whisks us away to the past, allowing us time to pause and to consider those emotions and lessons of memories. But the Spirit does not leave us alone in the past, nor does it leave us to dwell in the past. It floats with us through the joy and grief of yesterday and then it carries us back to this day.

I won’t ever be able to catch fish or fry okra like she did, but I can take with me her lesson of welcoming and share that lesson as my witness to love.

Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. Romans 5:7

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Artist: Nikki Roland

 

In him there is no darkness at all;

The night and the day are both alike.

The Lamb is the light

of the city of God.

Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus.

Author: Kathleen Thomerson

Hymn Tune: HOUSTON

 

 

Saturday, December 17th

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19; 2 Samuel 7:23-29; John 3:31-36

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By Karen Hebert

He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.     John3:34

John’s gospel and 2 Samuel remind us of God’s promises, powers, and abilities. They speak of his determination to make room for himself in the lives of his people, but also the certainty of his promises being kept. His promises of enriching our lives as witnesses to his greatness, but also his promise to us of eternal life. We are then humbled to be reminded that whoever comes from earth, as we do, knows and speaks of earthly things. But if we choose to believe whoever is sent by God, then our life can be transformed from a strictly earthly life, to one of eternal life., and a life of joyful acceptance of his gifts.

Once we’ve made that choice, recognized that God is shown and made known to us through the Son that he sent, it is a new day in our lives in every way. When we invite God to come into our heart, we experience a complete rebirth. It becomes our job to allow the powerful God of determination, to remove the blockages and impediments that are within our heart. Once we get out of our own way and God’s way, he can fully make good on his promise of blessings. And we are left free to enjoy those blessings as he meant for them to be enjoyed.

 

Friday, December 16th

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19; 2 Samuel 7:18-22; Galatians 4:1-7

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By Jeremy Connor

Therefore you are great, O Lord God; for there is no one like you.”    

2 Samuel 7:22

How do we differentiate ourselves as Christians for the rest of the world? How would God like us to be seen as His children and as a representation of His kingdom? It seems our true colors are shown in our reactions to situations and people. These are the times when we may act before we think.

I write this directly after a reaction to something that I immediately know is not the way God would want me to represent Him. How can we react in a way to exemplify what it means to be a child of God? Obviously, we are not perfect. But that doesn’t mean we cannot learn from these situations.

Proverbs 16:32 says, “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit is greater than the mighty.” Slow to anger has not been my strongest attribute. But I know that how we are viewed as Christians directly affects the ability to spread the Gospel. I want to be more like Christ, and I want that to be seen by those who may not know what it means to be a Christian. Our reactions will be seen, godly or otherwise.

Going forward, I will, as we all should, devote ourselves to being slow to anger, and in that the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, will be more abundant.

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She Came in Peace

Artist: Phoebe Avent-Holt