Advent Devotional BEL AIR PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH 2013
bel air presbyterian church 2013 advent devotional
Bel Air Presbyterian Church 2013 Advent Devotional Copyright © 2013 Bel Air Presbyterian Church 16221 Mulholland Dr., Los Angeles, California 90049 t  788 4200 • f  788 2243 • belairpres.org All Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version copyright © 1989, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. unless otherwise noted. Used by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or any other—without the prior permission of Bel Air Presbyterian Church. Printed in the United States of America
Contents Introduction.........................................................4 Daily Devotional..................................................7 Week One......................................................... 7 Week Two.......................................................25 Week Three....................................................45 Week Four......................................................65 Celebrate the Season........................................ 76 Worship with Us............................................... 77
Introduction Dear Family and Friends of Bel Air Presbyterian Church, Can you believe we are heading into the season of Advent already? The year has gone quickly! In this time of change of seasons and a time of change in the church, how good it is to share together in this tradition of the church as we all read and focus on the daily Scriptures and devotionals included in these pages. As you know, Advent is the time in the church when we prepare our hearts to celebrate Christ’s birth. The four weeks prior to Christmas are set aside for this very purpose. This Advent devotional is a gift from the people of our church family to you. It has become a cherished tradition at Bel Air Presbyterian Church. In a tangible way, we draw together as the church family as we get ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus. This devotional has reflections written for each morning and evening during the Advent season up to Christmas morning. How wonderful if you and yours would take time to reflect on a Scripture as it is listed and share the thoughts and insights of someone else, and give time for your own reflection as well. We hope this devotional will be a way of intentionally and purposefully quieting your hearts and minds and listening to the words written and the whispers of God to you. I am grateful for the many creative and thoughtful reflections which are expressed on the pages within, all from our church family—staff, elders, pastors, members—both children, and adults, too!
You will smile at the illustrations drawn by the children of the church that are scattered throughout the pages. This truly is a project for the whole church by representatives of the whole church family! Have a blessed Advent season and a joy-filled Christmas. Warmly in Christ,
The Rev. Care A. Crawford Pastor of Congregational Life and Caring Ministries
week of advent
Today we light the first candle of the Advent wreath. This is the candle of HOPE. With Christians around the world, we use this light to help us prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of God’s Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. May we receive God’s light as we hear the words of the prophet Isaiah: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined. (Isaiah 9:2) Let us pray: Lord, as we look to the birth of Jesus, grant that the light of Your love for us will help us to become lights in the lives of those around us. Prepare our hearts for the joy and gladness of Your coming, for Jesus is our hope. Amen.
Morning In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. John 1:1–2 In the beginning...
Do you remember the anticipation? The first day you wandered into the classroom of your new school? The first time you walked onto a soccer field? Your first big part? Your first date? The instant you crossed into California? That moment you entered the doors of your new job? The hour you said “I do?” The feelings as you met your child face to face for the first time? In the beginning...hope. There was certainly great hope amidst the fears, wasn’t there? But what about for our Creator? At least we didn’t know for sure how things would turn out—not like He did on that Christmas morn. There can sometimes be comfort in the uncertainty, as only time will tell whether our hopes will be realized or not. In the beginning was the Word... The Word…the Christ. In the beginning He was there, and without Him nothing was made. The Word...the words. How often I’ve forgotten that I’m created in His image and that my words are meant to be filled with power. They are. I know they are—the power to breathe life or to destroy. I’ve seen both in the faces of those who have received my words. How I’ve cheapened words with a sarcastic joke or a quick retort. But, oh, the inexpressible joy when my words have given life! And to think that He created everything with just the whispers that crossed His lips. No word was wasted. Not one… Amazing! 10 | Bel Air Presbyterian Church
So it’s December 1st—a new beginning. A new chance to consider the Almighty God of the universe—how He came into this sorrowful and dying world in the tiny person of Jesus and, with the gift of His Word, hope was born. We must ponder the life-giving words He’s chosen to share with us in the treasure of Scripture. Reflect: Take a moment today and read a single passage, a phrase, a word, and ask Him to whisper His powerful and overwhelming truth to you. As He did once in a lowly manger on the side of a dusty hill in the forgotten town of Bethlehem, may He reveal again just how much you mean to Him. Welcome Him this Advent season. – Patrick Clark
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Evening Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a Son, and shall name Him Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14
Light of the World, the Lamb of God, the Good Shepherd, the Bread of Life, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Son of God, Messiah, Christ, the Savior, Jesus, Immanuel. The Lord Jesus has many names and during this Advent season we can take comfort in His name, Immanuel— it means, “God with us.” Unlike most couples awaiting the birth of their new arrivals, Mary and Joseph never had to sit and ponder what they would name their newborn baby. The angel told Mary what they would call Him and that He would be the Savior for whom everyone had been waiting. I could only imagine what Mary was feeling and thinking during this time. She would give birth to a Son who was going to be God Himself in the form of a man. As I sat and thought about this verse, I never realized the power in the name, Immanuel. God came to earth and lived among humankind. He experienced love, joy, frustration, sadness, and pain. God knew that we as people would relate more to a King that came to Earth as a humble Servant and Friend. The name alone can give us hope that God not only lived among us nearly 2,000 years ago, but His Holy Spirit lives within us today, and He will come back again in all of His glory to continue to be, Immanuel, “God with us.” Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for the promise that You will never leave us or forsake us. Help us to remember during this Advent season and throughout the rest of the year that no matter what hardships we endure You are always with us. Amen. – Amanda Baker Browning
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All things came into being through Him, and without Him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in Him was life, and the life was the light of all people. John 1:3–4
The temptation of sin rears its ugly head in many insidious ways— personalized just for our own weaknesses even! Lucky us. Jesus serves as a light in the darkness of your world. Consider what darkens your door. For me, it is in the drudgery of life—the mundane valleys—where temptation swoops in. I become restless and impatient. I wait less and less upon the Lord and more on my own desires. Yet, God reminds me time and again that His light must shine in every detail of my life—mundane or otherwise. In fact, these very quiet details make up our daily existence with each other, and God is among us no matter what. Oswald Chambers succinctly reminds us that “We are built for the valley, for the ordinary stuff we are in, and that is where we have to prove our mettle.” Jesus entered into this world as it is and turned on the power. Now, in every space of our lives, we can see clearly.
The Gospel here tells us that Jesus came in human form to be the Light among us—all of us. There is a certain clarity about the grace of God when His Son is envisioned as a real human being living in the midst of our imperfect world. While the Gospels reveal over and over that Jesus bore the qualities of the Divine God by performing miracles and living a flawless existence, it can’t be ignored that He was constantly faced with the trials and temptations that humankind faces on a regular basis. While He was immune from the sinful nature, He wasn’t ignorant of the burden of sin. It is a great comfort to realize that Jesus knew first hand what it was like (and is like) to live in an imperfect world. The sinful confrontations that we face are not unknown to God—the world is a mess and He has been a witness to that first hand. This knowledge makes His gift of compassion all the more profound, as it is delivered with true understanding. Our sin is not excused, but it is forgiven.
– Megan MacMeekin
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And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. John 1:5 This verse comes from John, the “clean up batter” of the Gospels. After Matthew, Mark, and Luke wrote down their versions of what they saw and heard, there was still a lot of confusion as to when Jesus actually became God. Was it at His birth? When He came of age? When He turned thirty? John wrote his version to set everyone straight. According to this Gospel, Jesus was God before the beginning of time. He was the Light of the World before the world came to be.
But even with that clarification, it still should come as no surprise that, when confronted by the truth, the darkness of this world couldn’t, and still can’t, comprehend who Jesus is and was. To those who believe in God, His breaking through into our space and time is a gift that can never be truly understood, but can still be appreciated. It just makes sense; God tried throughout the Old Testament to talk to us through the Prophets, with varying degrees of success. Knowing how dim we are, the most logical idea was for God to come talk to us Himself and tell us what He’s like. Of course He couldn’t come in all of His glory. It would freak everybody out. His plan was to be subtle; to be humble. And while doing it, to be as loving as possible. But that decision brought troubles of its own. There are people on this planet who like a life of degradation. They enjoy living as far from the light as possible. So when the Light came into this world, wholly missing the trappings, bells and whistles announcing itself, it was quite easy for the world to reject that Light. It’s sad, really. The answer to everyone’s secret prayers and longings has arrived in the person of Jesus Christ, but so many of our fellow passengers on this planet simply don’t get it. And they never will. They are like bats who have become accustomed to the darkness. Now that light has arrived, they want nothing to do with it. So if you can comprehend the light, enjoy this Christmas season all the more. You have been given a double gift. Yes, the light came for all humankind, but for some reason, He has seen fit to give you the gift of understanding. Give thanks you are so blessed. 14 | Bel Air Presbyterian Church
– Robert G. Lee
He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah He will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. Luke 1:16–17 Are the words of an angel ever wrong? God speaks through His servantangel Gabriel, and declares what He has already decided to do. God will use John the Baptist to prepare Israel for the Kingdom that Jesus will announce and usher in. It won’t be the kind of Kingdom the people of Israel would have expected nor is Jesus the kind of Messiah they thought He would be. God doesn’t give us what we want but He gives us exactly what we need. Unexpected providential preparation.
