THE NAMES OF JESUS
A DAILY DEVOTIONAL FOR ADVENT 2019
FRONTIER FELLOWSHIP CONNECTS FOLLOWERS OF JESUS TO ENGAGE THE WORLD’S LEAST-REACHED PEOPLES + PLACES WITH THE GOOD NEWS OF HIS KINGDOM. THROUGH INTERCULTURAL PARTNERSHIPS, WE’RE WORKING FOR THE FLOURISHING OF COMMUNITIES + CREATING AVENUES OF ACCESS TO THE GOSPEL FOR THOSE STILL WAITING TO HEAR IT.
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CONTRIBUTORS URGESSA BIRU JOHN CHASE TARA CHASE BRAD COON TALIILEE FIQRUU JEN HADDOX RICHARD HANEY GWEN HASPELS JOHN HASPELS BRIAN HEBERT KRISTIN HUFFMAN RITA JOHNSON CAROLINE KURTZ MICHAEL LUDWIG RACHEL LUDWIG DONALD MARSDEN DAN MCNERNEY NERGUI S. DENISE SCIUTO HANNAH TEAGUE BOB VON SCHIMMELMANN NANCY VON SCHIMMELMANN CODY WATSON JENNY ROSE WILSON CINDY WU Stories are based on true events. Some names + details have been changed for our partners’ security.
© 2019 FRONTIER FELLOWSHIP
TABLE OF CONTENTS INTRODUCTION ............................................................................................................ 2 DAY 1: WORD OF GOD ..................................................................................................... 3 DAY 2: MESSIAH ........................................................................................................... 4 DAY 3: GOOD SHEPHERD ............................................................................................... 5 DAY 4: BREAD OF LIFE .................................................................................................... 6 DAY 5: SOWER .............................................................................................................. 7 DAY 6: EVERLASTING FATHER ........................................................................................ 8 DAY 7: MAN OF SORROWS .............................................................................................. 9 DAY 8: VINE ................................................................................................................. 10 DAY 9: TEACHER .......................................................................................................... 11 DAY 10: FRIEND ........................................................................................................... 12 DAY 11: BELOVED ......................................................................................................... 13 DAY 12: THE WAY ......................................................................................................... 14 DAY 13: KING OF KINGS ................................................................................................. 15 DAY 14: LAMB OF GOD .................................................................................................. 16 DAY 15: REDEEMER ...................................................................................................... 17 DAY 16: HEALER .......................................................................................................... 18 DAY 17: ADVOCATE ...................................................................................................... 19 DAY 18: PIONEER + PERFECTER .................................................................................... 20 DAY 19: STRANGER ...................................................................................................... 21 DAY 20: RESURRECTION + LIFE .................................................................................... 22 DAY 21: PRINCE OF PEACE ............................................................................................ 23 DAY 22: EMMANUEL ................................................................................................... 24 DAY 23: MEDIATOR .................................................................................................... 25 DAY 24: LIGHT OF THE WORLD ...................................................................................... 26 DAY 25: SAVIOR ......................................................................................................... 27
LONG AGO GOD SPOKE MANY TIMES + IN MANY WAYS TO OUR ANCESTORS THROUGH THE PROPHETS. AND NOW IN THESE FINAL DAYS, HE HAS SPOKEN TO US THROUGH HIS SON. GOD PROMISED EVERYTHING TO THE SON AS AN INHERITANCE, + THROUGH THE SON HE CREATED THE UNIVERSE. THE SON RADIATES GOD’S OWN GLORY + EXPRESSES THE VERY CHARACTER OF GOD, + HE SUSTAINS EVERYTHING BY THE MIGHTY POWER OF HIS COMMAND. WHEN HE HAD CLEANSED US FROM OUR SINS, HE SAT DOWN IN THE PLACE OF HONOR AT THE RIGHT HAND OF THE MAJESTIC GOD IN HEAVEN. —HEBREWS 1:1–3 (NLT)
INTRODUCTION LONG AGO, GOD SPOKE MANY TIMES + IN MANY WAYS TO OUR ANCESTORS THROUGH THE PROPHETS…
The book of Hebrews opens with a look at God’s history of promises to His people across generations, preparing them to recognize the signs of the Savior who would one day come to rescue the world He so loved. Jesus, the Word through whom creation came into existence (John 1:1–4), became God’s definitive, redemptive Word to us. At Christmas, we celebrate the revelation of Jesus—once an ancient prophecy given to our spiritual forebears, now received by us through His arrival into human history. At the same time, we look to the world’s physical and spiritual frontiers, where more than two billion people are still waiting to hear this Good News. In the following pages, we consider some of the names of Jesus found throughout scripture, celebrating His embodiment of God’s grace that ushered in the dawn of a new Kingdom. As the exact imprint of God’s nature, in whom His fullness was pleased to dwell (Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1:19), Jesus invites us to know and experience all the generosity of the Father through Him. The Advent season’s twin realities of anticipation and joy remind us of the tension of the now-and-not-yet of God’s Kingdom. We celebrate the flourishing life Jesus came to bring while looking toward His final redemption and restoration of creation. The Good News God promised long ago—then announced to shepherds one astonishing night—remains Good News for all people, for all the ages to come. Perhaps you’re exploring for the first time what you think about Jesus. Or maybe you’re longing for a renewed sense of appreciation and wonder for the gift of God, who put on flesh and came to live among us. Wherever you find yourself at the start of this Advent season, we invite you to listen for how He’s still speaking today. The glory that broke forth in Bethlehem was only the beginning of the kindness God has yet to show us (Ephesians 2:7).
