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I’m sure there are many unique reasons for Christmas being someone’s favorite time of the year.

From family gatherings, the food, the music or just the general good will, people love holidays and Christmas is at the top of many people’s list. This year all of our Christmas celebrations at the church will be centered around the theme of “Rejoice.” Christmas certainly seems like an easy time to find reasons to do so. This resource is our gift to you this year to help you and your family find reasons and opportunities to rejoice. Each day, as we walk through the weeks of Advent, you will find a brief story and devotional thought from one of our church staff or leaders. My desire is that this little book will help you to be a little more focused or even intentional about keeping Christ as the central point of Christmas. So whether you read it alone or as a family devotion, know that hope, peace, joy and love have come wrapped in swaddling cloths as God’s gift to you. David Dye Communications Pastor

All Scripture references are from the Christian Standard Bible, unless otherwise noted.


Rejoice The Lord is with you


Rejoice, favored woman! The Lord is with you. Luke 1:28 In our text for today, the Archangel Gabriel has appeared to Mary in her hometown of Nazareth. His announcement must have been both shocking and deeply disturbing and yet, he makes a remarkable statement that begins with a command from the God of Heaven. “Rejoice, favored woman! The Lord is with you.” As the story unfolds and Mary is told that she has been chosen to bear the “only begotten Son of God,” from a human point of view, we must admit that “Rejoice” is not the first response that most of us would have. Here she is alone, and she is told that she is going to have a baby boy even though she is a devout believer who is a virgin. And an engaged virgin at that. How can she rejoice when her life is being turned upside down. She could become an outcast. Her impeccable moral integrity and purity would be questioned. Her future husband would be shamed. Is this really a time for God to tell her to “Rejoice”? Let us not jump to conclusions so quickly. There is much more to the angel’s announcement than the command to “Rejoice.” Consider the reason for rejoicing: You are a favored woman—we may add “the” favored woman. One of a kind. The only one who would give birth to the Christ Child. She was not chosen at random. She was favored because she knew and loved God. God knew and loved her. She was pure. She was God’s choice by His grace. There is more. “The Lord is with you.” She had the favor of the Lord but she also had the abiding presence of the Lord. If we really know the Lord, the very fact that we are constantly in His presence should evoke thanksgiving, praise, and rejoicing. That is what is happening in Heaven right now. God’s presence with us can push the clouds away and bring us into the light of His glory with joy. If you want to see how quickly God led Mary to process this great news, read her poem of praise in verses 46-55 in this chapter. Oh, God, at this special time of the year, fill your children with the joy of the Lord. 2



Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in Him so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13 “It’s the most wonderful time of the year, with the kids jingle belling and everyone telling you be of good cheer…” For many, it simply isn’t. For many, Christmas is the least hopeful, least peaceful, and least joyful time of the year and certainly not the most wonderful anything. Every problem or pain of loss is magnified intensely against the backdrop of holiday celebrations. Paul prays for the God of hope to fill us with all joy and peace so we can overflow with hope. Overflow is defined as “the excess or surplus not able to be accommodated by an available space.” He fills us with joy and peace and hope overflows. We can’t contain it! It has to spill out. This is how we demonstrate to a lost and desperate world the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As I anticipate Christmas and meditate on this verse, I am challenged to give those around me more than a greeting but to give them Jesus. As Christmas has turned into “holiday,” the world has no knowledge of the One who has the power to give them hope, not only in this lifetime but for eternity. Psalm 40:3 says: “He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD.” May this be so as our hope overflows to all those God puts in our path this Christmas season.