This is what God does all the time in my life. As my wife Kati and I were comfortably ministering in Newport Beach, God was tilling the soil in our hearts to make ready the seeds of Kingdom vision He wanted to implant in us. We were enjoying listening to sermons by Pastor Tim Keller, not knowing that we would meet him in Los Angeles in the fall of 2010 and he would challenge us to consider church-planting in the city. During that same time we had already made plans to move to Northern California to take a call in an affluent neighborhood with plentiful resources for our growing family. With our bags practically packed and a realtor locating suitable housing for us, we never would have expected that opportunity to fall through at the last minute. We were confused and hurt. What was God doing? We were suddenly available for an unlikely phone call that same week from Bel Air asking us if we were interested in partnering with a unique church plant in downtown LA. God was preparing us for His Kingdom vision the entire time. All of this was totally unexpected. As we were faithfully following the Lord in Newport Beach, assuming He was planning to plant us there for many years, God was revealing through unexpected circumstances a plan that was new to us. Like the writer of Psalm 139 prayed, ask God to “search me and stretch me.” He may be prompting you with unsettling circumstances and conversations that are preparing you for a Kingdom work you never even considered. – The Rev. Tim Yee
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Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Luke 3:21–22 Undoubtedly you’ve found yourself cheering wildly at a 7-year-old’s soccer game, or clapping loudly at a child’s performance. What is it that a loved child in your life does that makes you burst with pride, makes you want to shout to all those around, “This is my child, I love him/her; they are awesome!” In this passage, God rips open the heavens and proclaims for all the people gathered that Jesus is His Son whom He loves and who pleases Him. This dramatic scene comes not after Jesus healed a multitude or fed 5000, but rather was in response to Jesus humbling Himself in the waters of baptism. Is it not remarkable that Jesus was baptized by John along with “all the people?” The perfect, sinless Son of God participated in baptism associated with the repentance required of sinners. In response to Jesus’ humble act, God offers an extravagant, very public outpouring of affirmation. I can’t help but wonder if something about humility really gets God excited! The Franciscan writer Richard Rohr says, “I have prayed for years for one good humiliation a day, and then, I must watch my reaction to it.” I have begun to pray that prayer, and God answers it. Perhaps by intentionally seeking to cultivate humility in our hearts, perhaps by celebrating humility in the children we love, perhaps by considering the humility of Jesus Himself, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.” (Philippians 2:5–7) we can connect with a facet of what pleases God. In humility, Jesus entered the waters of baptism and demonstrated how essential humility is in pleasing God. This Advent, the loving gaze of our affirming Father guides our journey to the manger and teaches us true humility. Prayer: Gracious God, Lead my heart toward humility, help me celebrate humility in others, and let me understand in a deeper way the humility of Jesus Himself. Amen. – Melissa Mellerstig 16 | Bel Air Presbyterian Church
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen His glory, the glory as of a Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 I recently finished rereading the Book of Job. It is a book I love to read. I have a theatre background and always envision it as a play. Its poetry is so great that Shakespeare struggles to keep up! But as I was reading it this time around a new verse stuck out to me. “Do you have eyes of flesh? Do you see as humans see? Are your days like the days of mortals, or your years like human years…” Job 10:4–5a
But here in John 1:14, we read how “the Word became flesh”. No longer could anyone say, “God, you don’t know what it’s like” because Jesus became human. He came and had eyes of flesh. He saw how a human sees. His days were the days of mortals and He lived in human years. I always find it mind blowing and comforting to consider. The Author of life became mortal! The Creator became a creature! He knows how I feel and what life as a human is like. And in the Book of Job, a book many believe to be the oldest book in the Bible, the very questions were asked that would eventually be answered in the Word becoming flesh. Anyone who appreciates good story structure will like that. Sorry, Shakespeare. God wins.
This is part of Job’s plea to God to remember his frailty and therefore bring respite to his pain. But it struck me that Job is in a way asking God to remember that God is not human. You could perhaps expound on this and even say to God, “You don’t know what it’s like. You don’t know how it feels to be so frail and weak.”
– Heather Brumley
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Evening In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. Luke 1:26–27
As you read this Scripture tonight, reflect back on your day, which may have been like any other day. But think of a special day, a day where you heard from God. It may have been through nature, a Scripture verse, a friend’s encouraging words, or maybe an answered prayer. Think about how Mary must have felt hearing that God had chosen her to be the one to deliver the Savior of the world. As you have quiet time with the Lord, pray that He would show you something special. Do not be afraid to ask for something specific, then wait upon the Lord to reveal to you what an awesome God He is! At this special time of year God is, as always, ready and willing to let you know that He loves you so much that He sent His only Son to be born and die for you. Pray with a believing heart! – Patrick McNamara
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Morning And [the angel] came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Luke 1: 28–29 Mary’s reaction to Gabriel’s greeting was confused and a bit uncertain. Being called “favored” was likely puzzling. Wouldn’t you be perplexed if someone you didn’t know greeted you by saying, “The Lord is with you.”? Mary’s response seems wise beyond her years. She pondered. She considered his words before replying.
As I read these verses, I began to wonder too. I wondered why Mary was “perplexed by Gabriel’s words,” but not by his presence. I wondered how I would react if an angel greeted me. The Christmas carol “I Wonder as I Wander” immediately came to mind. I started to wonder why Jesus “did come for to die?” This led me to consider the mystery of the Incarnation. Mystery frequently accompanies wonder. Mary’s wonder was not diminished or dispelled by the angel’s proclamation, her wonder was magnified. As with Mary, our wonder at the miracle of the Incarnation shouldn’t be diminished.
I love the way Eugene Peterson translates these verses. “Upon entering, Gabriel greeted her: ‘Good morning! You’re beautiful with God’s beauty, beautiful inside and out! God be with you.’ She was thoroughly shaken, wondering what was behind a greeting like that.” I am particularly drawn to the word “wonder,” which is also the way J.B. Phillips and others translate the Greek.
“I wonder” is both a question and an exclamation. It’s a question that expresses interest and a desire to know more. It’s also an exclamation that expresses awe and appreciation of the unexpected or extraordinary. Synonyms of the “question type” of wondering include speculation, curiosity, and conjecture. Synonyms of the “exclamatory type” of wondering include marvel, amazement, and astonishment. (continued on next page)
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According to Socrates, “Wisdom begins in wonder.” For Mary, Gabriel’s greeting left her shaken to the core; shaken about her identity and uncertain about God’s plan for her. God’s transformation of this young but wise woman began with her wondering what was behind the angel’s greeting. She soon discovered that it was not a “what” that was behind the greeting but a “Who.” The Creator of the Universe, who described her as “beautiful with God’s beauty,” called Mary to be the earthly mother of His Son. Beginning with her wonder at the angel’s greeting, God chose her for an incredible task that required incredible wisdom. Where will the wonder and awe we experience in this season lead us? Hopefully, from the haunting words and curiosity contained in the carol “I Wonder as I Wander” to the glorious lyrics of Charles Wesley’s hymn “Love Divine All Loves Excelling” that acknowledges the amazing gift of God to us. The hymn’s final declaration is through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection we will be “Lost in wonder, love, and praise!” when we come into the presence of the Babe who, born of the young woman greeted in these verses, now reigns in glory as King of kings and Lord of lords.
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– Steve Madaris
Evening The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary for you have found favor with God.” Luke 1:30 Don’t you agree that “do not be afraid” is a frequently used phrase? Almost daily we say it to ourselves, to our loved ones and to our friends. It is a phrase that can be either said to comfort or to empower. For only four small words, this statement has such power. “Do not be afraid.” Simply speaking these words alone can move someone from a place of fear to a place of bravery. Furthermore, when you follow this statement up with, “you have found favor with God,” it only increases in power. With this statement, we can transition into a full surrender to God, knowing that He will guide our paths, and we need not worry, for He is with us.
For me, the being brave part is easy. It’s the “you have found favor with God” portion that is a struggle. Who am I that God would favor me? I sit here with all this baggage, and I just don’t feel like the great Creator of this universe could ever favor me. Then I sit, and listen, and pray, and realize that God chose me, and of course I can find favor in Him. I am His child, I am worthy and He loves me. When I am able to get into that space, all the worries and cares of this short life melt away, and I realize that not only have I found my favor with God, but He has found it with me. I pray that, during this Advent season, we may feel the favor that God has for us. May all of us each and every day open our minds and hearts and say, “Here’s my heart Lord, speak what is true,” and know that He has found favor in us! This evening I encourage you to be still, pray, and voice your gratitude that God has chosen to favor you. – Amanda Hansen
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Morning The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. Isaiah 11:8–9 Peace Completed
In this prophecy, Isaiah speaks of a complete balance in nature where infants are in the midst of vipers and there is no danger, and the knowledge of the Lord will flood the earth. This is God’s perfect balance with all of creation delivered after the return of Jesus. But we have a peace attainable now, a peace that came with the birth of Jesus. The idea of “peace” in today’s society can be related to things like rest and relaxation, finding some “peace and quiet” in our hectic lives. For some, finding peace may mean signing up for a yoga class or taking a serene hike through nature, escaping the day-to-day. But that type of peace is only as lasting as we make it. Only out of Christ our Savior, the Son of God born and resurrected, is true and eternal Peace found, a deep assurance and spiritual calm. So although we may not have the complete peace with all of creation, as in Isaiah’s prophecy, we are made complete and balanced through Jesus! Prayer: Prince of Peace, I praise You for Your birth, and I thank You for Your sacrifice on the cross. Only through that can I find true peace, a peace that goes beyond all understanding. And even though we still live in a world that has danger, I know I am in Your hands. Lord, show me Your peace right now, that I may celebrate this season of Your birth whole heartedly. Amen. – Daniella Romero
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Evening Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” Isaiah 40:9 The prophet, Isaiah, definitely had “some good news and some bad news” for God’s Chosen People. After 39 chapters of bad news, the good news has a welcome ring to it! And we’ll hear an echo of these good tidings of great joy over 700 years later on a hillside near Bethlehem.
To soak a while in the joy of it all, listen to “O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion,” from G.F. Handel’s Messiah. (Find Marilyn Horne’s rendition on YouTube!)
This is news to fearlessly shout from the mountaintop! Here is your God! He delivered His people from Egyptian slavery. He’ll deliver them again from Babylonian captivity. He will show up in the flesh to deliver the world He loves from the ravages of sin and death. And He will show up once more to complete His work of restoration, reigning over His new heaven and new earth, made one for eternity.
But, do I live in a “good news!” state of mind? Or do I lean toward gloom and doom? Do those with whom I live and work get the spirit of chapters 1-39 bad news or the spirit of chapters 40 and forward good news? Is there a vital sense of “Here is your God!” in my life? After all, God is still present to me by His indwelling Spirit. I have a full access pass into the Holy of Holies! The feelings of being alone and without help or hope are a lie. I am not left to my own devices. So why do I so frequently live as though I am on my own? I am called to practice His presence, to exercise spiritual disciplines, and to hear each morning the summons to get up to the mountaintop, lift up my voice and, without fear, say to the city, “Here is your God!” It won’t just come naturally. It will come supernaturally, as I choose to walk in the Light. Then, the fruit of the Spirit produced in me…including love, joy, and peace…will shout the good news: Here is your God! – Dan Korneychuk 2013 Advent Devotional | 23
See, the Lord God comes with might, and His arm rules for Him; His reward is with Him and His recompense before Him. Isaiah 40:10 Wake Up!