S U N DAY 1 2/ 0 1
WORD OF GOD IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE WORD, AND THE WORD WAS WITH GOD, AND THE WORD WAS GOD. —JOHN 1:1 (NRSV)
Words have power, for better or for worse. You’re stupid. You’re lazy. You’ll never amount to anything. Such words create a hostile, suffocating environment. I love you. You’re beautiful. I’m glad you’re here. These words have the power to transform, creating a world of possibilities. The only home six-year-old Vaani had ever known was an orphanage in northern India. She mostly kept to herself. Small for her age and deaf, she was frequently picked on by the other children. One day, a volunteer read to the children from a Bible storybook. Cautiously, and much to everyone’s surprise, Vaani sat down right next to her. The volunteer continued reading, “For God loves Vaani so much that He gave His only Son…” (John 3:16). One of the older children objected, “This little girl is no good. She’s deaf and dumb and can’t even read. Send her away.” The volunteer looked at Vaani. “She may not be able to hear my words, but I bet she can understand this.” She threw her arms around Vaani and embraced her as if to say, You’re special. You’re welcome here. And the Word became flesh. In the beginning, it was God’s life-creating Word (logos, in Greek) who spoke “Let there be light” into the void, cast the stars in their courses and flung the planets into being. When sin overwhelmed creation, it was the same reconciling Word who spoke truth and promise through the prophets and scriptures. This Word ultimately gave Himself—not only speaking His love to the world, but putting His words into action. During Advent, we celebrate God’s Word coming to us through Jesus. But Advent also reminds us that He’s still speaking, still creating. And His Word will one day return to finally re-create and restore all things. More than two billion people still wait to hear God’s life-giving Word and know His love through Jesus. How can you use your words to create a kinder world in which others experience His grace? 3
MO NDAY 1 2 /0 2
MESSIAH THE WOMAN SAID TO HIM, “I KNOW THAT MESSIAH IS COMING” (WHO IS CALLED CHRIST). “WHEN HE COMES, HE WILL PROCLAIM ALL THINGS TO US.” JESUS SAID TO HER, “I AM HE, THE ONE WHO IS SPEAKING TO YOU.” —JOHN 4:25–26 (NRSV)
Ancient prophecies foretold the coming of the Messiah (or Christ). He would be the Anointed One of God, the King and Priest who would set all things right in the world. From Herod and the wise men (Matthew 2:1–6) to two criminals on crosses (Luke 23:39–43), people from all walks of life wondered whether or not Jesus was the one. According to Jewish protocol, the exchange between Jesus and the woman at the well (John 4:1–42) ought never to have happened. Men and women didn’t mix outside of family. And a centuries-old enmity between Jewish people and Samaritans encouraged avoidance at all costs. Why would Jesus, a respected Jewish rabbi, linger with a Samaritan woman of questionable repute? Could it be He’s the kind of Messiah no one expected, one who turns the status quo upside down? In the radical act of speaking with her, He reveals His Kingdom as the place where divisions are healed, truth is told, grace is extended and outsiders find dignity. The Samaritan woman’s heart opens to respond to a new reality. Could this be the Messiah? She races back to tell her neighbors the Good News. Today in refugee camps in the Middle East, many Muslims, including imams (religious leaders), are having similar encounters with Jesus. After losing everything, including their occupations and nearly all routines of their normal lives, they often have little else to do but spend their days thinking and talking. The extreme claims and actions of radical Islam have shaken them to the core. Many seek another way and are inquiring about Isa al-Masih (Jesus the Messiah), one of Islam’s most beloved prophets. Who is this Messiah? As Christian refugees and relief workers engage with them in conversations about Jesus, the Holy Spirit is breathing life and revelation into His name. Like the Samaritan woman, those hearing the Good News of the Messiah can’t wait to tell their communities, and many are responding in faith because of their testimony. Read Luke 1:76–79. Ask God to show you how to embrace His call to be a messenger of this Good News. How will you help prepare the way for Jesus to be received among the least-reached peoples of the earth? 4
T U E SDAY 1 2/ 0 3
GOOD SHEPHERD “I AM THE GOOD SHEPHERD. I KNOW MY OWN AND MY OWN KNOW ME, JUST AS THE FATHER KNOWS ME AND I KNOW THE FATHER. AND I LAY DOWN MY LIFE FOR THE SHEEP. I HAVE OTHER SHEEP THAT DO NOT BELONG TO THIS FOLD. I MUST BRING THEM ALSO, AND THEY WILL LISTEN TO MY VOICE. SO THERE WILL BE ONE FLOCK, ONE SHEPHERD.” —JOHN 10:14–16 (NRSV)
As a boy in South Sudan, Alek spent his days shepherding his family’s livestock. He led them to the nearest and best sources of food and water. He kept them safe from predators and other dangers. He gave each of them nicknames and knew all their unique markings. His family’s wellbeing depended on his ability to know and care for their flocks. I am the Good Shepherd. Coming from a pastoral society, the disciples must have resonated with Jesus’ use of this metaphor. Here Jesus alludes to Himself as a shepherd of scattered people. His mission— which will eventually cost Him His life—is to rescue and gather everyone into the household of God. He creates a mutual and intimate belonging between God and humanity. He’s a Good Shepherd like no other. Alek is now a young pastor, shepherding a different kind of flock: people who want to follow Jesus. He also started an orphanage to protect and nurture vulnerable children. Tragically, famine and conflict have displaced 4.3 million people from South Sudan in recent years. More than 1.5 million have been forced to seek refuge in neighboring nations, including Alek and members of his community. Families have been separated. They’ve lost everything: relatives, friends, homes, livestock and livelihoods. Today Alek travels between refugee camps looking for unaccompanied minors and orphans, including those who fled his orphanage when violence broke out in their town. He’s gathering them into foster families to ensure their safety and care and dreams of helping them return to South Sudan someday. Alek is pouring out his life on behalf of the people God has placed in his charge—a beautiful witness to Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Imagine Bethlehem’s shepherds gathered around the newborn Jesus that starry night long ago. Did they know that He’d grow up to be a shepherd, too? Could the bleating of their flocks nearby remind us of the cries of a world calling out for a God who satisfies every need (Psalm 23)? Like these shepherds at the first Christmas, what inspires awe as you consider the Good News of a Savior? How is God asking you to respond to the cries of His most vulnerable sheep in your community or around the world? 5
BREAD OF LIFE JESUS SAID TO THEM, “I AM THE BREAD OF LIFE. WHOEVER COMES TO ME WILL NEVER BE HUNGRY, AND WHOEVER BELIEVES IN ME WILL NEVER BE THIRSTY.” —JOHN 6:35 (NRSV)
No jobs in town, debts piling up, no bread for the table. Umid had no choice but to leave his wife and young children behind in Kyrgyzstan to find work. He got a construction job in St. Petersburg and shares an apartment with 20 other men. He sends money home for his family’s basic needs and tries to save enough to build an addition to their small house when he returns home. Internet access and a computer? Zarya knew her teenage daughters would do better in life with an education, but she struggled to make ends meet. She cried all the way from Tajikistan to Moscow. It would be months before she’d see her girls again. She cleans an office building at night and, though exhausted and lonely, earns enough to keep her daughters in school. Umid and Zarya are among the 4.5 million primarily Central Asian labor migrants in Russia. They work on construction sites and in oil fields, in markets and cafés, as housekeepers, nannies and live-in nurses. Driven by a lack of jobs, low wages and discriminatory labor practices in their home countries, they seek opportunities not only for their families’ survival, but for a better future. John 6:1–15 tells of a large crowd that ate its fill of bread Jesus miraculously provided. The next day, they sought Him out again, looking for something more. They may have recalled how God, through Moses, provided manna to sustain the Israelites in the wilderness (Exodus 16). Perhaps this Jesus was God’s new agent for “daily bread.” I am the bread of life. After urging them to work for food that won’t spoil, Jesus states He is heaven’s everlasting bread, the food that will satiate us forever. In His broken body and shed blood, we find God’s ultimate provision and humanity’s best opportunity for true, flourishing life. Central Asian Christians are introducing migrants like Umid and Zarya to Jesus as the Bread of Life, the source of eternal provision. Pray for migrants to take hold of this hope for their weary hearts. Consider your own spiritual hunger this Christmas season. In what ways do you long for Jesus to nourish and sustain you? 6
SOWER “A FARMER WENT OUT TO PLANT SOME SEEDS. AS HE SCATTERED THEM...SOME SEEDS FELL ON A FOOTPATH.... OTHER SEEDS FELL ON SHALLOW SOIL....OTHER SEEDS FELL ON FERTILE SOIL, AND THEY PRODUCED A CROP THAT WAS THIRTY, SIXTY, AND EVEN A HUNDRED TIMES AS MUCH AS HAD BEEN PLANTED! ANYONE WITH EARS TO HEAR SHOULD LISTEN AND UNDERSTAND.” —MATTHEW 13:3B–9 (NLT)
Nergui, raised in a nomad family in Mongolia, missed the countryside after moving to the city for university. But she quickly made friends and was excelling in her studies to become a teacher. Identifying her potential, a professor invited her to attend a conference for young leaders. After several days of dialogue and presentations, the event coordinators surprisingly showed The Jesus Film. This movie (made in 1979) presents the story of Jesus’ life and ministry and has been translated into more than 1,700 languages, including Nergui’s Mongolian dialect. The audience was packed with many bright, promising young people, mostly from Buddhist backgrounds. Nergui’s heart was among a few open to the Holy Spirit’s work that day. She became struck by the power of God in creation and began to consider this new story, eventually recognizing Him as her creator. She soon met other followers of Jesus, who faithfully walked with her as her faith deepened. Nergui became passionately committed to helping others know Jesus, and for a number of years, spent her summers visiting nomad villages to scatter seeds of the Gospel. She and a team gathered groups of nomads into gers (portable traditional dwellings) and shared The Jesus Film, praying the Sower would find good soil. Jesus’ parable of the soils or seeds could also be called the parable of the extravagant sower. This unique sower, unlike any traditional farmer who would carefully place seeds in the ground, scattered them with seemingly reckless abandon. Some places were unfit or unready to receive the seeds—the message of God’s Kingdom. But some of the soil, like Nergui’s heart that day years ago, was fertile and ready, and the scattered seed took root and flourished. God, the extravagant sower, is still scattering Kingdom seeds in countless and miraculous ways around the world. Is your heart open to how He wants to nurture the growth of your faith? Where is God calling you to be more generous with His Good News?