Now, Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in You. Psalm 39:7 Biblical hope means confidence in the future, and it’s having faith in God that gives us this hope for the future. Biblical hope for the Christian is not a “maybe so,” but rather it is a confident expectation that God controls the future. Therefore, when Christ is your Savior, the future is to be joyfully anticipated, and you don’t have to be afraid. What is the basis for our hope? It is the character of God. 1 Peter 1:3 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given us a living hope.” Therefore we can have joy and confidence in our lives because our hope is a living hope. As a little boy I grew up in a small coal mining town. For us, Christmas was a joyous and blessed time. My mother, grandmothers, and aunts would make Christmas goodies. My family celebrated Christmas together. In all of this, my mother put the Christmas tree up two weeks ahead of time. She placed all kinds of gifts wrapped beautifully under the tree, and each gift had a name on it. But the more exciting thing was that some of those gifts had my name on them. And even though I had not received those gifts yet, I knew that the gifts with my name on them were as good as mine. I knew they were mine, and not anyone else’s, because my mom and dad had purchased the gifts and put my name on them, and they were good for their word. God has many gifts for His children, and even though you have not received them yet, they are as good as yours because God has put your name on the gifts He has for you! This is why we have hope and joy.




Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. Romans 12:12 This verse took on a new life for me as I went through a heart-wrenching experience with my friend, Joy, a couple of years ago. Joy, who had struggled with infertility for years, was only 21 weeks into her long-desired pregnancy when her water broke. She was admitted to the hospital, where the doctor gave her baby a 12% chance of survival. The doctor also told Joy that every day the baby stayed inside the safety of her womb, its chances of survival would increase. Joy clung to that tiny thread of hope, rejoicing over every day that passed with her baby still alive and growing inside of her. I prayed for that baby. I prayed for Joy and Daryl. I prayed for God’s peace and healing no matter what happened. Oh, how I prayed! It had been a long time since I had felt such a powerful desire and need to pray for something like I did during those weeks of waiting. I found unexplainable comfort in calling out to God, in knowing that He was listening, and understanding that His answer would be for good, whether I understood it or not. The next 8 weeks passed by slowly but steadily, with Joy in the hospital under constant observation. Joy radiated peace, like she knew she was exactly where God needed her to be. To me, she was a true example of being “patient in affliction.” Baby Spencer was born at 29 weeks, and he spent over two months in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Joy and Daryl continued clinging to hope, rejoicing over every milestone Spencer reached. They were patient with the discouraging setbacks that would send Spencer back to intensive areas of NICU. Through it all, their faith and peace ministered to their friends, the hospital staff, and even to other parents with children in NICU. Spencer is now a healthy and curious two-year-old, with a smile that melts everyone’s heart. Hoping for him, waiting for him, and praying for him have been one of the sweetest blessings in my life.




Yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary. Isaiah 40:31 (NASB) I really do not like to wait. Even as a young child I could be a little impatient. As the story goes, I was about ten years old and with the help of my younger brother we decided to go find a Christmas tree. I grew up in rural South Georgia and Granddaddy’s land was filled with scruffy cedars. With my brother, an axe, and much determination, we ventured out. I’d like to say we found a nice cedar tree, but we actually chopped down a small South Georgia pine. My mother recalled seeing us pulling that pine tree across the back field, to the house. We knew it was not going to be our Christmas tree, but I just could not wait. Fast forward to present day, I still do not like to wait and we wait for so many things. Waiting makes me feel helpless, impatience, and angry at times. “Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength,” this encourages me to trust, to hope, to see what God is going to do. During these times of waiting, God is refining and refreshing me for what He has in store. Be encouraged, waiting is key to receiving spiritual strength; the strength needed to deal with the daily struggles and trials of life. Rejoice, share what gives you hope, share the source of your strength, and share the One whose birth we celebrate.




“For I know the plans I have for you” – this is the Lord’s declaration – “plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11 As we approach this Christmas season, there are multiple kinds of emotions that pour out of me. The holiday season brings back memories of family, some are good and some are bad. But, this season also brings my wedding anniversary to my wife on New Year’s Eve. We all have those not so joyful memories that can creep up upon us and cause a sense of loss. I have had to remind myself many times what Jeremiah 29:11 says and remember that Christmas is ultimately about the birth of our Savior. Without the birth of Jesus Christ, we would have no hope for freedom from the consequences of sin. So as we all go about shopping for our loved ones and enjoying fellowship with others remember what Christmas is about. Take some time in your day if you do not normally and spend it with the Lord. I pray that you have a wonderful Christmas Season!