Our Sovereign Lord is coming. Are you prepared? Are you following His will, purpose and plan? Do you know what His will, purpose and plan are for your life? Some Christians know early on, others must search the Holy Scriptures and ask for God’s guidance through prayer. He may want your quest to be a deep journey in time. Time alone with Him, the Creator of all. Time spent with Him and His Word…daily. Before you read the Scriptures, ask the Holy Spirit to open your heart to what God has to say to you, only you, at that moment in time. While reading and meditating you will, in His time, become aware of the plan He has for you. You might be confronted with something you need to change in your life. However God speaks to your heart, it will be important. Listen. God inspired and co-authored all the books of the Bible. As you read Isaiah, know that you are reading God’s message to you. “Behold, the Lord God WILL come with STRONG HAND, and His arm shall rule for Him;” (Isaiah 40:10a) He is the all-powerful One with His strong hand. What a blessing to rest in His strength and promises. “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13) God is in Charge! Take His promise with you today as you go about your daily routine. “Behold, His reward is with Him and His work before Him.” (Isaiah 40:10b) He will bring rewards for His people. As The Message puts it, “He is going to pay back His enemies and reward those who have loved Him.” God has a mountain of work before Him. His judgment will be for ALL his created ones. Yes, ALL. Long ago in Isaiah’s time they knew the judgment of God was coming. Someday. Are you ready? “Behold the Lord God will come...” “Blessed are those who keep His testimonies, who seek God with their whole heart.” Psalm 119:2
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Prayer for Illumination: Blessed are You, Lord, great God. For the testimonies of the prophets, we bless You. For the statutes of Your Law, we bless You. For the gospel of Christ and the witness of the Apostles, we bless You, O glorious God. Grant to us the Spirit of Your glory and the brightness of Your presence, that we might read Your Word and understand. Through Jesus Christ, our gracious Lord. Amen
â€“ Jo Anne Fogarty
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Evening And now you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son, and you will name Him Jesus. Luke 1:31
Why are names important? Names are important because they can come from a long line of tradition. They also are important because they can mean something different than the actual name. My name is Keenan Charles Barber. My dad’s name is Keenan Thomas Barber. My granddad’s name is Keenan Frank Barber and my Great Grandfather’s name was Keenan Clarence Barber. Because we all have different middle names, I am not the 4th. My other grandfather’s name is Charles Jameson Gaspar Junior and his dad was Charles Jameson Gaspar Senior. So my name is actually connected to five other men who have some of the same name as me. In fact, they called my Great Grandfather “KC” which is what they call me as well. So my name comes from both sides of the family. So why is it important that the angel told Mary to name her Baby, “Jesus?” Because my dad is a really smart Bible guy (he is helping me write this), Jesus is His name, but in the Hebrew language, Jesus and Joshua are actually the same name. Joshua led the people of Israel into the Promised Land. In some ways, Joshua was the salvation for the people. Now by giving this Baby the name Jesus, the Angel is showing that this little baby will someday lead us into the heaven—the best Promised Land I can think of.
– KC Barber, age 8
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week of advent
Today we relight the candle of HOPE. Now we light the candle for the second Sunday in Advent. This is the candle of PEACE. As we prepare for the coming of Jesus, we remember that Jesus is our hope and our peace. From the prophet Isaiah: For a Child has been born for us, a Son given to us; authority rests upon His shoulders; and He is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6â€“7) From the Gospel of John: Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. (John 14:27) Let us pray: Gracious God, Grant that we may find peace as we prepare for our Lordâ€™s birth. May divisions in ourselves and in our families be peacefully resolved. May there be peace in our cities and in the countries of our world. Help us to see the paths of peace in our lives, and then give to us courage to follow them. Lord, let us remember that You only are the giver of lasting peace and that You are always with us. Amen.
Morning He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. Luke 1:33 On December 3, 2012, St. James’s Palace announced: “Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are very pleased to announce that the Duchess of Cambridge is expecting a baby.”
2,000 years prior, the archangel Gabriel prophesied another royal birth in Luke 1:33 proclaiming: “And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” Along with a royal birth comes a royal title. While baby George’s title is currently limited to that “of Cambridge,” one day he will be King of England. Likewise, while Jesus is given the title over “the house of Jacob,” one day Jesus will rule over all. The birth of a royal also signifies the monarchy’s continuation into the next generation. After Prince William is King, he will hand over the monarchy to his heir Prince George. In comparison, although Jesus has no heir, Scripture says that we as His children have the privilege of being co-heirs with Him. And, as Luke 1:33 reminds us, “His kingdom will never end”, declaring Jesus as the one eternal royal, ruling over every generation. This Christmas we look forward to celebrating the Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy of Jesus’ Royal Birth. When we worship Him this season, let us exalt His majesty as the eternal King of Kings. Reflect: What is your response to Jesus’ royal birth this Christmas? How will your life reflect being a co-heir with Christ? – Kevin Deegan
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Mary said to the angel, ‘“How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ Luke 1:34 God certainly likes to stir things up, doesn’t He? Throughout His story, He uses the most unlikely people for His movement in this world. Moses was a slow-talker whose speech was not eloquent, but God chose him to be His spokesman to lead His people out of slavery and into the Promised Land. David, a smallish young shepherd-boy, was used by God to defeat the undefeated 9-foot Palestinian tormenter, Goliath. In a maledominated culture, God used a young Jewish woman named Esther to become Queen of Persia and to negotiate the peace of all Jews under the kingship of her husband, Xerxes. God likes to use unlikely people for His good works.
Is there something God is calling you to do that you may feel unlikely or unprepared to do? Perhaps He wants you to share about His love with someone who doesn’t know Him. Or is God asking you to say “Yes” to serving in a ministry in which you have no expertise or experience? Maybe God is encouraging you to serve on a mission trip or to welcome an orphan into your family. Is there something God is nudging you to do, but you feel like you haven’t gone to enough training at church, completed a degree in Bible College or Seminary, saved enough money, or accomplished some sort of goals to be able to serve God in that way? While we won’t physically birth Jesus to this world like Mary did, in all things, we are asked by God to bear Christ to this world. Sometimes, to bear Christ to this world, all we need to do is show-up for what God is calling us to and trust that God will work through us. Reflect: What is a way God is calling you to share Christ in this world but you feel unqualified or incapable of doing? Take some time today and hold that before God while you reflect on 1 Thessalonians 5:24: “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.” – Laura De Assis
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Morning The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.” Luke 1:35
Mary has asked a question (v. 34) impossible to answer from our viewpoint, and the angel answered from God’s vantage point. Isn’t that just like God?…changing the ground rules, and just when we know what’s right and what’s wrong…what’s real and what’s not! This year has given me plenty of opportunity to think about seeing things from God’s perspective. With all the things happening in my health, it sometimes seems like a “lost year.” But recently, I ran across a devotional urging me to concentrate on whatever was “true, honorable, just, and pure,” etc. (Philippians 4:8) and it included the reminder that I need to focus more on God’s solutions and less on my obstacles. Prayerful thankfulness of heart does transform my focus from my petty troubles to God’s unwavering truth: God loves me, God is always here, and God will never abandon me. I thank God for His as yet unknown solutions to my problems! And you know, that is exactly what Mary did, with thanksgiving, joy, and trust. (Luke 1:46–55)
– Margaret Holzer
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Evening And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God. Luke 1:36–37 My thoughts on this short passage fall into two lines of thinking. First, in the difficult times I have in my life I sometimes think to myself, “No one knows how I am feeling right now. No one has ever been in this bad of a situation. No one has faced the kind of odds I face in life right now.”
How many times have I faced a bizarre life situation, an awkward moment, or a plan that seems it can only end in yet another failure, then God comes through with a “solution” that I never in a million years would have seen coming. I love that about God and in the end, it makes the story so much more interesting to retell.
Mary’s pregnant. I imagine the discussion in her head might have been similar to the kinds of questions I have. And yet, almost as if in anticipation of Mary’s inner struggle for answers, God already has an example for Mary. And it’s not a hypothetical or far off example, but the already fulfilled miracle of her cousin Elizabeth being pregnant.
My second observation is that in all the times I have read the Christmas story, for whatever reason, I have never noticed verse 37. “For no word from God will ever fail.” If I was only able to grab onto this statement and actually live out the reality; reality where I unswervingly trust all the words that come from God. Prayer: Lord, When I am in the difficult circumstances, please put people around me with whom I can connect, who understand me and can know my pain. And help me to trust in every word that comes from You. Amen. – The Rev. Keenan Barber 2013 Advent Devotional | 31
Morning Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. Luke 1:38
It never ceases to amaze me the faith and trust that Mary had in that one statement. “Here am I, the servant of the Lord…” She knew what the implications would be, or at least had an idea of what could happen. Yet, her faith in the Lord allowed her to see past that and lean fully into the calling the Lord had on her life. I think about my own life and wonder how many blessings I have missed because of my own fear, or even my own avoidance of what others might say or how they might perceive me. How many times has God shown up in the form of an angel, a stranger, or even a friend, and I could feel a tugging in my heart, but shut it out because of a lack of faith in His power...a lack of trust in His provision? Oh to be like Mary! To trust in the Lord and to be so open to His will in my life that I might say, “Here am I! A servant of You, Lord.” This Advent, we are preparing our hearts for the arrival of the King. A King who would shatter societal norms...a King who would break down cultural barriers...a King who would transform a people...a King who did all this in the power of the God we serve. That same God, in all His power and glory, wants us to live out our callings, as Mary did...as Jesus did. As you prepare for and begin your day, let’s take some time to make ourselves available to what the Lord wants to say this morning. Instead of praying with words and requests, perhaps we might try to simply invite the Lord into our prayer time using a breath prayer, then sit in silence for what we might hear. And may we reply as Mary, “Here am I!”
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Prayer: A breath prayer is a simple prayer that follows your breathing patternâ€”a word or short phrase on the inhale, and a word or short phrase on the exhale. A couple options are listed below, but there may be one already in your mind! You may find distractions may flit around your mind during the prayer time; the breath prayer would be a great way to refocus! This prayer can also be said throughout the day to keep you focused on where God may be moving in your life. Inhale :: Light of the World Exhale :: Bring light to my path --or-Inhale :: Prince of Peace Exhale :: Here am I â€“ Laura Addink
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Evening “Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” Isaiah 40:1–2
Comfort. It’s a word that evokes a peaceful and cozy feeling. When things aren’t going well, we would love for someone to comfort us and tell us it’s going to be ok; that it will get better. So it was with Israel. They desperately needed comfort. God speaks to Isaiah and tells him to “Comfort, comfort,” and a third time, “speak tenderly to [comfort] Jerusalem, my people.” These verses are oft-quoted ones, but seldom do people bring up the last part of verse 2: “…she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” Punishment for wrongdoing doesn’t seem compatible with comfort. It isn’t very comforting to think of being punished for the things we’ve done wrong. And yet, that is an integral part of these verses. They can be comforted because they were punished, and have been pardoned because of that punishment. Their punishment has been doubled—folded over to exactly match their sins—and they had been pardoned. So too, must there be punishment for our sins. Our sins cannot be pardoned because God just lets us off the hook. It would lessen God’s righteousness and holiness. Our sins demand eternal separation from God. Enter the One on whom was laid the iniquity of us all. Jesus, the reason we celebrate during this season, is God made flesh, sent to earth to receive the punishment that we could not bear. His sacrifice is the double that makes our pardon possible. God took on human flesh and became a man. He lived without sin. He took on himself our punishment, and was crucified and separated from God the Father. Our punishment was paid, it was doubled, and because of that we are pardoned. Comfort, comfort indeed! – James Addink 34 | Bel Air Presbyterian Church
Morning In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. Luke 1:39–40 We take our high school kids to Manaus, Brazil every other year for an international mission trip to serve on a medical mission boat in villages within the Amazon region. There are two big rivers: The Amazon and the Rio Negro.