F R I DAY 1 2/0 6
EVERLASTING FATHER 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 9:6 (NRSV)
Yes, Baba. Sani took the bag of rice from his father’s hands and made his way through the bustling streets of Niamey, Niger, to the home of a recently widowed neighbor. Baba was a devout Muslim and good father, working hard to provide for the family. He also cared for the well-being of their community, especially those in need. Maybe that’s why so many men come by each day asking Baba questions. Sani sometimes overheard those conversations, soaking in Baba’s wise counsel from the next room. His heart was full of love and admiration for his father and the many lessons he was learning from him about life and faith. I want to be like him when I grow up. In Isaiah’s time, the father was the head of the household, responsible for ensuring the care of his family. Israel’s kings were considered “fathers” of the nation. In this context, it’s little wonder the Bible uses so much imagery to describe God as a good father. He provides for and protects His people. He leads with wisdom, discipline and love. He defines Israel’s identity, creates a place of belonging and promises a future inheritance. Scripture also teaches that God the Father is especially attentive to the needs of widows, orphans and other vulnerable members of society. Isaiah points to the birth of a son—a coming king who would be named, among other titles, Everlasting Father. This king would reflect all the qualities of a good father. He would be reliable and steadfast in his leadership. His protection and provision would endure over time and throughout generations. Christians find the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in Jesus, the Son of God sent to earth as “the visible image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 NLT). He leads us to reconciled relationship with God the Father. And He reconciles humans to each other, creating a new family in which all people find a place of belonging. Through Jesus, we’re able to see the Father (John 14:8–11) and claim our inheritance as daughters and sons of God (2 Corinthians 6:18). Just as Sani experienced the love of a good father, take time today to remember your identity as God’s beloved child. Thank Him for giving you a place of belonging, and pray for families like Sani’s to encounter the love of the Everlasting Father through Jesus. 8
SATURDAY 12/0 7
MAN OF SORROWS HE WAS DESPISED AND REJECTED BY MEN, A MAN OF SORROWS AND ACQUAINTED WITH GRIEF; AND AS ONE FROM WHOM MEN HIDE THEIR FACES HE WAS DESPISED, AND WE ESTEEMED HIM NOT. —ISAIAH 53:3 (ESV)
Philip was born into India’s Dalit caste, which is ostracized by and excluded from society in many ways. When he was eight years old, the high-caste village teacher allowed Philip to attend school. But he made him sit in the back of the classroom on a stack of dried cow patties used as fuel—for the entire year. Philip wanted to fit in. He tried to play tag with the other children, but nobody would touch him, believing he was unclean. They called him demeaning names and ignored him. Adults were also cruel, including a storekeeper who forced him to wash his rupees before allowing him to buy milk. He, along with others in his caste, was despised and rejected, suffering lifelong abuse. Through the Holy Spirit’s work, Philip became a Christian. He committed his life to sharing the hope of Jesus with other Dalits. He drew strength from knowing that like him, Jesus had suffered greatly, too. Sorrow is part of the human condition. We live in a sinful and broken world full of rejection, loss and pain. We’ve all experienced suffering and grief and have seen injustices committed against groups of people. At times, our woundedness can even cause us to become perpetrators of hurt toward others. Isaiah writes of the anticipated Messiah who will one day come to save God’s people. Isaiah’s prophecies describe Him with words of power, strength and righteousness. But Isaiah also includes what are known as the “servant songs,” portraying the Messiah as a suffering servant. In the course of bringing hope and healing to the world, Jesus would also endure rejection, pain, humiliation and death. Jesus willingly suffered on our behalf, becoming acquainted with grief to welcome us into the abundant life of His Kingdom. We can take comfort when we honestly share our pain with Him and open ourselves to His healing grace. Make this your prayer today: Lord, I offer all I am to You, inviting You into even the most painful places of my life. May Your joy and light break through my suffering by the power of Christ. Help me sit with others in their suffering and offer the hope and promise of Your Good News. 9
S U N DAY 1 2 /0 8
VINE “ABIDE IN ME AS I ABIDE IN YOU. JUST AS THE BRANCH CANNOT BEAR FRUIT BY ITSELF UNLESS IT ABIDES IN THE VINE, NEITHER CAN YOU UNLESS YOU ABIDE IN ME. I AM THE VINE, YOU ARE THE BRANCHES. THOSE WHO ABIDE IN ME AND I IN THEM BEAR MUCH FRUIT, BECAUSE APART FROM ME YOU CAN DO NOTHING.” —JOHN 15:4–5 (NRSV)
Batu, a 12-year-old Mongolian nomad, sits on a motorcycle watching his family’s sheep graze contentedly in the afternoon sun. He ponders today’s news: his family group will pack up their six gers (portable traditional dwellings) tomorrow and move to a new location. With the weather growing colder and a few snow flurries beginning, it’s time. He knows the vital importance of his family sticking together wherever they go. They simply wouldn’t make it through the winter without the support and companionship of one another. Batu loves the close connection he feels to his parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins. Although they live in a remote region, there’s always something to do and someone to talk or play with. He can’t imagine life without them. The night before Jesus died, He and His disciples had a life-defining conversation. Knowing the ways their trust in Him would be challenged following His return to heaven, Jesus wanted them to understand the importance of staying connected with Him and each other. I am the vine; you are the branches. The disciples likely recognized from scripture Jesus’ familiar reference to the nation of Israel. Prophets had long lamented Israel’s repeated failure to find their source of life in God and bear fruit. Jesus knew His disciples—then and now—would fail, too. Abide in Me. The Message translates this phrase, “Make yourself at home in Me.” The basis of abiding is belonging, with one another and to one another. Our ability to abide begins with and continues by the grace of Jesus, the Vine. Though we will undoubtedly struggle at times to remain connected to Him, His commitment to us will always endure. Like Batu’s family depending on one another for connection and ultimate survival, we’re called to intimate reliance on Jesus. He’s the source of flourishing life, the provider of every nutrient we need to grow strong in Him and bear fruit for His Kingdom. Where do you want to experience a deeper sense of abiding? Ask for God’s grace to draw you nearer and help you grow. What fruit do you see blossoming from your relationship with Jesus? Thank God for it, and invite Him to show you how to help others find life in Him. 10
MO NDAY 1 2 /0 9
TEACHER THE PEOPLE WERE AMAZED AT HIS TEACHING, BECAUSE HE TAUGHT THEM AS ONE WHO HAD AUTHORITY, NOT AS THE TEACHERS OF THE LAW. —MARK 1:22 (NIV)