Bethlehem Breakfast REJOICE! We invite your family to a free come-and-go breakfast with the Bethlehem characters! The children will receive special gifts to help them better understand the Christmas story. All families with children Grade 2 and younger, including siblings, are invited.

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 2 FROM 8:30 - 10:30 AM South Campus Fellowship Dining Room 7300 Whitesburg Drive, Huntsville, AL 35802




You are my shelter and my shield; I put my hope in Your word. Psalm 119:114 The year was 1985, and I was 26 years old. I had been in Japan for a year and had a year more to go. It was Christmas and it would be my first Christmas away from home. In Japan Christmas was just another day, not even a holiday. Sometimes the Japanese would have a Christmas cake on Christmas day. When women were not married by age 25, they were sometimes referred to as “Christmas cake.” Before Christmas and on Christmas day “everyone wants Christmas cake,” it was said, “but after Christmas, no one wants Christmas cake.” The phrase was our equivalent of being an “old maid.” Though in my heart I was celebrating the birth of Christ, in my flesh I was missing all the traditions of Christmas and my family in an awful way. My heart was hurting when anyone mentioned “Christmas cake,” and I knew I was 26 and not yet married…would anyone want me? During my two years in Japan I learned the hard way how to let God be my shelter and my shield. I had no one else. I was very depressed for a while, until I learned how to truly put my hope in His word. I started to jog around the school field at sunrise while memorizing verses carried on cards in my hand. Philippians 2:13 was my favorite and a life changer: “For it is God who works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” When I didn’t feel like getting up in the morning or doing what I needed to do, I claimed that verse and God gave me the will to follow His will. I learned the skill of “hiding His Word in my heart.” The treasure of His Word gives me energy, it gives me strength, it gives me hope every day.


Hanging of the Green


You are invited to join 150 student singers accompanied by a 50-piece orchestra in a special service of Christmas worship at the 29th Annual Hanging of the Green. Renew your spirit as we retell the Christmas story through dramatic readings and heartwarming music set in a festive atmosphere. This year’s program, Rejoice!, will feature beautiful classical tunes, brand-new compositions, congregational singing, and a special candle-lit medley of Christmas hymns. Celebrate the start of Advent as we worship Christ together.



Comfort & Joy REJOICE!

Share the smiles and excitement during this heart-warming Christmas presentation by our Children’s Choirs!



RejoiceHope has come


So that having been justified by His grace, we may become heirs with the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:7 Yesterday I had an unexpected experience with one of my hospice patients. As I entered her home she beckoned me to the side of her hospital bed. Immediately she reached for my hand and through tears she expressed to me her last goodbye. She conveyed her appreciation for my visits, prayers, and support. We prayed together one last time as I asked for the Holy Spirit to surround her bed and give her peace. As I was leaving her last words to me were, “Harold, I know God sent you to me over these past weeks. And if I don’t see you again here, I’ll see you in heaven.” As I drove away I began to contemplate my own future demise and was immediately reminded of Paul’s words in Titus 3:7, “having been justified by His grace, that we may become heirs with the hope of eternal life.” Paul was talking about our glorious future as “heirs” and “joint -heirs with Christ.” An old saint of God was once asked what he would do if, on arrival at the place he thought was Heaven, he was informed that the Gospel story was a myth and that Heaven was not a reality after all. He simply smiled and responded, “Well, I’ll just say that I had a good time getting here anyway!” My friend passed peacefully early the next morning. Today she is experiencing the greatest Christmas ever. She is seeing face to face the One who would rather die for her than live eternally without her in heaven. We too can truly experience spiritual peace at Christmas! When we were born again we became “joint-heirs” with Christ. We are now children of the King of kings and heaven waits with great anticipation for our arrival.