But…when they do finally interact, it is a beautiful and artistic merging of the two rivers.
There is a cool phenomenon that happens between these two rivers in Manaus. Because of the minerals and source, the Amazon River has a brown, dirty color to it, and the Rio Negro is a dark, black color. In Manaus the two streams meet for the first time. Instead of joining together instantly into one color, they literally run alongside one another (Google Image: “Meeting of the Waters”). The river goes for miles side-byside, but because of all the minerals and current, they do not interact yet. It is almost as if there is a sense of both anticipation and resistance within the water.
In the passage we looked at today, something similar is going on. Up to this point the story of John’s birth and the story of Jesus’ birth have been two separate events leading towards the same place. Here, we start to see the results of being “downstream” and the two stories merging into one beautiful and artistic narrative. So I guess my question is: Where are you right now? Where do you find yourself in life? Are you in a season of anticipation for God to “merge Himself ” in your life? Are you anticipating the manifest presence of Christ to occur in your life? Are you wondering where God is or what He might be up to? (continued on next page)
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Or are you in a season of resistance? Is there a sense that although Christ may be right there next to you, for some reason you are resisting Him? You don’t really want to invite His plan and purpose into your life because you’re afraid it might screw everything up? Or are you “downstream”? Have you felt the invasion of God’s presence in your life, and now the beautiful and artistic dance that happens when the Holy Spirit infiltrates your life is in full effect? Wherever you are during this season, this week, this day, this moment: May you get a sense that the God of Jesus Christ is running alongside you. May you lay down all resistances to Him. And may your life and the life of God through the Holy Spirit because of Jesus Christ begin to merge into one beautiful and artistic narrative.
– R.O. Smith
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When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Luke 1:41–42 Mary visiting Elizabeth is probably the smartest thing she could have done after finding out the huge news that she would be giving birth to the Son of God. When I found out I was going to have a baby, my mind was swirling. Even though my husband and I planned and prepared, it was still unbelievable. The first thing I wanted to do was let the world know of our joyful news. Make phone calls, send emails, update Facebook, Twitter, do it all! After I took a moment to let the excitement settle, we decided not to send out a media alert, but instead contact those that we knew would cover us in prayer and would truly walk through this life-changing chapter of our lives with us.
Mary didn’t run out of her house and tell every single person on the street who would listen. Instead, she made a long journey to Elizabeth. Elizabeth had already received unbelievable and happy news of her own, and was full of hope. The minute Mary walks in to visit her cousin Elizabeth, Elizabeth can feel the Holy Spirit. She knows something amazing is happening with Mary and the child she will birth. She exclaims to Mary, “Blessed are you among women!” What a confirmation for Mary! Instead of taking the news from the angel Gabriel and trying to process on her own, she has sought out someone to share this news with, to be in community. We are called to be in community with one another. To share the happy, unbelievable, sad, amazing, trying times together. To share our lives with others who recognize just how blessed we are when we can’t fully understand what is going on in our life. Those that are full of hope when we might be doubting God’s plan for our lives. Elizabeth was someone who could confirm God’s plan for Mary, who could truly understand just how blessed she was. My prayer this Advent season is that we will all find our community. Those who will pray for us, will walk along side us and will help remind us how blessed we are to be chosen and loved by Jesus! – Meagan Lloyd
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Morning And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. Luke 1: 43–44 Elizabeth welcomed Mary, her relative/cousin (v 36), in a new spirit. We learned (v 41) that God’s Spirit filled her when the baby leapt in her womb. Imagine that! Women who have been pregnant may know what it’s like when a baby kicks as if leaping—it hurts! I had painful bruised ribs over half of my pregnancy from my first son’s jumps in utero.
By her testimony that her baby leapt for joy, Elizabeth was not hurt, but full of wonder and joy. Joyful about her late-in-life pregnancy, her joy simply overflowed at Mary’s coming. To leap is to jump into something or away to avoid something. We may jump into water, our jeans, a new conversational subject, or leap from a helicopter into the atmosphere! Leaping carries the idea of risk: the potential of danger and possibility of adventure and pleasure. It always means to go all in. We may leap away from a low tree branch, jump into a crosswalk to help an elderly woman cross a street, or leap across the sidewalk to grab a small child before he steps in the street. It takes a full commitment of self to leap. To leap for joy, is key in this passage. Joy is the Spirit’s gift, a filling to overflowing in response to God’s grace in our lives. Greek has two words for ‘joy’, kevo and chara, both derived from charis, which means ‘grace.’ Kevo is the human-based fleeting enjoyment we experience watching a lovely sunset, or our child doing something the first time. Chara, in this passage, is produced by and sourced from the charis of God. This joy is divine, from the Spirit’s deep work in us that even flourishes in hard times.
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To me, joy is a deep rest and confident pleasure in my well-being and blessedness in Christ, based on His goodness and grace. More profound than all happinesses, joy is a deep certainty that we are Well, an exultation of eternal Life in Christ—that All Manner of Thing Will Be Well, as Julian of Norwich believed—in God’s sovereignty and love. To leap for joy then, is to go all in to experience, le joie de vivre notre Seigneur— the joy of living in our Lord. Reflect: What makes you leap for joy? – Susan Paul
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A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Isaiah 40:3 The darkest days of ancient Israel’s history came with the destruction of Jerusalem and the holy Temple at the hands of the Babylonians. Crushed and captive, they were taken into exile, reduced to servitude in a foreign land. Would there ever be a return home? It would be a long wait.
After the death of Nebuchadnezzar, Israel’s conqueror, the power of Babylon waned and a new power arose in the east: Cyrus of Persia. He practiced a different kind of imperial politics, which promised leniency to the exiles, and so in Isaiah 40 we see the first rays of sunrise breaking over the eastern horizon. After seventy years, their long night of exile is ended. There will be a return, and God will bring it about! In the wilderness that separated the long-suffering exiles from Jerusalem, a highway is prepared, a straight route back home. However, Isaiah 40:3 presents us with a puzzle. The “way of the LORD” — the expressway through the desert by which they would make their return — is called a “highway for our God.” But it is a highway for the exiles, isn’t it? Surely God does not travel by desert roads? Is this a typographical error? The people of Israel were not the only party uprooted from their home in Jerusalem. Before the Babylonians carried them away, another Party had been exiled from that city. He was treated shamefully, dishonored, and driven out—not by foreign invaders, but by His own people. You see, the fate that befell the Israelite exiles was but a mirror of what they had done to the LORD by their sinful ways and persistent idolatry. There was a time when His glory had filled the Temple, which is to say He was pleased to make His home in their midst—but that home was broken up, and He was made to feel unwelcome long before the stones of the building were torn down. For seventy years the exiles waited to return home, but the LORD had waited far longer for them to open their hearts. Suffering His own exile, He longed to return to His rightful home in the midst of His people. Isaiah speaks the word: make a straight highway for our God! 40 | Bel Air Presbyterian Church
When we reflect on our sinfulness, we often think of ourselves as wanderers who stray from the straight path and get lost in the wilderness. Isaiah 40:3 invites us to reverse the imagery. What if the LORD is the One driven out, made to feel unwelcome in our lives, and effectively sent to wander in a wilderness until we are ready to welcome Him back? What if suffering is not all about us, and our experience, but is also about the experience of God? The word spoken by Isaiah promises that the One exiled, nevertheless, longs to return to a joyous welcome at the center of our lives. In the Advent of Jesus Christ, God makes good on this word. Reflect: Is the highway to your heart open for the coming of the LORD? â€“ The Rev. Dr. Bob Paul
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And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord. Luke 1:45
There are a lot of promises in the Bible. In fact, our God is not shy to make bold claims to people about who He is and what He will do. He told Abraham that he would be made into a great nation. He told Joshua that the Israelites would have success in going into the Promised Land. He told the prophets that if His exiled people returned their hearts to Him, He would hear them and forgive them. And He told a humble Jewish girl that she would give birth to the Savior of the world. Some of His promises are universal and He invites us all to experience and trust in their completion. Some of them are personal and He speaks them over us individually. And some of them are for the Church, His redeemed bride, which He longs to show off to a broken world. It’s easy for me to speak of these promises on an intellectual level. I’ve read them, recited them, and I recall them without too much difficulty. But if I were to be honest, I have a hard time believing them. I have a hard time seeing them. I have a hard time trusting He who made them. And yet here we see the picture of a young girl to whom God promised something crazy. He made her the mother of Jesus—God become flesh. The very possibility of it would seem hard to trust. And seeing as she was a virgin betrothed to be married, it seems completely likely that it could cause her to doubt the goodness of God’s intentions towards her. Surely there would be social repercussions for this. But in the face of doubt and uncertainty, she trusted a God that told her not to fear. She trusted a God who said He was with her. And you know what happened? He was bigger than her fear, and He was with her. He gave her a Son that saved us all. Our God is big. Our God is bold. Our God is radical and creative. He wants to bless us with the gift of trust. He wants to show us what it looks like to be part of what He is doing. It’s not that fear isn’t real. God is just bigger. Let’s live in that. Let’s see what He does. – Clay Collier 42 | Bel Air Presbyterian Church
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…” Luke 1:46–47 Christmas is a time for gathering. We often have more focus on gathering together, as we think about celebrating the birth of Jesus. We gather with friends and family, those in our church, and often with neighbors we don’t spend time with all year, to celebrate, share a meal, and often sing together. In our home, we have three special nativity scenes. Each one reminds us of the miracle of the birth of Jesus to Mary and Joseph. As I reflect upon this passage, I imagine Mary and Elizabeth. Elizabeth was a mature woman who was not in the child bearing years. Mary was a young girl who also was not thinking about having a child.
I can liken it to the birth of our daughter, Shannon. My best friend and I were pregnant at the same time, just six weeks apart. The excitement we shared was overwhelming. We prayed together and praised God for His timing and creation.
Sometimes, Christmas brings the unexpected. A surprise visit from a friend, a special meal, or often a special gift. God loves to do the unexpected. With these two women, He chose Elizabeth to bear the son that would tell the world about the Christ Child. He chose Mary to bear His Son, Jesus. Both were radically unexpected gifts!