Eight-year-old Gamachu and his older sister, Arfasa, have 10 brothers and sisters. Life in their large family is busy with daily tasks: taking care of the animals, fetching water, gathering firewood and going to the market. But today is a special day, and they’re running as fast as they can toward their new school. Formal education has never been available near their village until now—a school with three teachers! Their father said they can go to school in the mornings and do their chores in the afternoon. Their teacher knows so many things and has already learned their names and taught Gamachu and Arfasa how to write them in a notebook. In the classroom, even with the heat of the sun beating through the door, Gamachu is mesmerized by everything the teacher says. He knows his entire life will be different because of her. He can’t wait to get to class each day. Gamachu and Arfasa are two of the thousands of children receiving an education for the first time, thanks to a Christian ministry building primary schools and providing teachers to the Arsi Oromo people of south-central Ethiopia. The teachers, many of them Christians, move into villages and live among the people they serve. Children are learning to read and write, opening up new possibilities for their futures. And entire communities are learning about God’s love through Jesus by the example of the teachers in their midst. Jesus’ followers called him Rabbi (teacher) and looked to Him to learn how to live. Rabbis were an important part of the fabric of Jewish life, teaching what they had learned from God through the law and the prophets. But this teacher, Jesus, spoke with a new kind of authority— as one sent by God to live among humanity and teach the ways of His Kingdom with love, grace and power. How long has it been since you’ve “run to school” to learn from Jesus? Was it this morning, or last Sunday, or five years ago or maybe never? Open your heart and mind to learn from Him today. Ask Him to use the example of your life—all you’ve learned from Him and who you’ve become—to powerfully proclaim the Good News to those around you.
10 TU ESDAY 1 2 /1 0
FRIEND “I DO NOT CALL YOU SERVANTS ANY LONGER, BECAUSE THE SERVANT DOES NOT KNOW WHAT THE MASTER IS DOING; BUT I HAVE CALLED YOU FRIENDS, BECAUSE I HAVE MADE KNOWN TO YOU EVERYTHING THAT I HAVE HEARD FROM MY FATHER.” —JOHN 15:15 (NRSV)
Just before Christmas a few years ago, the Johnson family participated in a program to welcome refugees to Houston, Texas. They received some details about the Al-Fayli family from Iraq and went shopping for practical and fun presents for each family member. They wrapped the gifts and drove to the Al-Faylis’ apartment to meet them for the first time. The kids in both families were close in age and hit it off quickly. Soon the two families began to spend more time together. At first, the Johnsons focused on helping the Al-Faylis get accustomed to life in the US, showing them how to navigate the city and assisting with paperwork, job searches, school and finances. As time passed, the families grew closer. They celebrated birthdays and holidays together. The Al-Faylis’ son joined the Johnsons’ sons at summer camp a few times, and this past summer he said yes to the invitation to follow Jesus. The Johnsons are now helping him find a church near his home. Last New Year’s Eve, the Al-Faylis hosted the Johnsons with a wonderful array of Iraqi food and backyard fireworks. What began as an act of service on the Johnsons’ part has become a mutually supportive and meaningful friendship. Both families are grateful for one another and look forward to many more years of friendship. In Jesus’ last conversation with His disciples, He made a surprising claim, redefining their relationship with Him from the realm of servants to friends. Friends? With Jesus, the teacher, miracle worker and Messiah? Like the disciples, we too might wonder how the Almighty God of the universe could desire friendship with us. The great news of Christmas is that Jesus has chosen us. “Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love” (Ephesians 1:4 MSG). Think about what the gift of God’s friendship means to you this Christmas season. How can you be a friend to immigrants or others in your community who need support?
BELOVED “HERE IS MY SERVANT, WHOM I HAVE CHOSEN, MY BELOVED, WITH WHOM MY SOUL IS WELL PLEASED. I WILL PUT MY SPIRIT UPON HIM, AND HE WILL PROCLAIM JUSTICE TO THE GENTILES.” —MATTHEW 12:18 (NRSV)
Sarah, a recent graduate from the University of Oklahoma, had been teaching English for six months in a girls’ school in Bukhara, a city in central Uzbekistan. As one of the few Western teachers, she was lonely and discouraged. While she enjoyed teaching and loved her students, she felt disconnected from the community she served, like the foreigner she actually was. After a particularly challenging day working on English sentence structure with her students, she sat at her desk to write her mom a tearful email. Fatemah, one of the girls in her class, peeked her head in the door. Sarah-Joon, may I enter? It was unusual for a student to return to class after school let out, but even more surprising was the way Fatemah said her name: Sarah-Joon. Sarah’s heart leapt with joy. You see, in Persian culture, adding Joon (soul, spirit) to a name indicates a sense of closeness and intimacy as one dear to another’s heart. Sarah, embracing her newfound feeling of belovedness through the words of her young student, opened her arms and invited Fatemah in. Jesus, the beloved Son of God, loves us more than we can know or imagine. In the New Testament, the word “beloved” is used exclusively for one who is dearly loved by God or by the community of faith. It’s more than mere affection. It conveys the truest sense of inclusion and belonging within the arms of God and His people. Today as you interact with others in person, by text, on a phone call or by email, practice thinking of them as God’s beloved and seeing them through His eyes. Imagine adding the word “Joon” or “beloved” to their name, and thank God for loving them so dearly. Do the same as you catch your own reflection in a window or mirror. You are God’s beloved. You belong to Him. He sent Jesus, the Beloved, to earth out of His great love for you and the entire world (John 3:16–17). See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are....Beloved, we are God’s children now.… —1 John 3:1–2a (ESV) 13
THE WAY JESUS SAID TO HIM, “I AM THE WAY, AND THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE. NO ONE COMES TO THE FATHER EXCEPT THROUGH ME. IF YOU KNOW ME, YOU WILL KNOW MY FATHER ALSO. FROM NOW ON YOU DO KNOW HIM AND HAVE SEEN HIM.” —JOHN 14:6–7 (NRSV)
Jesus knew His disciples were distressed. Suggestions of betrayal, abandonment and death had disturbed what might have otherwise been an ordinary Passover feast. Do not let your hearts be troubled. Though He would be with them only a little longer, He assured the disciples He was going to prepare a place for them in His Father’s house where they would one day reunite. In fact, He said they already knew the way to the place to which He was going. Lord, we don’t know where You’re going. Finding their way home to God and entering close fellowship with Him again—the life Adam and Eve enjoyed briefly with God in the Garden of Eden—seemed an impossible hope. Like Israelites throughout the centuries, the disciples looked to the law, diligently following its regulations and rituals as the guide for maintaining God’s covenant with them. But the way back home to Him, forever? Lord, how can we know the way? I am the way. Jesus began His earthly ministry with the compelling invitation: Come, follow Me. Now, near the end of His life on earth, He again invites them to come and see. If you want to know the Father, look to Me. I am the way back home to God! In the Chicago area, a group of Christians and Muslims meets regularly to study their holy books together and discuss what it means to follow God. Inquiry and exploration are encouraged. Trust has grown, along with an appreciation and love for one another. As they seek the way of God together—asking for truth, yearning for life—Jesus’ invitation to come and see echoes within their interfaith dialogue. Some of these Muslims are beginning to see Him in a new light. Jesus is the Way to knowing God intimately. He’s not only the entry point; He also continues to lead our way to fullness of life with God here and now. This is Good News we’re called to share—introducing Jesus to a waiting world so that many more people will find in Him the way back home to abundant life in His Kingdom. How is Jesus calling you to come and see more of God this Christmas season? How can you introduce Him to others? Consider inviting someone who doesn’t yet know Him to a Christmas Eve service or a holiday celebration with your family. 14