He shall be named…Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6 I like this bumper sticker I have seen…No Jesus…No Peace, Know Jesus…Know Peace. Hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, Isaiah, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, penned words that would describe the Messiah as “Prince of Peace.” What are we to deduce from this phrase? Certainly history and even today’s internet news sources reveal that since His birth there has been only “wars and rumors of wars” in our world. So, what is the “Peace” that the scriptures tell us for which Jesus will be considered the Prince? The writers of the New Testament help us answer this question as they recorded how Jesus’ day to day life brought peace and inner calm to countless people from all walks of life. First, John 4 reveals to us a woman that had sought to satisfy her life with male relationships. We are told she had been married 5 times and was living out of wedlock with a man at that time. Jesus rocked her world by already knowing these facts and by sharing the truth that He is the “living water” that would quench our eternal and internal thirst. This, in turn, caused an explosion of grace and spiritual peace as she enthusiastically shared it with her village. The second occasion in Jesus’ life that shows this “Prince of Peace” at work is so very vivid and astounding. In Mark 5, Jesus confronted a man that had zero inner peace in his life. He had ruined all relationships in his life. He practiced self-abuse. He would scream and cry out often. He had a total wreck of a life, until he met Jesus. Then, by the Prince of Peace’s love and power, he was set free from Satan’s power and became a calm and gentle man. Personally, Jesus wants to be our Prince of Peace. As a Christian living in unrest, let Him have complete control of your life. As someone who has not invited Christ into your life, turn away from living life your way and call upon Him to forgive you and be your ‘Prince of Peace’. Will you let Him? Consider reading the Gospels…Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and let the truth of Scripture bless your life. 13



Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Your heart must not be troubled or fearful. John 14:27 When I was young my family would travel to Wintergreen Resort, on the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains, in Nellysford, Virginia, after Christmas to ski. We would ski all day and into the night and enjoy hot chocolate at the Copper Mine Restaurant in between. One evening my brother and I were on a slope called Eagles Swoop. The slope closes at 9 pm. We had just gotten off the Lift about 9 pm and were not aware of the closing time. We skied down almost the entire slope when we saw the Lift had stopped. We took our skis off and began walking up Eagles Swoop as our lodging was at the top of the slope. About halfway up I took off my gloves as I had to carry my skis and it was getting difficult to hold them with my gloves on. By the time we reached the top we were exhausted and our hands frostbitten. We came inside and my Dad immediately began running warm water over my hands until they were better. Climbing up almost the entire Eagles Swoop at night took quite some time and carrying skis with my gloves off produced a painful frostbite. However, when I got inside my Dad let me know everything was going to be alright. After some warm water it was evident the frostbite was not severe. Sometimes we go through times in our life that are kind of like frostbite in winter. It’s painful and we don’t have an answer, as we are walking up the slope carrying our skis and the slope seems endless. But just like my Dad, Jesus says during these times “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you...Your heart must not be troubled or fearful” (John 14:27).




Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in Him so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13 The apostle Paul encouraged us to allow the God of hope to fill us with joy and peace. The Bible refers to our Lord as the Prince of Peace. This world will never have peace until the Prince of Peace returns in His glory. Individually though, the peace of God is available only as we make peace with God through the salvation available in Jesus Christ. The peace of God is Jesus’ gift to us. In Philippians, Chapter 4, Paul talks about the availability of peace with God. I want to give you five things to consider as you seek God’s peace. Please take time to review Philippians 4:4-9. 1. Don’t worry about anything (v. 6) 2. Pray about everything (v. 6) 3. Be thankful for all things (v. 6) 4. Think on the best things (v. 8) 5. Do the right things (v. 9) Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. May your holiday season be filled with God’s peace as you remember the birth of our Savior! 15