In Luke 1:46-47 we see that true fellowship includes worshiping God. Mary and Elizabeth praised God together as they sang and quoted scriptures. “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior.” Despite uncertainty and circumstances to these two births, they rejoiced without fear or doubt. Their souls trusted and were joyful. During this season of anticipation, I pray that you find an “unexpected gift” from God. And when you do, that your heart sings out and rejoices in the God that calls you by name.
– Lisa Glenn
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…for He has looked with favor on the lowliness of His servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed Luke 1:48
In the last year, working with 5th & 6th grade students, I have found that they have so much to offer when it comes to thinking and talking about Scripture. Their true child-like faith often brings better wonder and perspective then I ever could. So, in order to write this devotional, I invited my 5th grade friend Ella to study the verse with me. First we began by looking at the context of the verse. This verse is spoken from the perspective of Mary who has just been told she is pregnant with our Savior. Although many see pregnancy as a blessing as Mary does in this verse, in her case it would have been easy for her to see this as a curse. She was engaged to be married and had conceived a child as a virgin. You can imagine the way this made people point fingers and doubt her character. And yet Mary is thankful and knows that even though she was an unknown servant of God, He choose her and he blessed her. Ella and I discussed how we could read this praise that Mary spoke to God and apply it to our lives today. Ella said “it reminds me that even though I am not perfect and I am sometimes unworthy, God looks with favor on me and cares about me, like He did with Mary.” We have so many reasons to praise God in our life, He blesses us in so many ways, even though we did nothing to earn those blessings. Some count their blessings as only riches, success, and belongings. But as we can see from Mary’s story, God blesses us in so many other ways. Even in ways that we ourselves may not immediately recognize as blessings. Ella and I ended our time of studying this verse by making a list of all the blessings in our lives, even the ones that others may not recognize as blessings, and we thanked God for each of them. We want to encourage you to spend some time today making your own list of blessings and thanking God for looking with favor on you, His lowly servant. – Shannon Dunn & Ella McCartie 44 | Bel Air Presbyterian Church
Evening For the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is His name. Luke 1:49 “Nothing is too wonderful to be true.” -Michael Faraday, 18 March, 1849 Sometimes I get overwhelmed with the ordinariness of things—of my life, what I have done with it, where I live, what I have accomplished. It just turned out so different than what I originally hoped in my 20s.
But then… but then… There are those moments—you know what I’m talking about...
I think we all want to live significant lives—ones that count; ones that matter. Yet the landscape of mine is pretty bland. Things just never came together at the right time. When I had the desire, I didn’t have the time. When I had the partners, I didn’t have the financing. When I finally had the opportunity, I had no energy. Such is life. Grand aspirations mocked by the vanilla day-to-day business of living.
Moments where, of no effort of our own, something happens inside us and the fog of ordinariness clears for a bit and we find ourselves breathless because we see the events of our lives clearer, brighter, deeper—the most ordinary of events are infused with meaning and direction—and some blessed sadness. Maybe it’s just the mercy of God that allows us to come out of our ether for a few clean, honest moments. Those moments might happen in church, maybe in the car, or maybe in a conversation with a friend, but it is always unexpected. For a little clutch of time we can’t believe how lucky we are.
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In those moments we can recognize the intentional grace and direction and presence. Of course! God has been there with us the whole time— gently nudging us here, redirecting things there, assuaging heartache— sometimes with gentle tenderness, other times with searing severity. The details of our lives matter to Him, and He has orchestrated our time here to bring about a grand finish. There are no ordinary people, and none of us are disappointments to Him. He wants us and is doing everything He can to make us people that want Him back. Those moments of clarity and mercy have become for me some of the clearest, most accurate ways that I can see myself—my life—and how much intention God has put into making sure that He and I can be together for a long, long time.
– Scott Prewett
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week of advent
Today we relight the first two candles of the Advent wreath. The candle of HOPE and the candle of PEACE. Now we light the third candle of Advent. This is the candle of JOY. As the coming of Jesus, our Savior, draws nearer, our joy builds with our anticipation of His birth. From the Book of Isaiah we read the words of our Lord: But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. (Isaiah 65:18) From the New Testament, the words of Paul to the people of the church at Galatia: The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22â€“25) Let us pray: We joyfully praise You, O Lord, for the fulfillment of Your promise of a Savior and what that means in our lives. Thank You for the gift of salvation through the birth of Your Son, Jesus. Create us anew as we wait, and help us to see Your glory as You fill our lives with Your living Spirit. Amen.
His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation. Luke 1:50
We do not have to fear the Lord. It is a choice. And it always has been. From generation to generation. And we do not have to choose it. You do not have to choose it. You do not have to fear the Lord…and many don’t. The world we live in is characterized by fallen men and women, precious in God’s sight, who choose to simply live as they please instead of seek after their Creator—no meekness, no reverence, no dying to self, no submission to the Creator of all. Let’s not be fooled; this can happen in the church, too. There is much that can be done in the name of God that has nothing to do with Him. Sometimes those who look as though they fear Him do not, and those who look like they do not actually do—or at least are learning to. We cannot judge hearts from the surface; it was the tax collectors and prostitutes who were often drawn to Christ, not usually the Pharisees. But God promises to all who are truly seeking Him and drawing nearer to Him that He shall extend His mercy—to those who before their Almighty Maker recognize their insufficiency, their limitations, their smallness, their sin. And how great is His mercy! It is powerful…it is deep, just as expressed in His sacrifice on the cross at Calvary. In choosing to fear the Lord, we let go of this world with its thoughts, its attitudes, its perceptions, and its unthinking patterns—and we choose to receive something far greater instead: the mercy that bled and died for us while we were still sinners, offering in such kindness what we did not deserve. Praise God for His mercy! Praise God that when we learn to humble ourselves and begin to fear Him, His mercy covers our lives as well, as it always has and, just as God promises, it always will for those He calls His own. Prayer: Dear Christ, You came to us as a Child and yet quicken our hearts to fear—to surrender, to worship, to let go, to die to our old selves. To bow down in reverence to You and You alone. And in that might we know Your mercy. Amen. – Tom Harrits 48 | Bel Air Presbyterian Church
He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. Luke 1:51 Mary’s arrival at the home of her relative Elizabeth has brought such joy! The angel’s message to Mary has been confirmed in Elizabeth’s greeting – God is at work! The song Mary began, her Magnificat, continues in this passage, as she sings of God’s blessings, rejoicing in the knowledge of the Spirit that she is part of the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy! Her deep understanding of Scripture is evident as she sings of what God has already done and what He has promised He will do.
In verse 51, she is singing of God’s strength and power, and His victory over those who oppose Him. Whether their haughty ways are demonstrated outwardly in their treatment of those around them, or whether their smug ideas and scheming plans remain in their private thoughts, their fate is the same – scattered like dust in a whirlwind. Those who believe their accomplishments and stature place them high above others and closer to God, are brought low by God’s punishment and separation from His sight. Mary knows where her trust lies, safely in the presence of the Lord, her Savior. Prayer: Dear Lord, May we, too, place our trust in You. Keep us focused on Your Son this season. Help us to find Joy in each day and to share it with others. Help us to remember what You have done for us, and what You have promised to do in the future through Your Son, Jesus, whose birth we celebrate. Amen.
– Ellen Baker
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Morning He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly… Luke 1:52
This verse—coming in the middle of Mary’s praise song is frequently read and understood within our own context and need. Mary is magnifying the glory of God as He bestows upon her the blessing of a Savior, but that is not always my praise as I am reading these words. Sometimes I read this verse “from my throne.” I am yearning for, or I am in a position of power: power of material riches, power of authority, power of accomplishments, power of some other things that I believe I alone have done. But the first few words of this verse become convicting: He “brings down the powerful from their thrones”. My realization of my need for a Savior becomes overwhelming at this awareness. Sometimes I read this verse aware of my lowliness, my insignificance, my inabilities, and my need. I know my need of a Savior. I know my need of a Healer; healing from a physical problem, an emotional illness or a spiritual disease. I know my need of a Shepherd, as the lost sheep I am wandering in circles and bleating for my Shepherd to find me and lead me. I know my need for a Friend, to understand me, to hear me, to love me. As we are in this Advent season, preparing for the Savior to come to us, how are you reading this verse today, from your “throne of power” or from your need? Like Mary, let us praise God for sending the Savior to us as He alone is the solution for both contexts. Prayer: Oh, Lord, Show me today the places of my “thrones” and my “lowliness.” I invite the Savior into both of these places for His love, His healing, and His shepherding. May this celebration of His coming to the earth be a time of re-birth in me, a birth through the Holy Spirit. And through this re-birth may I find Your joy, Your hope and like Mary, share these with others. Amen. – Melanie Boyd
50 | Bel Air Presbyterian Church
Evening …He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. Luke 1:53 Mary and Elizabeth found themselves in unbelievable situations—both were to bear children under miraculous circumstances—one aged and barren and the other a virgin. It was clear that only God could create such miracles. The quoted passage is a part of Mary’s song of praise and thanksgiving for their remarkable blessings.
Don’t we ultimately “hunger” for greater and deeper faith; greater closeness to Jesus; a greater sense of the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit? Both Mary and Elizabeth hungered and were filled not only by “good” but by the “best” of God’s blessings.
So what is “hungered” for? There are many references to “hunger” in the Bible: “The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry” (Proverbs 10:3); “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled” (Luke 6:21); “I am the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to Me will never be hungry…” (John 6:35).
“…and sent the rich away empty”—the “rich” get talked about a lot in the Bible: In good ways— “Now, Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver and in gold…I have made Abram rich” (Genesis 13:2; 14:23); “The blessing of the Lord makes rich… (Proverbs 10:22). And in bad ways: “…the rich sit in a low place.” (Ecclesiastes 10:6); “Like a cage full of birds, their houses are full of treachery; therefore they have become great and rich…They know no limits in deeds of wickedness…” (Jeremiah 5: 27–8). Everyone knows 1 Timothy 6:10. David Platt in his book Radical wonders “Is materialism a blind spot in American Christianity today?....More importantly, if our lives do not reflect radical compassion for the poor, there is reason to wonder if Christ is really in us at all…” (p. 111). (continued on next page) 2013 Advent Devotional | 51
Platt summarizes his “purpose in life” claims as follows: “Real success is found in radical sacrifice. Ultimate satisfaction is found not in making much of ourselves but in making much of God. The purpose of our lives transcends the country and culture in which we live. Meaning is found in community, not individualism. Joy is found in generosity, not materialism; and truth is found in Christ, not universalism” (p. 183). Reflect: So, what are the “good things” that you hunger for? Why not pray for those things today?