13 F R I DAY 1 2/1 3
KING OF KINGS HE…IS THE BLESSED AND ONLY SOVEREIGN, THE KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. IT IS HE ALONE WHO HAS IMMORTALITY AND DWELLS IN UNAPPROACHABLE LIGHT, WHOM NO ONE HAS EVER SEEN OR CAN SEE; TO HIM BE HONOR AND ETERNAL DOMINION. AMEN. —1 TIMOTHY 6:15B–16 (NRSV)
Every culture has its heroes—women and men, gods and mythical creatures who act for the wellbeing of their people. Sometimes these heroes are historical figures or the gods and goddesses of religious tradition. Other times they’re the legends of human longing, the kinds of heroes we need but haven’t yet seen. Most often, our heroes gain their reputations by rescuing people from the clutches of evil. In the hero story, good wins in the end. One of Hinduism’s heroes, Rama, is the seventh avatar (or incarnation) of the god Vishnu. While still a prince, he married the beautiful princess Sita, but his stepmother soon banished them from the kingdom so her own son could inherit the throne. Years into their exile, Sita was abducted by Ravana, king of demons, and imprisoned on an island. Rama rallied an army (including a host of monkeys and bears) to help him save her. They built a bridge to the island, attacked Ravana’s army and killed the demon king, freeing Sita and reuniting her with Rama. The couple returned triumphantly to their homeland, where Rama assumed the throne and ushered in a golden age for humankind. Christianity’s hero—and God’s resounding answer to the problem of evil—is Jesus. He’s the first and only incarnation of God, a good King who enters the world as a newborn baby. As He grows, Jesus demonstrates strength through humility and compassion, as well as by His authority over nature, disease and death. When evil forces take His life, Jesus defeats death and rises from the grave. His sacrifice becomes the bridge that rescues humanity and reunites people with God. At the end of time, Jesus—the King of kings and Lord of lords—ushers in God’s never-ending Kingdom of peace. Read Psalm 24 and consider its question, “Who is this King of glory?” For which aspects of His sovereignty are you most grateful? People around the world are looking for a hero with the power and will to save them. Pray for them to hear the story of how Jesus rescued creation and promises an eternal reign in which evil will triumph no more.
LAMB OF GOD THE NEXT DAY [JOHN] SAW JESUS COMING TOWARD HIM, AND SAID, “BEHOLD, THE LAMB OF GOD, WHO TAKES AWAY THE SIN OF THE WORLD!” —JOHN 1:29 (ESV)
The word “reindeer” often brings to mind images of sleighs, jingling bells and a kind-hearted, jolly old man who delivers Christmas gifts to children all over the world. But to the Nenets of Siberia, reindeer are much more than folklore—reindeer are life. Nenets and their reindeer migrate more than 600 miles every year across northern Russia’s arctic tundra. Along this isolated journey, reindeer provide companionship, transportation and sustenance. Their meat is a source of nutrition. Hides are fashioned into clothing and shelter suitable for survival in one of the harshest climates on earth. Reindeer also feature significantly in Nenet religious life. They’re sacrificed to keep peace with the spirits who rule creation, invoking good fortune. Twice a year, a white reindeer is offered in worship to Num, the spirit of the sky and creator of all things. The Israelites understood the role of animal sacrifice in keeping peace with God. So when John the Baptist announced Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” listeners likely thought of Passover. During this annual commemoration of Israel’s rescue from slavery in Egypt, an unblemished lamb was sacrificed as a reminder that God would save His people from judgment (Exodus 12). From the beginning of human history, sin devastated creation and forged a relational chasm between God and people. Could Jesus really remove sin? And without it, could all of creation and humanity be healed and restored to full relationship with God? Yes! Jesus, the Lamb of God, was born to rescue us from every effect of sin and death. His willing sacrifice leads us to life and makes all things new. The book of Isaiah paints a picture of the renewal Jesus makes possible. The desert rejoices and blossoms (35:1). Mountains and hills sing, and trees clap their hands (55:12). Predator and prey dwell together in peace, and a little child—the one we know as Christ, the perfect Lamb of God—leads our way home to God (11:6). Thank God today for the gift of life made possible through Christ’s death and resurrection. Pray for the more than two billion people on earth still waiting to hear that Jesus is making all things new. 16
15 S U N DAY 1 2/ 1 5
REDEEMER FOR I KNOW THAT MY REDEEMER LIVES, AND THAT AT THE LAST HE WILL STAND UPON THE EARTH. —JOB 19:25 (NRSV)
Worldwide, women are disproportionately disadvantaged, abused and exploited. One in three women and girls is impacted by violence during her lifetime (UN Women). Women and girls account for 71% of trafficking victims (UNODC 2016), and at least 12 million girls are married before age 18 each year (UNICEF 2019). Across the world, women have fewer social, economic and legal rights and face more barriers to education, healthcare access, political participation and safe employment. Mary must have understood some of these realities as a young woman from a disenfranchised people group, living in an occupied territory, pregnant under scandalous circumstances. Yet when she boldly embraced God’s plan to liberate people from bondage, she entered into His eternal story of redemption (Luke 1:38; Galatians 4:4–7). Her song found in Luke 1:46–55 (known as the Magnificat) is a prophetic anthem of Good News for people at the margins. It promises a future reversal that will disrupt the comfort of power and privilege and right the wrongs society has wrought upon the vulnerable. It condemns the systematic oppression of the poor and powerless and lifts up those who’ve been taken advantage of, harmed and cast aside. It proclaims the surprise of God’s upside-down Kingdom and fills the hungry with good things. During Advent we recognize the joy of Christ’s coming to earth, and we also anticipate His return. We cling to the hope that the brokenness we see and experience will eventually be redeemed. Poverty and violence persist. Wrongs await justice. But with the certainty of Job, we look to our Redeemer who will one day reign victorious on the earth that presently groans as it longs for new life (Romans 8:22). How does your heart need reorientation to the unexpected nature of God’s Kingdom? What surprise does Jesus’ message of redemption offer you this Advent season? As you remember the cosmic reversal of power that began in a small Middle Eastern town more than 2,000 years ago, how can you move toward your neighbors at the margins?