I have told you these things so that in Me you might have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world. John 16:33 During this season, we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, but where is He? Have you turned on the news lately? What on earth is happening? Racial riots, political squabbles, drugs, murders and then throw in natural disasters like fires, earthquakes and hurricanes. And that is just the global perspective. Many times our personal lives are in just as much turmoil, topped with an overscheduled list of “must-do-events” that take away any bit of peace…like a vacuum. Take for example this past week. In a day’s notice, Hurricane Irma forced the evacuation of my sister, nephew, a friend, her 2 children and 4 dogs to my house. For a couple nights there were 10 people and 10 dogs, eating, sleeping and living life…while it rained. It was not what you call “peaceful.” Through it all we made new friends and memories that will last a lifetime. At the end of their visit 5 people and 4 dogs crammed back into their small car and drove home to deal with more chaos caused by the hurricane and my house now seems too quiet. In John 16:33 Jesus tell us, “I have told you these things so that in Me you might have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.” Through faith He gives His Spirit as a counselor to endure the difficulties in this world. The peace comes from His spirit living in us, not from the lack of troubles. Draw closer to Him through prayer, fellowshipping with other believers, reading His word and allowing the events of life (whether good or bad) to be used for His glory. Call on the Prince of Peace who is Emmanuel (God with us). Wherever you are, He will meet you.




But He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds. Isaiah 53:5 Got Peace?... How! You could try and smoke a peace pipe with someone, or perhaps someone will give you a peace offering. Maybe you just need to find someone to keep the peace. Is it peace of mind you seek, or do you just need to give someone a piece of your mind? I think you should just hold your peace, unless you want to rest in peace. I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony… Let’s just give peace a chance. A lot of people have opinions of what peace is or how you can obtain it. • Christy Brinkley says, “if you share your smile, it is a symbol of peace.” • Mother Teressa says, “a smile is the beginning of peace.” • Melody Beattie suggests, “Gratitude will bring you peace today.” • Buddha, “Peace comes only from within, do not seek it without.” • Remember Albert Einstein? He was pretty smart. He said, “Peace can only be achieved by understanding.” Seriously, what is peace? The non-warring state of a nation, freedom from civil commotion or violence, mutual harmony between people or groups, or more specifically, and more importantly, the point of today’s verse, mutual harmony between God and His people. Realistically, we don’t deserve peace with God, we should be punished for our transgressions, and crushed for our iniquities… Isaiah 53:5 But He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds. Peace out! 17



The Lord gives His people strength; the Lord blesses His people with peace. Psalm 29:11 As young married adults in 1983, Jerrie and I were inspired by both the words and the actions of our President Ronald Reagan who said, “We maintain the peace through our strength; weakness only invites aggression.” One of the many legacies of his leadership was a strong military. As parents of three young children in 1991, we watched nervously along with hundreds of millions of others worldwide as a young news network, CNN, broadcast live images of US coalition forces during Operation Desert Storm. Would tens of thousands of our brave soldiers be killed? Would Saddam Hussein use chemical weapons? By God’s grace, courageous leadership and the strongest military in the world, we prevailed and peace was quickly restored – at least temporarily. It’s not hard for me to imagine why people in Jesus’ day were looking for the promised Messiah to be their strong earthly king who would bring military strength, freedom and peace. But God’s plan was to give them something even greater. Jesus was the fulfillment of His plan to overcome our weakness by His strength, to overcome our sin by His righteousness. Only by accepting His free gift can we experience lasting peace. Rejoice, for “The Lord gives His people strength; the Lord blesses His people with peace.” Psalm 29:11



Don’t miss this unforgettable and energetic concert of timeless Christmas favorites featuring four grand pianos and a big band!



Rejoice Christ brings peace


Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people He favors! Luke 2:14 Under the best of circumstances, peace is not a word that is usually associated with childbirth. Add to that having lost two babies in the previous two years, and Wendy being diagnosed with a condition that has more syllables than any single word should and makes every pregnancy for her high risk. Our fourth trip to the delivery room was anything but peaceful. But then the moment came and the doctor informed us that we had a healthy baby boy! We named him Christopher. Later, I learned that his name means “he who holds Christ in his heart.” I certainly hope that will be true throughout his life. What I do know to be true is that Christ held Christopher in His heart from the moment of conception, and He did the same for you. Christ’s coming was to be “good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10). No longer were we to be a people living in the darkness, because the Light of the world had come. No longer were we to search for peace in the chaos, because our peace was to be found that night in a manger in Bethlehem. This Christmas, much like the first, as the streets are packed with busy travelers, and there seems to be no room for one more (you name it), and unexpected guests show up at an inopportune time, remember that peace was found in a manger amidst all the chaos centuries ago. For those of us who hold Christ in our hearts, we have that same peace.