– Earl Boyd
52 | Bel Air Presbyterian Church
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants for ever. Isaiah 12:2 The verses above are a portion of Luke’s Gospel known as “Mary’s Song” where Mary is visiting Elizabeth, and Elizabeth speaks a blessing to Mary and the Child in her womb. Mary responds to Elizabeth with a beautiful poem or song that expresses her feelings with words such as glorifies, rejoices, humble, blessed, greatness, holy, fear, mighty deeds, scattered, brought down, lifted up, filled, helped, sent away, merciful, promised—in a beautiful and wonderful acknowledgement of the character of God and His faithfulness to Mary in selecting her to be the Mother of Jesus.
Look around you today and see God’s faithfulness and mercy to you. You in fact are part of a much larger dimension. You live in the physical world and also in the spiritual world, and God continues to reveal Himself mysteriously in both. Our thoughts matter, and our actions matter. Our words matter, and our prayers matter. The incredible thing is that We matter. God loves us! Each of us is part of Abraham’s story as it unfolds. We too are descendants. In Christ we are adopted into the Kingdom of God. We, too, inherit the promises of God—don’t miss this!
Mary has become greatly aware of the historic and global significance of the baby in her womb and that she is part of God helping His people, Israel. God is keeping His promise to be merciful to Abraham and His descendants—and Mary recognizes that her sacrifice, participation, and blessing are all part of events much larger than her day-to-day life.
When you don’t understand, and things just don’t make sense—remember that Mary remained faithful even before God gave her strength. She trusted and loved even when she only had a glimpse of God’s incredible plan. God is merciful and faithful. – Buck Rea
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And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home. Luke 1:56 Think about a time you spent a long weekend or several days with close friends. There’s something really special about being with people that really “get” you, isn’t there? Close friendships have a relational shorthand; there’s no need to articulate everything you’re thinking or feeling, because you’ve been down some of the same road together.
Now think of your highest high or lowest low. Did you find yourself feeling that not even your close friends could truly understand what you were going through? Or did you have the rare experience of having a friend or family member you could turn to who had already been through something similar? The three months that Mary and Elizabeth spent together must have been an extraordinary time for these two women—bonded already as family members, they also shared a bond that no one else on the planet could have understood. They made a strange pair: Elizabeth, far too old to be carrying a child, and Mary, a virgin teenager, engaged but not yet married. It should not have been possible for either to become pregnant, and yet—here they were, God’s incredible plans for their “impossible” children having been spelled out for them via angelic proclamation. There must have been mornings when they could only look at each other and laugh at this unexpected yet parallel turn their lives had taken—at the part they were playing in God’s redemption story. They could never have predicted this. How they must have prayed for their sons, and for each other; how many songs of praise and thanks must they have sung; how many quiet fears and questions about what lay ahead must they have sat up discussing late into the night. God could have chosen anyone to be mother to John the Baptist—but in this verse it becomes clear that He had some very specific reasons for using a member of Mary’s own family. They were a gift to each other, a refuge from the gossip and assumptions of whispering neighbors. Having a friend to support her, Mary could rest both in her identity of one “highly favored” and the promises of a God who knows that sometimes a sympathetic shoulder to lean on can make all the difference in the world. What a testament to the love of a Father who knows our heartfelt needs! – Mandy Fowler 54 | Bel Air Presbyterian Church
Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the Lord God is my strength and my might; He has become my salvation. Isaiah 12:2 “SAVE ME!” is quite a dramatic expression. Yet instead of some sort of rescue taking place, I’m inclined to think of how we usually use this phrase: “Save me some time.” “Save me the headache and just tell me the answer.” “Save me from this dreadful meeting.” This brief stanza in the first section of Isaiah is one of thanksgiving and praise. I’m drawn to the word “salvation,” used twice in this short portion of a poem.
I’m intrigued by this discussion of salvation from theologian Stanley J. Grentz:
Salvation in the Old Testament usually refers to an event of rescue from an intolerable situation or great danger from which the person is unable to save himself or herself. Most prayers consist of praise for past events and thanksgiving for future acts of salvation. 1 This salvation leads to trust.
“The program of God includes the salvation of the individual, of course, but it overflows the human person in solitary aloneness. Our salvation occurs in relationships, not in isolation. Hence, God’s purpose includes human social interaction. And it moves beyond the isolated human realm to encompass all creation. God’s concern does not end with the redeemed individual. Rather, He desires a reconciled humankind (Eph. 2:14–19) living in the renewed creation and enjoying His own presence (Rev. 21:1–5a). In short, God’s program is directed toward, and is experienced in, community. The church is the community of salvation.” 2 (continued on next page)
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How does a community share salvation? How does this shared salvation lead to trust? Sometimes this shared experience comes through tragedy, when you literally have to lean on others around you for support and strength…and salvation. Sometimes this comes through joy, when you celebrate a birth or a clear MRI. And sometimes this shared salvation comes through in the simple menial tasks of everyday life, like doing laundry with your roommate or reading a book to your child. A shared community of salvation can be a difficult task in our crazy city. But it’s not impossible. And in fact, it’s how God intends salvation to be experienced.
Reflect: The God of the Bible has a habit of saving people. What needs saving in your life? What can you entrust to God? How will you share this salvation in relationships? – Dr. Mindy Coates Smith
1 Myers, Allen C., ed. The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: Grand Rapids, 1987. p. 904. 2 Grentz, Stanley J. Theology for the Community of God. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: Grand Rapids, 1994. p. 481.
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Evening Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Luke 1:57 I watched with wonder, as my son was delivered from the sanctuary of Karen’s womb. Just as Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, after the birth of his boy, spoke prophetic words about the role John would play in God’s unfolding story, I too began to visualize the wonderful things my own son would do to serve Him.
Karen and I along the way had read in Proverbs 22:6, “Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray.” With high hopes, we began this adventure of Christian parenthood—intent on following God’s ways, and expecting all would go smoothly. Our kids certainly would become warriors for Christ, just like John.
In his crib, and regularly thereafter, I gave Matt the Old Testament blessing—a meaningful touch, and a spoken message that pictured a blessed future. It was the blessing my grandfather, an Orthodox Jew, gave me whenever I saw him.
But, as the song by Steven Curtis Chapman says about this journey we’re on, the valleys are deep and the mountains are steep. And though we will get there, “it’s just a long way home.” Things don’t always go as “smoothly” as anticipated. Matt is a wonderful, loving adult child whom we adore. He is creative and kind, but he has wandered (for now) from the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We didn’t expect this. This life with God is full of unexpected turns. I wonder if Zechariah anticipated the price John would pay for preparing the way. I’m sure my “Papoo,” as I called my grandfather, never expected that the blessing for his grandson would one day include the gift of grace through Jesus Christ. (continued on next page)
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If this Advent season has you waiting on the Lord for your children to find their way back home; or even has you beseeching God to hold your younger kids close, take heart…be patient. For the song also says, “I know we’re gonna make it.” And hold on to this truth: “…the One who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6 God never starts anything in us (or our children) that He cannot finish.
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– Mike Mizrahi
Morning Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. Luke 2:4–5 The journey to Bethlehem would have been at least a three-day trip from Nazareth and perhaps longer given the late stage of Mary’s pregnancy. I’m sure it was not Joseph’s ideal plan to make this difficult journey to Bethlehem with Mary; it would have been much easier to stay in Nazareth so Mary could rest and give birth to baby Jesus in the comfort of her home. I’m sure there were many times along the journey that Joseph was grumbling and perhaps angry with God for having to make this trip to Bethlehem.
But God had a different plan for Mary and Joseph and the birth of His Son! It was necessary for Mary and Joseph to suffer through the inconvenience of this trip so that God could fulfill His plan and purpose for the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Joseph probably did everything in his power to prevent Mary from giving birth in a stable, but that is exactly where God wanted His Son, our King, to be born. Many times in our lives, we deal with various “inconvenient” situations and suffer through difficult trials. God uses these situations to bring us to spiritual maturity, or to impact others in a very specific way, or sometimes just to protect us from more dangerous situations. We need to trust that God has the perfect plan for our lives, and even though we cannot see what He is doing at that particular moment, He is fulfilling His purpose for us in our lives. Mary and Joseph did not want to be in Bethlehem at that particular time, but that is where God needed them to be. The next time you find yourself facing a difficult situation, or just dealing with a particular inconvenience, trust that God is in control and will use the situation to accomplish His purposes. Reflect: Spend some time in prayer today and ask God for guidance in your life. He may need to move you to a different situation or, perhaps, He has you exactly where He needs you! – Mark Phillips
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The foot tramples it, the feet of the poor, the steps of the needy. The way of the righteous is level; O Just One, you make smooth the path of the righteous. Isaiah 26:6–7 God is looking out for you.
Is your schedule packed with distractions? Are you busy at work? Do you have a seemingly endless shopping list, and countless school performances and office parties to attend? Does it seem like it’s too much for you—that there is no end in sight, and you are stretched too thin? You needn’t worry: God is looking out for you. And it’s a good thing, too. Because while, at times, we become self-reliant and confident in our own plans and abilities, deep down we know that we can’t do anything except what God empowers us to do. God, as a precious gift to us, levels our paths and makes our ways straight. We cannot do it on our own. This is not to say that God promises us a life of smooth sailing or an easy road—but we have the assurance from Him that it will all work out according to His plan and His purposes. We can climb the mountains and cross the valleys and make it through the time of trial. All we need to do is have faith. There is so much to do. But God gave us this Christmas season as part of His plan. So set aside some time to pray. To read the Scriptures. To walk into a quiet church in the middle of the day and rest in Him. All of those things on your checklist can wait because, after all, God is looking out for you. Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus Christ, Let us not lose sight of the fact that You are in charge and guide our every step. Give us the clarity of mind and sight to see Your hand in all that we do and to see Your face in all those we meet. Continue to guide us, Lord, in the path of righteousness with the fire of the Holy Spirit to light our way. Thank You that You love us so much that you sent Your only Son to earth, as a little Baby in the manger, to atone for our sins and to make us co-heirs of Your Kingdom. Amen. – Houri Fogarty 60 | Bel Air Presbyterian Church
Morning In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. Luke 2: 8–9 Why were the shepherds terrified? They were standing with the glory of God shining all around them, and they were terrified. When we stand in the presence of our glorious God, we are also standing bare before the almighty God who sees our true selves and that can be pretty terrifying. These shepherds had no idea the salvation that had come to them. They were lowly shepherds. They were common, ordinary and low ranking. Yet, in the darkness of their daily lives, they were the first ones being called by God to meet the Light of the World.