16 MO NDAY 1 2 /1 6
HEALER JESUS TOLD THEM, “GO BACK TO JOHN AND TELL HIM WHAT YOU HAVE HEARD AND SEEN—THE BLIND SEE, THE LAME WALK, THOSE WITH LEPROSY ARE CURED, THE DEAF HEAR, THE DEAD ARE RAISED TO LIFE, AND THE GOOD NEWS IS BEING PREACHED TO THE POOR.” —MATTHEW 11:4–5 (NLT)
Their four children asleep at last, Aziz and Habiba finally had a chance to sit down and talk with Aziz’s mother, the matriarch of their multigenerational household. Their village in an isolated region of Central Asia had been hit by a measles outbreak. The nearest medical services were a long distance away over mountainous terrain, and the virus had already claimed the lives of a number of young children. In the midst of their community’s grief and concern, today brought good news: a mobile clinic and a team of healthcare workers was on its way. Everyone would be vaccinated tomorrow. Thank God for sending help! In a country with an extremely high infant mortality rate, families know too well the tragedy of losing little ones to measles, malnutrition, malaria and other diseases. While many illnesses are preventable or treatable with standard interventions, most people lack the resources to provide the care their children need. Aziz and Habiba are some of the many parents grateful for the lifesaving aid and health education provided by a rural community center. Through the interfaith leadership of this organization, followers of Jesus and Muslims are working side by side to help families gain access to healthcare initiatives that are giving their children the chance to grow up and thrive. The center’s staff serves more than 50 towns and villages in this underserved district, treating nearly 30,000 people per year. As the center cares for communities, staff members who follow Jesus are extending the hope of spiritual healing to people with little to no knowledge of His Good News. Throughout His earthly ministry, He healed diseases, raised the dead to life and preached the message of God’s Kingdom, in which suffering and death will one day come to an end. His care for people’s bodies was intrinsically connected to the spiritual transformation He came to bring. Pray for Central Asians and others around the world who don’t have access to healthcare and live without the news of a Healer who wants to restore their bodies and souls. Take a moment today to be aware of your physical, emotional and spiritual needs. Ask God to show you where you need to experience His healing touch. 18
17 T U ESDAY 1 2/ 1 7
ADVOCATE MY LITTLE CHILDREN, I AM WRITING THESE THINGS TO YOU SO THAT YOU MAY NOT SIN. BUT IF ANYONE DOES SIN, WE HAVE AN ADVOCATE WITH THE FATHER, JESUS CHRIST THE RIGHTEOUS; AND HE IS THE ATONING SACRIFICE FOR OUR SINS, AND NOT FOR OURS ONLY BUT ALSO FOR THE SINS OF THE WHOLE WORLD. —1 JOHN 2:1–2 (NRSV)
Alem had a dilemma. As he and Salim shared the Gospel in his southwest Ethiopian village, people were responding in faith. The problem? Many of them were Menja. Alem’s upbringing taught him the Menja were dirty, backward people—even animals. No one would come to a church where the Menja were involved, and Alem knew it. So Alem avoided the Menja, his own predisposition born from centuries of cultural prejudice. But Salim, not a local and unaware of the taboo, preached widely to Menja people, who were eager to follow Jesus into God’s inclusive Kingdom. What could be done? Perhaps we start a church but ask the Menja to stay outside and listen through the windows, Alem thought. But through the counsel of a wise mentor, the Holy Spirit convicted Alem of his sinful mindset and began transforming his heart. Alem planted the church and invited Menja people. No one else came. But as his love for the Menja grew, he became their strongest advocate, appealing to Christians from other ethnic groups to welcome them fully into church life. Slowly, change is coming through Alem’s advocacy and the Holy Spirit’s transforming work in the hearts of Christians in the region. Some now attend worship services with Menja people in the church Alem planted. Other churches are inviting Menja people inside their buildings for worship and including them in leadership roles. God is cultivating unity where there was once a deep divide of discrimination. Just as sin leads people to marginalize one another, it also caused separation between humanity and God. It made us unclean and unworthy to stand in His holy presence. But in Jesus we find an advocate. The righteous Son of God pleads our case after paying with His own life the debt we owed for our disobedience. Jesus restores our relationship with God and each other. In Him we’re welcomed, included and celebrated. Do you know of anyone who experiences exclusion today as a result of the bias of social or religious hierarchies? How will you advocate for their inclusion and dignity as God’s image bearers? Think of times you’ve felt particularly excluded or especially welcomed. What has God taught you through those experiences? 19
PIONEER + PERFECTER SINCE WE ARE SURROUNDED BY SO GREAT A CLOUD OF WITNESSES, LET US ALSO LAY ASIDE EVERY WEIGHT AND THE SIN THAT CLINGS SO CLOSELY, AND LET US RUN WITH PERSEVERANCE THE RACE THAT IS SET BEFORE US, LOOKING TO JESUS THE PIONEER AND PERFECTER OF OUR FAITH, WHO... ENDURED THE CROSS...AND HAS TAKEN HIS SEAT AT THE RIGHT HAND OF THE THRONE OF GOD. —HEBREWS 12:1–2 (NRSV)
Professional long-distance runners devote countless hours to training their bodies. Working out to strengthen muscles; eating the proper food; getting enough sleep; mentally preparing for fatigue, weather conditions and opponents’ strategies; even selecting the proper footwear and clothing—these are the things that make for success. And they rely on a coach to guide their preparation and help them achieve goals they wouldn’t be able to reach on their own. Hebrews 12 reminds us that Christians likewise need to train for the life of faith with effort and intention. Our help comes in Jesus—the Pioneer and Perfecter of our faith. He initiates faith within us and leads us to the Father by the example of His life. His Spirit cultivates our growth toward maturity, equipping us with tools to overcome challenges and failures on the road to transformation. Those who came before us in faith motivate us to continue. In the Middle East, many followers of Jesus from Muslim backgrounds begin their new journeys of faith with heavy burdens. Some are refugees facing uncertain futures while grieving significant loss. Others bear psychological scars inflicted by oppressive political, social or religious systems. Most face the anger and rejection of their closest communities once they decide to embrace Jesus. But seasoned Christians are coming alongside to disciple and help them heal as God establishes their confidence in Him and gives endurance for the road ahead. In Pakistan, Hindus from minority people groups like the Meghwal and Bhil are disadvantaged and shunned by other ethnic groups. Most live in poverty and are afforded few opportunities in life. A Christian ministry is showing God’s love by offering free education to Meghwal and Bhil children. As a result, some of the children and their families have begun to follow Jesus. With the help of compassionate Christian teachers, they’re learning to forgive past wounds and pray for their enemies. As members of God’s global family, we’re called to attend not only to our own faith development, but also to His work in the lives of others. Where would you like to see your faith become stronger? Ask God to show you how to train your heart and mind for growth. Is there a way you can encourage a friend in their faith? Write them a note today to cheer them on. 20
THURSDAY 12/1 9