Shout for joy, you heavens! Earth, rejoice! Mountains break into joyful shouts! For the Lord has comforted His people, and will have compassion on His afflicted ones. Isaiah 49:13 There is no joy like the joy of heaven! Experiencing that joy is hard to comprehend, yet God saw fit to send a Comforter who would manifest joy to a hopeless world. The task of this Comforter would garner the harshest treatment, cruelty, and ultimate death, yet bring joy to the weary sinner. This paradox confounds the wisest of men. How can such a loving God send His only Son to pay a penalty for the sins of a wicked people? Yet, that is what the omnipotent God chose. The joy contained in this revolutionary event caused the heavens to shout and even the mountains on earth to break into shouts of joy! When I ponder this joy, I can draw on two personal experiences. Recently my wife and I were delighted at the birth of our third child. In the same way as our first two children, we found immense joy in hearing Grayson’s very first cry. The immediate connection to this helpless little baby must be similar to the way our heavenly Father cares deeply for His creation. Only He knows how truly helpless and dependent we are on Him. I am also profoundly honored to direct gifted singers in several choirs each week at WBC. Musicians understand the power of the sung word. It can stir a heart like no other earthly invention. There have been many moments in our annual Hanging of the Green services where the combination of compelling truth combined with pristine melodies created a joy that welled up so powerfully my soul could not help but praise the Lord. Oh that my soul would yearn for the day that our heavenly Comforter, Jesus Christ, whisks us to glory where there is joy everlasting. In this time, let us pray like the Puritans: “Thou art preparing joy for me and me for joy; I pray for joy, wait for joy, long for joy; give me more than I can hold, desire, or think of.” Amen.




Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. Nehemiah 8:10 I don’t know about you but one of my favorite things about Christmas is the special foods that I make during holidays. Mom’s No Bake Cookies. Martha Washington Balls. Christmas Eve Gumbo. Gingerbread Cookies. The list goes on and on. What great joy I get from spending the day making gingerbread cookies with my 5 year old grandson. Many of them end up looking like monsters rather than men but we have a great time. Nothing gives me greater joy than to have my family at my table on Christmas Day as we eat off the fine china and enjoy our time together. In Nehemiah 8:10, Nehemiah tells the people to “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” That sounds a lot like what we do during the Christmas season, right? What had happened that caused Nehemiah to instruct the people to eat and drink and find their strength in the Lord? In verse 3, Ezra opened the books of Moses and read to the people from daybreak until noon. For 6 hours, the people stood and listened attentively to the reading of God’s Word. They wept, lifted their hands, bowed their heads and worshipped God. When the scripture was read, the people realized how far they had strayed from God. Nehemiah told them not to grieve, but to let the joy they found in the Lord be their strength. The holidays are busy and exhausting, leading up to the day that signifies the birth of our Lord. It grieves us to see how the world has removed Jesus from Christmas but our JOY, our Strength, comes from the Lord.




You reveal the path of life to me; In Your presence is abundant joy; In Your right hand are eternal pleasures. Psalm 16:11 In Psalm 16, David shows us the “path of life” leading to joy, pleasure, and the presence of God. This path is not merely an assent to truth, but a formative lifestyle flowing out of the truth. God’s Lordship (v. 1-2) The path of life begins with acknowledgement of Yahweh’s CreatorGod claim on our lives. His people treasure this truth, recognizing that all “good things” only come from God. God’s People (v. 3-4) The path of life lives in community with God’s people. They worship, serve, disciple, and pursue holiness together. God’s Portion (v. 5-6) The path of life knows that God himself is our portion and inheritance, therefore the passing pleasures or tribulations of this world are a mere blimp or pinprick in the eternal scheme of the cosmos. God’s Council (v. 7-8) The path of life embodies Psalm 119 by studying, meditating on, obeying, and cherishing Scripture. God’s Assurance of Joy (v. 9-11) The path of life is astonished and undone that God will not abandon us. This unmerited grace compels us to persevere because we know that we have been sealed by His promise (2 Timothy 2:19). As Christians, we have this assurance because the path of life is fulfilled in Christ (Acts 2:27 and 13:35). Christ—not David—is the one who did “not see decay.” He drank our cup of wrath and endured our lot so that we would receive His inheritance—everlasting joy in the presence of the Father. For this He came into the world: to travel the path of death so that we could take the path of life; to be the Man of sorrows so that we could receive eternal joy and pleasure. Joy to the world, the Lord has come. Merry Christmas. 23



Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in Him so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13 Joy. This time of year we are surrounded by this word. We see beautiful Christmas ornaments or decorations about joy. We sing Christmas carols about joy. We joyfully celebrate the birth of our Savior. But for many of us, for various reasons, finding joy can be difficult. For anyone facing the Christmas season without a precious loved one, or someone watching yet another Christmas go by without the child they have longed for, the Christmas holidays are painful. I have spent many past holidays struggling to find joy for those very reasons, and my heart goes out to anyone who is also struggling. I by no means am an expert on joy, but would like to share something that has helped me in the past, and hope it will help someone else. I remember the simple truth about joy in an acronym that someone shared with me as a teenager. J - Jesus O - Others Y - You When I keep these things in order, or have my priorities right, joy will follow. Putting Jesus first, and then others before me, naturally gets my eyes off myself. When serving the Lord and spending time with Him in prayer and His Word comes first, and then putting others before myself, God does just what this verse says – He fills me with His joy. My prayer is that we will be filled with the joy of the Lord during the holidays and the days that follow.




For you see, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped for joy inside me! Luke 1:44 We were so excited to find out earlier this year that our son, Zach, and his wife, Alizbeth, were expecting their first child at Christmas time. In fact, the due date is December 23. Although it caught them a little by surprise, we’re all rejoicing in the coming of our precious baby girl, Luna Embry Baker. She was planned by God before she was knit in her mother’s womb. As a first time mom, Alizbeth is experiencing the joys of impending motherhood. The baby’s first move inside her was a thrill that only mothers can know. Even greater joy will come at her birth. For Ronnie and me, there is also the joy of watching our youngest child grow into the man God has planned, both as a husband and now a father. Luna will be our 5th grandchild, but she will be special, as all of them are. It’s one of the incredible ways that God keeps pouring joy into our lives. Each child is uniquely loved. As I think about this, I am reminded that God looks at each of us the same way. I can certainly vouch for the special heart I have for my children and grandchildren, but my joy and love doesn’t compare to that which the Lord has for me and you. Matthew 7:11 reminds us by asking, “how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him?” Thank you Jesus for loving us and bringing joy to our hearts and to the world.




When they saw the star, they were overjoyed beyond measure. Matthew 2:10 The wise men were traveling for many days and many nights. They were road worn and tired from the long journey and were ready for rest and to find their final destination. The goal for their journey was to search for a great king who was foretold in the scriptures and one of the signs that the king was born was a celestial event. A star was to rise and guide them to Jesus. After their visit with King Herod, I can imagine they were a bit discouraged by his reaction to what many thought was blessed news. But Scripture tells us that after hearing King Herod, they knew that he was deeply disturbed. So the wise men went on their way, never to return to Herod. “And there it was ​— ​the star they had seen at its rising. It led them until it came and stopped above the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed beyond measure.” I can remember how my wife Kasey and I felt after our first child, Gavin, was born. Kasey had endured 15 hours of labor and we had both been awake for 36 hours. We were tired, nervous and overjoyed beyond measure. We were both anxious and overwhelmed by what we had been given. I am sure that the wise men felt the exact same feelings knowing that the prophecy of a new born king was fulfilled. That the Messiah had been born. The immense elation they felt far exceeded any they had ever felt. In fact in the King James version it uses “they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.” As you continue to read this devotional guide throughout this Christmas season, think about the “great joy” that being a believer in Jesus Christ has brought to you and your family. If you are not a believer in Jesus, I urge you to seek Him with all of your heart and soul. So you too can have exceedingly great joy in your life. AMEN.