It is the Son that exposes our darkness in order that we might be forever changed and brought into glory with Him. We must continue to work out our salvation with fear and trembling in order that God would fulfill His good purpose in us. Which means, we must overcome our fears, step out in faith, and allow our hearts to be exposed through our vulnerability, so God can heal and use each of us. God comes to each of us in the middle of our ordinary lives and calls us. We are called to be shepherds in this life; to serve, to give, to sacrifice, in spite of what we may or may not receive in return, just as the Good Shepherd did for each one of us. As we shepherd one another in service, love and friendship, we reflect His light and remain in His presence. His presence becomes fulfilling, hopeful, joy-filled and full of grace. There is no terror in His presence. Instead there is rejoicing and thanksgiving and the equipping we need to pass along the gift. Reflect: How is God calling you? How will you respond to His call? Will you overcome your fear by stepping out in faith? What steps are you going to take? It’s startling when your eyes get used to the dark and then all of a sudden you are in the bright light of the sun….Son. What warmth and nourishment it…He…is! – Kenna Bynum
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Evening The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined. Isaiah 9:2
It’s simple. Without light, we can’t see. And we really like to see things. When God became flesh in the person of Jesus, people finally got to see something of God. And the stories we have of Jesus recorded in the Gospels give us today, 2,000 years later, a real glimpse of what God is all about. It’s so easy, in our post-Enlightenment, Scientific Method-loving age to be frustrated by God’s “invisibility.” But people did see Jesus, just as we see each other! When you turn a lamp on in a dark room, you don’t just see the lamp. You see the couch beside it and the coffee table and the dusty picture on the end table. When Jesus came into the world, people didn’t just see Jesus. They saw the realities on which He shed light. The poor, the lonely, the sick, the imprisoned, the marginalized—in Jesus’ light these have Good News. But if the Church doesn’t bring Jesus’ light to the needy, then they’ll have no Good News. In this Advent Season, for those of us who know and live in the light, let’s not forget that there’s still a lot of darkness out there. And there are a lot of artificial lights that shield us from detecting the darkness. The florescent lights of shopping malls will allure us, especially this time of year, to spend excessive amounts of money on things for ourselves and others that in reality no one needs. This seasonal act blinds us to many around the world and in our own city who suffer in the dark. Who will see them? Who will bring them Good News? Church, let’s pray that the Light of the World will envelop us and guide our thoughts and actions. – Will Taylor
62 | Bel Air Presbyterian Church
Morning But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” Luke 2:10–11
The shepherds encountered an extraordinary, never before seen phenomenon…the appearance of an angel and shining GLORY! Their response— they were afraid. The angel must have recognized the look of terror because immediately the angel responds, “don’t be afraid!” Telling someone not to be afraid doesn’t necessarily mean their fear is stopped. But the angels had more to say than this…they shared good news—great news; news of joy…for the shepherds and for all people!
What do you fear? The dark, your death, a conversation, or confrontation? Fear comes to us for many reasons during different seasons of our life. When we are young we may fear the dark or the “monster” in the closet. In our teens, we may fear rejection from a group of friends or fear we won’t fit in. When we apply for college or jobs we may fear we will not be admitted or given a position. Fear can shape our lives and can consume us, and fear can be a motivator to a deeper understanding of who we are and who we are not. Scripture says, “Perfect love casts out fear!” We are loved with a perfect love by Christ Jesus Himself. If we can fully embrace and live into that love—fear will be cast away!
The NEWS was what took away the fear. The NEWS was of the ONE who was born…perfect love laying in a manger, perfect love in the form of a baby…perfect love born to cast out fear. The news of this ONE was giving a name—MESSIAH, the Lord. This One was the One of whom prophets had spoken. What would it take for you to turn your fears to the ONE who is the Messiah—to give your fears to Him, to surrender them to the Lord, to RECEIVE His perfect love for you? (continued on next page)
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I have heard some people say the opposite of fear is courage. But recently I read (I can’t remember where) that the opposite of fear is not courage. I wonder if the absence of fear is freedom and peace. For freedom Christ has set us free! Fear describes a state—not an action; Courage describes an action—not a state. So you can act courageous even in a state of fear. Fear is the state you’re in. Courageous is how you’re acting in that state. The Prince of Peace is born in a manger—to love us—with a perfect love. May you release your fears at the manger where perfect love was born. May freedom and peace be the gifts you receive as you make that release!
64 | Bel Air Presbyterian Church
– The Rev. Care Crawford
Evening His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onwards and for evermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. Isaiah 9:7 Isaiah’s prophecy had an eye towards his immediate context and its hope hung in the future; the coming of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. In Isaiah’s context, however, Hezekiah and Josiah were the reigning kings and therefore likely viewed by those hearing Isaiah as key to the fulfillment of this prophecy. However, something happened; they died.
Jesus’ presence in the world, as spoken by Isaiah, will not be established by oppression and exploitation. His kingdom will bring peace and not war. He will govern with love and not indifference. Unlike the corrupt kings of the world, the Messiah’s dominion will be established and upheld with justice and righteousness. Psalm 89:14 “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before You”.
Through what may have seemed hopeless, God fulfills His prophecy. A divine government is established that will last forever through Jesus Christ, the divine descendant of King David, the Son of God and the Messiah.
What is this “righteousness and justice” that Isaiah is talking about? The words “justice” and “righteousness” are used extensively in the Book of Isaiah and are inextricably related to economic areas of our lives such as financial faithfulness and generosity towards others. For instance, justice is characterized by an unending concern for the needs of the poor and powerless (Isaiah 1:17; 5:16–17; 16:3; 42:3; 58:6–7). Injustice, on the other hand, relates to our greed and oppression towards others who get in the way of our self-interest (1:21-23; 5:7–10; 10:1–3; 61:8). In the same way, righteousness often is articulated in terms of financial faithfulness (33:14–16), care for the poor (11:4), and other acts of kindness and generosity towards others (5:16–17; 42:6–7; 45:8, 13; 46:12–13; 58:6–8). (continued on next page)
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My hope and prayer is that as we celebrate the birth our Savior, Jesus Christ, we will express in our lives the justice and righteousness that He brings into the word. May the Lord deliver us from having our hearts chained to our checkbooks and our souls centered in ourselves. As God gave us the gift of life through the Babe in the manger, we must be the ones who will live the life of Jesus in this world today. May His Kingdom of justice and righteousness (concern for the poor and the powerless) be extended through us as we celebrate Christmas this year and in the years to come.
Prayer: Dear God, Lord Almighty, May your Kingdom of justice and righteousness come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Use me, O Lord, to be Your channel of blessing for the poor, the oppressed, and the powerless I will meet today. In Jesus name!
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â€“ The Rev. Enock De Assis
week of advent
Today we relight the first three candles of the Advent Wreath— the candles of HOPE, PEACE and JOY. Now we light the fourth candle of Advent. This is the candle of LOVE. Jesus demonstrated self-giving love in His ministry as the Good Shepherd. Advent is a time for kindness, thinking of others, and sharing with others. It is a time to love as God loved us by giving us His most precious gift. As God is love, let us be love also. In the Book of Deuteronomy we find these words: For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of Lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:17–19a) From the Gospel of John we hear: I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34–35) Let us pray: Teach us to love, O Lord. May we always remember to put You first as we follow Christ's footsteps, that we may know Your love and show it in our lives. As we prepare for our celebration of Jesus' birth, also fill our hearts with love for the world, that all may know Your love and the one whom You have sent, Your Son, our Savior. Amen.
This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ Luke 2:12 What a wonderful thing it is to be “recognized.” Sometimes, knowing what you are looking for can be a challenge. Place yourselves in the shoes (sandals?) of the shepherds. In first century Palestine shepherds were poor and, in some rabbinic traditions, considered unclean. Yet they were selected to be among the first people to hear about the birth of Jesus. As many scholars point out, the shepherds were obviously frightened, but even more amazed that they had been asked to visit the child. They might have felt they were unworthy were it not for the beautiful signs given to them by the angels: wrapped in cloth (like a peasant would be), and lying in a manger (like many peasant homes). The angels recognized the shepherds as special in God’s eyes, and gave them the encouragement needed to journey on to a life-changing meeting. Reflect: When have you felt challenged to recognize someone new? What ‘signs’ were you given to set you at ease? We are after all a community of believers asked to seek and bless those we meet, strangers and friends alike. Know that God is with you as you venture forth.
– Randy Hess
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Evening And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!” Luke 2:13–14 Luke writes of “a great company of the heavenly host,” the armies of God, appearing before a few poor shepherds, promising that peace is at hand for them and for humankind who love the Lord and rely on Him through their trials and tribulations. God saw fit to honor the common people with the presence of His angels, His soldiers, bearing the gift of peace, the Prince of Peace.
We are in the midst of a war here on earth, fighting an enemy who is armed with not only with physical weaponry, but with words, ideas, images, blaring out to us, calling us as a siren might, luring us with promises of earthly satisfaction. How does one combat an enemy that seeks to destroy our trust in the Lord and capture and bind our hearts, souls, and minds?
The image of an army may seem antithetical to the Lord’s promise of peace, but it corresponds with the image of a shield, where in the Bible we are promised that God will surround the righteous person “with favor as with a shield” (Psalm 5:12, NIV).
We are so blessed that in the midst of battle we can pause and know that a phalanx of God’s angels is surrounding, defending, protecting, and shielding us. I hold close to my heart the promise that I am not forgotten. In my darkest hours, when I find it difficult to lift my eyes from the pavement, I am comforted by the sight of feathers laying on the ground. I am reminded that one of God’s soldiers is walking alongside me. I am not alone. I am covered in the armor of God. And I have been promised peace in Jesus Christ. With the angles we sing, “Glory to God in the highest.” – Cris Rose 2013 Advent Devotional | 69
Morning so there shall be a highway from Assyria for the remnant that is left of His people, as there was for Israel when they came up from the land of Egypt. Isaiah 11:16
Mention the word “highway” to any Angeleno and the reaction is immediate, almost instinctive. Eyes flicker with a moment of dread as a singular question forms, demanding an answer before it is even asked. Nothing else matters in that one moment, because there has never been any question more important in the history of ever: is it rush hour right now? Watches are checked with the same anxious hope of holding a raffle ticket that’s one number away from being a winner; those on the lucky side of 4 p.m. breathe a sigh of relief, while the rest of us resign ourselves to a slow death by numbers. 405. 101. 10. Wait, sorry. The 405. The 101. The 10. In Los Angeles, highways are synonymous with gridlock and waiting. Frustration and wasted time. How does it make sense that the place we want to get to is only a mile away, but Google Maps tells us it’s going to take an hour to get there? The highway Isaiah mentions is one that we’re not familiar with. The road that God provided a terrified Israel on its exodus from Egypt was a path out of captivity and chaos, not into it. A highway of deliverance. Freedom. Progress. A road taken as a community, with friends and neighbors all making the journey together. And the best part? No rush hour. Reflect: What is the highway that God is providing you in your life right now? Are you able to look back and see where God has taken you so far? – Ed Rhee
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Evening When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. Luke 2:17–18 Anyone that is in my life, of all the things they may know about me, will for sure know that I’m a huge Ohio State fan. Whenever there’s a good play, or a great ending to a game, I’m ready to declare it to all who will listen, and even those that won’t.