STRANGER THE TRUE LIGHT, WHICH ENLIGHTENS EVERYONE, WAS COMING INTO THE WORLD. HE WAS IN THE WORLD, AND THE WORLD CAME INTO BEING THROUGH HIM; YET THE WORLD DID NOT KNOW HIM. HE CAME TO WHAT WAS HIS OWN, AND HIS OWN PEOPLE DID NOT ACCEPT HIM. —JOHN 1:9–11 (NRSV)
The global refugee crisis has reached unprecedented levels. Of the world’s 70.8 million forcibly displaced people, 25.9 million—more than half of whom are children—have sought refuge beyond their countries’ borders. More than 41 million are internally displaced, and at least 3.9 million are stateless, denied a nationality and access to basic rights. A person is displaced nearly every two seconds, and 37,000 people per day flee their homes due to conflict or persecution (UNHCR, 2019). Like refugees today, Joseph, Mary and Jesus had to leave their home under fear of death and seek safety elsewhere. They traveled nearly 100 miles to reach the border of Egypt, where they stayed for some time beyond the jurisdiction of the violent King Herod (Matthew 2). While the circumstances of Jesus’ birth and infancy were vulnerable, His very entrance into human history was characterized by His willingness to take the form of a stranger. John describes the arrival of Jesus as one who was unrecognized and rejected by the world He created. Though all of life came into existence through His power, even His own people were unresponsive when God walked in their midst. As Jesus taught His disciples about life in the Kingdom of God, He identified with the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, imprisoned, homeless and outsider (Matthew 25:34–45). He spoke about the natural response of a heart transformed by His grace, leading to compassion for “the least of these.” By caring for the destitute and displaced, it’s as if we encounter Jesus Himself in the strangers among us. Just as Jesus showed up in our world in an unexpected way, He continues to reveal Himself to us where we often least anticipate. Could it be that His coming to us as a stranger is one of the ways He opens our eyes to those we’ve disparaged or overlooked? As recipients of grace from the Father (Matthew 25:34), we can turn to our neighbors with empathy and welcome. Ask Jesus to illuminate your vision so you can see His image reflected in the people around you, especially those aching for a place of safety and belonging. When have you felt alone and in need? What area of your life feels unseen or unknown? Because of Jesus’ life as a stranger on this earth, receive the gift of welcome into an eternal home. 21
20 F R I DAY 1 2/ 2 0
RESURRECTION + LIFE JESUS SAID TO HER, “I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE. THOSE WHO BELIEVE IN ME, EVEN THOUGH THEY DIE, WILL LIVE, AND EVERYONE WHO LIVES AND BELIEVES IN ME WILL NEVER DIE. DO YOU BELIEVE THIS?” —JOHN 11:25–26 (NRSV)
Lazarus had been dead four days when Jesus met Martha on the road into Bethany. Distraught, she grieved not only her brother’s death, but also her hope that Jesus would save him. “I am the resurrection and the life.” Jesus makes the bold assertion that He Himself is the very source of life, not simply a sign-bearer pointing the way to a future eternity with God. We need not wait to begin living in Him. Like many young Egyptians, Khalid’s Muslim faith had grown dull. Cell phones, satellite signals and the Arab Spring had opened up the world, igniting his hunger to live with passion and purpose. On the bus one day, some Christian literature caught Khalid’s eye. His heart stirred—so much so that he began meeting secretly with Christians to ask questions. Khalid’s parents were angry when they discovered his interest in Christianity and sent him to Saudi Arabia to begin a rigorous re-education program in the virtues of Islam. Try as he might to comply with his parents’ wishes, nothing had changed when he returned to Cairo seven years later. Unable to manage the increasing dissonance in his soul, Khalid began abusing drugs and alcohol. His life unraveled. Months later, Jesus appeared to him in a dream and beckoned Khalid to come to Him. Upon waking, Khalid knew it was time to begin following Jesus wholeheartedly. It hasn’t been an easy road. Khalid has endured the anger and rejection of his family and community and worked diligently to wean himself from his addictions. But he’s never felt more hopeful. Like Lazarus, Jesus miraculously called Khalid forth to life. Do areas of your life feel dead—listless, lifeless or lost? How is Jesus calling to you? Listen for His invitation to healing and revitalization. Thousands of Muslims today are experiencing the same crisis of faith that eventually led Khalid to Christ. Pray for them to have opportunities to meet Jesus and find abundant life in Him (John 10:10). 22
PRINCE OF PEACE 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 9:6 (NRSV)
If you look around the world today, it’s difficult to ignore the discord that divides people and nations. The “peace on earth” we yearn for at Christmas often feels like a distant dream. For all the beauty and intention of God embedded in every culture, sin has caused humanity to deviate from His perfect creation. Over time, societies have cultivated their own ways of functioning. The cultural norms that emerge sometimes obscure, oppose and resist the ways of God’s Kingdom. These obstacles are not easily undone. In southwest Ethiopia, a culture of violence reigns among the Suri and neighboring rival groups like the Toposa. Disputes escalate to bloodshed. One killing leads to another, then another. Justice demands retribution, and on the cycle rages. New Suri and Toposa Christians, not yet practiced in the ways of peace, are reluctant to surrender their cultural rights to vengeance. A young church struggles to find its footing. Isaiah’s Messianic prophecy hails the gift of a child—a son born with authority to assume God’s gracious rule over humankind. He will govern with wisdom and strength. He will guide, protect and provide for His people. His reign will draw all peoples and nations into God’s shalom, a new reality in which war and enmity cease and human lives flourish in community. It’s this shalom—peace in its truest sense—that compels Suri and Toposa Christians to pursue Jesus, the Prince of Peace. In Him they find courage to gather together at historic murder sites to repent and seek forgiveness from God and each other. Rain often waters the droughtstricken land following these events, a sign of God’s mercy. The recent marriage of a Suri woman and Toposa man, both Christians, is a living symbol of God’s reconciliatory power. Suri and Toposa people are beginning to recognize that God’s Kingdom of peace isn’t just a distant promise yet to be fulfilled, but a reality that’s possible today. As God’s people, we’re called to join Him in making peace on the earth (Jeremiah 29:7). Is there a relationship in your life or discord in your community that needs repair? Ask God to show you how to work toward shalom. 23
22 S U N DAY 1 2 /2 2
EMMANUEL ALL THIS TOOK PLACE TO FULFILL WHAT HAD BEEN SPOKEN BY THE LORD THROUGH THE PROPHET: “LOOK, THE VIRGIN SHALL CONCEIVE AND BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL NAME HIM EMMANUEL,” WHICH MEANS, “GOD IS WITH US.” —MATTHEW 1:22–23 (NRSV)