Being a Christian in Los Angeles, it’s easy to stay within my community and keep to myself. But this Scripture challenges me to take it one step further. If I believe that God is actively pursuing me and is alive and present in my life, then each day provides a way to declare what He is doing. Each day provides a way to brag about the loving, compassionate, gracious God who is my Father. In that experiential knowledge, I can then bring a deep joy, because I know I am loved and accepted by a Holy God. I am His. That deep joy compels me to share the Good News to those that will listen, and even those that won’t. Because, ultimately it isn’t my job to change the hearts of the people I encounter. I just have to proclaim who He is and leave the results up to Him.
In the passage above, I love how the shepherds didn’t think twice about spreading the news that Jesus was born. As soon as they personally saw what the angels said was true, the immediate response was to let anyone and everyone know the Good News. And taking it one step further, the people they told were amazed, astonished, and impressed. I would have loved to have been there for this moment, to see the looks on people’s faces. The shepherds came with experiential knowledge that a Savior had been born. Their joy must have been believable, because they couldn’t make this stuff up.
As we continue on in this Advent season, and with our lives in Los Angeles, how can we, as the Bel Air Church community, spread the joy of who God is in our lives? Every day with Him brings new opportunities for us to share, with whomever God has placed in our lives, the redemptive work He’s doing. – Kim Harmon 2013 Advent Devotional | 71
But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. Luke 2:19
I love the word PONDER—to me it is an invitation to take time, to slow down, to think over and feel the important things in life. What a morning to PONDER. So often Christmas Eve day is busy with final preparation and gatherings, of gift giving and church going, carol singing and if you are a little child, sometimes eager anticipation of tomorrow’s activities opening gifts that may sit under a tree. No time to PONDER it seems! Mary models for us something very simple and beautiful. Amidst all the rush of angels and shepherds and her pregnancy, we are told Mary does something extraordinary—she pauses to ponder, “All these things!” ALL these things. There was so much this young girl had to face, so much she encountered, so much for her to take in. Luke tells us she “kept” them…kept them close in her heart and mind. Have you received news that was too good to be true or seemed rather unbelievable and didn’t know what to do about it? Mary shows us a way of “keeping or holding” what is important, a way to savor it and contemplate it, a way to ponder in the deepest place: in her heart. We live in such a rushed and hurried society that we too often don’t take time to really ponder deeply the things of God. This is what Mary did. She pondered. The dictionary tells us what it means to ponder: To think about (something) carefully, especially before making a decision or reaching a conclusion. It means we think about these things, contemplate them, we consider and review or reflect on these things! In the midst of this day, will you stop and ponder a moment. Ponder the amazing gift of God, given in the Person of Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, born of a virgin—a Baby born to save you! That is something to ponder. Will you ponder this day the immense love of God for you as He enacts His plan for your redemption and salvation? Reflect: What is kept in your heart today? Is it the menu, or the last gift to be wrapped? Is it the struggle with that relative, or the fear that you hide? Mary’s examples ask us to keep in our hearts all the things about Jesus that we know from the Scriptures—and just be with them, contemplate them, pray over them, and ponder them. When we do, our spiritual hearts are enlarged. “Ponder anew, what the almighty can do!” – The Rev. Care Crawford 72 | Bel Air Presbyterian Church
Evening “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. Luke 2:20 I wish I could’ve been on this journey with the shepherds. I wish I had heard them talk about their experience, each one sharing how their personal encounter with the Child in the manger changed their world. The wonder and excitement of it all must have been exhilarating!
This season of Advent has been a time for us to look anew on the wonders of the manger. Take some time this evening and think back on this Advent season. Where did you experience wonder in a new way? For what things are you glorifying and praising God in this season?
This is a season where we celebrate so many things, but most of all we celebrate the gifts the manger has brought into our lives. Tomorrow morning marks an exciting day for us Christians, but it can so often be “trumped” by the busyness and hurry of the morning with opening gifts, making a celebration feast, calling our loved ones to wish them a Merry Christmas, and the like. Though, I wonder if in our busyness and our hurriedness…dare I say our routine and tradition!...we miss an encounter with the Christ Child!
May tomorrow bring a renewed sense of joy and wonder to your Christmas celebration! Prayer: God, We thank You for the wonder of Your Son’s birth. We pray that we may see our Christmas celebration with a new perspective, and that we may glorify and praise You as the shepherds did! Awaken in our hearts tonight, Lord, and fill our spirits with joy. Amen. – Laura Addink
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For a Child has been born for us, a Son given to us; authority rests upon His shoulders; and He is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and His kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of host will do this. Isaiah 9:6–7
Every day more condiments on the grocery store shelves are turned upside down. The new containers are designed to stand on their caps yet the label is right side up. No more watery stuff on top, no messy gunk around the lid, no shaking, just pour! Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem turned our world upside down! That backwater, boring town known as the House of Bread, though a trivial place, became a town of tremendous importance in the redemptive story of God’s grace in Christ. Into a world doubled over with hunger and violence, light flashed into the darkness. The message was, you will call His name Jesus for He will save His people from their sins. Suddenly, our world was turned from the rational to the revelational. We discovered Jesus Christ is the truth we cannot master but a truth before which we can only surrender. God’s answer to meaninglessness was not a program or a principle but a person. Hewn out of the hard rock of adversity came a Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and the Prince of Peace. This was not some spectacular divine trick but an event totally beyond our powers of explanation. For over two thousand years, scholars have marveled at the accuracy of Isaiah’s vision. Today, let Bethlehem seep into your celebration. The writer of the carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” put it succinctly, “How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given.” Let the serenity of this day’s significance wash over you. Your resource for personal peace rests in Jesus Christ. There can be no peace without the Prince.
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Prayer: O God, We acknowledge our gratitude for all our gifts. So how do we thank You for the greatest of all gifts, our Savior, Jesus Christ? We can only offer ourselves. Receive us as we are, yet change us into what we should be. By the power of Your Spirit, use us as instruments of Your healing peace in our hurting world. Use us again O Lord, to be participants as You continue to turn this world upside down for the sake of Your glory. In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.
â€“ The Rev. Dr. David McKechnie
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Merry Christmas! I hope that this Advent Devotional has blessed you with the presence of Jesus each and every day and that the reflections shared on these pages have been used of God to make your heart ready for your Christmas celebration. What a gift to have these four weeks to focus and prepare to look again in the manger and see the incarnation made known to us in the form of the Christ Child! This one birth, this One baby has changed everything!
May the Lord of Life born for us, born for you this Christmas day bring you blessing. May you sit in His presence and recognize the wonder and love He gives and longs for us to receive. A very Merry Christmas to you and joy in the New Year ahead, too! Warmly,
I want to thank each person, again who participated in this devotional. And I especially want to thank the staff with whom I work in the Congregational Life Department, specifically Laura Addink. Our Communications Department, Heidi Launer and Donna McNamara, have provided the layout, editing, printing, and production of this booklet. It is a blessing to work with all of these women of great grace.
The Rev. Care Crawford
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Celebrate the Season
11.24–12.22 Gifts from the Heart Give the gift of helping others in the city and around the world. Be a part of this amazing tradition at Bel Air. Drop by the Connection Booth to pick up a catalog and place an order, or order online at belairpres.org/catalog
Celebrate the Season
12.6 Christmas Decorating 9 a.m.–2 p.m. >> Come listen to Christmas music, make new friends and have fun decorating the Sanctuary for Christmas! Hot cocoa and other snacks will be served. Contact Kristen (firstname.lastname@example.org). 12.7 Women’s Christmas Tea Women of all ages are invited to come out to celebrate what has become an annual holiday tradition at Bel Air! Registration is required. >> belairpres.org/registration 12.1 Advent Wreath Making 10:15 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. > DC101 >> Join us after the 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. services to create your Advent Wreath. It’s fun for the whole family. Register online for an Advent Wreath ($15) at belairpres.org/registration. 12.2 & 9 Advent and Art 10–11:30 a.m. >> Prepare your spirit to celebrate the birth of our Savior. Using art depicting the Christmas story and music, you will be led in a devotional and contemplative way to consider the birth of Jesus. Bring a Bible and something to write on. Lead by the The Rev. Care Crawford. >> belairpres.org/registration
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12.15 Christmas @ Bel Air Worship > 9 &11 a.m. > Sanctuary Worship > 6 p.m. > Disc. Center Concert > 7 p.m. > Sanctuary Christmas @ Bel Air is an opportunity for the Bel Air family, friends, and the whole community to celebrate the season with the Worship Choir, Band, Orchestra, Drama Dept., and the Children’s Christmas Choir. Invite your friends and come ready to join in the singing of some of your favorite carols!
12.23 Water’s Edge Christmas Eve Eve Candlelight Service December 23 > 7 p.m. > Vistamar School Auditorium > El Segundo >> An intimate Christmas service with music and Christmas themed Scripture readings. >> watersedgewired.org 12.24 Christmas Eve Services 5 p.m., 7:30 p.m., & 10 p.m. >> Bring your family and friends to one of our Christmas Eve services. Family service at 5 p.m., Candlelight services at 7:30 & 10 p.m. There will be children’s programming for ages 3 mos.–3 years at the 5 & 7:30 p.m. services. >> belairpres.org/christmaseve
Worship with Us Sunday, December 1 9 & 11 a.m., 6 p.m. Speaker: The Rev. Keenan Barber Sunday, December 8 9 & 11 a.m., 6 p.m. Speaker: The Rev. Dr. David G. McKechnie
Sunday, December 22 9 & 11 a.m., 6 p.m. Speaker: The Rev. Dr. David G. McKechnie
Worship with Us
Sunday, December 15 9 & 11 a.m., 6 p.m. Christmas Worship Celebration Speaker: The Rev. Dr. David G. McKechnie 7 p.m. Christmas Concert: Great Joy for All People!
Christmas Eve Worship Tuesday, December 24 5, 7:30 & 10 p.m. Speaker: The Rev. Dr. David G. McKechnie Sunday, December 29 9 & 11 a.m. only Speaker: The Rev. Kim Dorr-Tilley No 6 p.m. Service
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ÂŠ 2013 Bel Air Presbyterian Church 16221 Mulholland Drive . Los Angeles, California 90049 belairpres.org .  788 4200
Published on Nov 19, 2013