In a remote Chinese village, Sonamtso tells the story of three visitors from a distant land. They arrived unannounced one day, accompanied by a nurse working in the area who’d befriended her family. Hospitality is a valued practice among Amdo Tibetans, so Sonamtso quickly ushered her guests into the living room while she prepared tea. After a leisurely time together, the visitors presented three packages— one to Sonamtso, another to her daughter and the other to her granddaughter. Inside each package was a beautiful necklace. Overcome with emotion, Sonamtso began to weep. “Who am I that you would travel so far and spend so much to be here in my home today? And now you give me a gift? Who am I to deserve such honor?” In the same way we might wonder, Why does God care so much for us, inconsequential as we may feel? Yet He made us to be His close companions, to live and reign with Him forever (Genesis 1:26–28; Psalm 8:4–5; Revelation 22:3–5). Is it possible we’ve forgotten who we are and to whom we belong? In the book of Matthew, Joseph wrestles with the news of Mary’s surprise pregnancy. God speaks to him in a dream, reassuring him this baby is no scandal but, in fact, God’s Son sent to save people from the sin that separates us from Him. This boy, Jesus, is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 7:14). He is Emmanuel, the God who is with us. Through Jesus’ presence on earth—His life, death and resurrection— God proves the measure of His attentive care and redeeming intention for humankind. In Jesus, we remember that we belong to God. Emmanuel remains with us now through God’s Spirit. It’s this same Spirit who empowers us to bear witness to God’s love for every nation, tribe, people and language. Are there social, cultural or physical distances you could travel this week to be a reassuring reminder of Emmanuel in another’s life? The world is waiting for Good News of a God who draws near. Is there a part of your life that feels distant from Him? Ask Jesus to meet you there and realign your heart with His. 24
23 MO NDAY 1 2 /2 3
MEDIATOR FOR THERE IS ONE GOD; THERE IS ALSO ONE MEDIATOR BETWEEN GOD AND HUMANKIND, CHRIST JESUS, HIMSELF HUMAN, WHO GAVE HIMSELF A RANSOM FOR ALL…. —1 TIMOTHY 2:5–6 (NRSV)
Tiya had stayed beside the dried-up riverbank for several days. A newly married Arsi Oromo woman, she’d been called to her first ateetee gathering. This ritual of prayer and song was the sacred duty of the married women in her community. Drought had fallen on their region in Ethiopia, so the women joined together to intercede. Night and day they persisted in prayer, asking Waaqa (the creator) to intervene. Finally one afternoon, Tiya looked to the sky. One drop, then another, fell until a steady flow of rain covered the land. The women rejoiced. Thank you, Waaqa, for hearing our prayers! Arsi Oromo women’s role as peacemakers and mediators serves as a powerful picture of the Gospel. As they intercede on behalf of their communities during times of drought or conflict, their songs and prayers lead to the renewal of their land and relationships between neighbors. Arsi Oromo followers of Jesus are beginning to use the significance of this practice as a bridge to share the Good News of His reconciliation of humanity and restoration of creation. Jesus’ entrance into our world to live and die on our behalf healed our broken relationship with God. Jesus made peace between a fallen humanity and a holy God, ushering in the hope of creation finally and fully restored. Through Him we can approach God with boldness and honesty, assured of the grace that awaits us (Hebrews 4:16). Jesus, our Mediator, now sits victoriously at God’s right hand. He intercedes for us on the basis of His finished work (Romans 8:34) and invites us to see how He is making all things new (Revelation 21:5). Reflect on the gift of grace that Jesus makes possible. In what area of your life is God inviting you to more fully embrace this Good News? Like Arsi Oromo women, how can you intercede for your community or neighborhood to experience renewal?
24 T U ESDAY 1 2/ 2 4
LIGHT OF THE WORLD AGAIN JESUS SPOKE TO THEM, SAYING, “I AM THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD. WHOEVER FOLLOWS ME WILL NEVER WALK IN DARKNESS BUT WILL HAVE THE LIGHT OF LIFE.” —JOHN 8:12 (NRSV)
Ahmed and Kareem raced through their neighborhood in Cairo, trying to get home. They’d been out playing football with friends and lost track of the time. Now it was dark. Their home was on a street known to be dangerous, especially at night. The sound of footsteps behind them quickened their pace. Turning the last corner, Ahmed ran into Kareem’s back as he skidded to a sudden stop. What? A glowing light bathed the middle of the block a few steps away from their building. Thanks to a brand new street light, the person following them darted away, and the boys knew they would reach home safely. Back at their apartment, the boys’ mother told them some Christians purchased the building next door and installed the light as a service to the neighborhood. Their street was instantly transformed. That light and the presence of regular activity in the space literally chased away crime and brought a new sense of security. Many Muslim neighbors have stopped in to thank and bless these Christians for helping eliminate the threat of danger. Women and children can finally walk the street safely at night. Jesus says in Matthew 5:14–16, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” In Ahmed’s and Kareem’s neighborhood, God is using the tangible gift of light and loving presence of their new Christian neighbors to draw Muslims to the radiance of Jesus, Light of the World. Are there shadowy places in your life that need to experience the light of Christ? Ask God to illuminate the fears, concerns and longings that may be hidden from your view. How is He calling you, as a light of the world, to be His agent of hope, healing and transformation to those still waiting for Good News?
SAVIOR 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 (NRSV)
From Genesis to Revelation, God speaks His promises over creation: I will heal and redeem you. I will be your shepherd, defender and friend. I will satisfy your hunger and give you abundant life. I will reconcile and restore you and make you whole. I promise. Today we celebrate the miracle of the incarnation. All the fullness of heaven met earth, wrapped in the form of a baby who would grow up to alter the course of human history. Jesus, our Savior, has come. God is with us. During these days of Advent, we’ve barely glimpsed the boundless reality of Jesus. Through Him we’ve begun to see and know God, yet so much more grace remains for us to discover as we continue walking with Him. We find ourselves in a strange in-between time—remembering Christ’s first coming while we anticipate His return in final victory over every form of brokenness. In this sometimes uncertain period of waiting, we find assurance in the truth that all of God’s promises find a resounding yes in Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:20). Our prayer for you today echoes Paul’s words from Ephesians 3:16–21: May God, according to His glorious riches, empower you with inner strength through His Spirit. May Christ dwell in your heart through faith, rooting and grounding you in His love. May you have power to comprehend, with all the saints, how wide, long, high and deep His love is. May you know Christ’s unfathomable love and be filled with all the fullness of God. We glorify God, for He is able to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or imagine. May He be glorified through you and His Church through all generations, forever and ever. As we think back on that first Christmas, when angels filled the sky to sing the Good News of God’s expansive, extravagant love, we await the glory still to unfold. And we place our hope afresh in Jesus, in whom all the promises of God come true. Merry Christmas! 27
ALL THE PROMISES OF GOD FIND THEIR YES IN HIM. —2 CORINTHIANS 1:20A (ESV)
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In our 2019 Advent devotional, we consider some of the names of Jesus found throughout scripture, celebrating His embodiment of God’s grace...
Published on Nov 15, 2019
In our 2019 Advent devotional, we consider some of the names of Jesus found throughout scripture, celebrating His embodiment of God’s grace...