Christ in our joy


The angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David.” Luke 2:10-11 I once served as interim pastor for a rural church located on a small country road in an isolated part of the county. The side road connected two busier roads, but had very little traffic in front of the church. I learned that a long-standing tradition was a live nativity scene manned by the members of the church each Christmas. Of course, the pastor was expected to take part as Joseph. I eagerly asked where it would be located and was told it would be on the church lawn under two big shade trees. I was astounded, as I had never seen anyone go down that road except the four families who lived on it, and those coming to the church. The big night arrived, and the temperature was below freezing. After thirty minutes, three cars had rushed past with its occupants not even glancing our way. One of the church ladies brought hot chocolate. I doubted if the real Joseph ever tasted hot chocolate. Another forty-five minutes passed and a few nice cars passed, slowed slightly, and the occupants looked our way with some disbelief that we were there in the cold, and then sped away. By now our fingers, toes, and noses were near frostbite and I was about to suggest we go home. We heard a very loud, very old, beat up station wagon clanking down the road. As it approached, it slowed, finally stopped, and a family with four small children piled out of the car. They walked over to the manger. The children ignored the live sheep, the donkey, the cow, all the adults and stood transfixed looking down at the baby (a real baby by the way, wrapped in lots and lots of swaddling clothes). As I stood in amazement, I realized this was the most realistic nativity scene ever. People hurried by without noticing the newborn in the stable, some may have heard the baby cry and paused briefly. Only the poorest in the community, the shepherds, came to worship. They came because “the angel said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David’” (Luke 2:10-11 HCSB). Even today, some ignore the true meaning of Christmas, some contemplate briefly and hurry on, and a few will stop and worship. Which will be you? 27



Love must be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good. Romans 12:9 Love is a salve that soothes the soul. There is a freedom and peace we experience when we’ve been treated poorly and choose to love others despite their attitude toward us. I once encountered someone who was philosophically opposed to my beliefs. She would scowl and smirk when I came around. From the first day I met her, I decided that I would do everything within my power to bless her and pray over her despite her reaction to me. Within a matter of weeks there was a dramatic change in her demeanor. In fact, love completely conquered the animosity that existed between two belief systems when she realized that I chose love instead of hypocrisy or debate. This situation reminded me of a quote that hangs on my wall. “In the confrontation between the stream and the rock, the stream always wins…not through strength, but through perseverance.” This is the powerful love that pours out from our Father in Heaven. In good times and in bad, pouring ourselves out in love reflects the life lived by our Savior. Jesus loved without holding back. Regardless of the person, Jesus loved unconditionally. During this Christmas season, let us be uplifted by our ability to love others without pretense, and let the love of Christ overcome others in a world where such love is rare.




I love those who love me, and those who search for me find me. Proverbs 8:17 When I was a sophomore at the University of Mobile, I had met and fallen in love with a girl. Because of how busy we both were, it was sometimes difficult to be together as often as we wanted. So every time I was walking from classroom to classroom, heading towards the cafeteria, or to a practice room, I was looking for her. Actively, intentionally walking a little bit taller in the hopes that I might see her as she was walking to her classroom so that I could walk alongside her and enjoy her company. There were many days when, though I was eagerly looking for her, I didn’t find her. But I knew she was somewhere on that campus, and I knew how much joy I would have in seeing her. So I never let the disappointment of missing her one day stop me from looking for her the next. Life gets very busy this time of year, and while we expect it to be a season of joy and gladness, for many it is a time of loneliness and grief. Often it can feel as though God is far away and hard to find. But we know from His Word that He is here with us - our Emmanuel. God is looking for you - looking to come alongside you and walk with you. No matter how difficult or busy your life may seem, there are always moments between where you were before and where you are supposed to be. God is looking for you in those moments. And if you will search for Him, watch for Him, and earnestly look for Him‌you will find Him and have joyful fellowship with Him again. He loves you. And He loves it when He finds you looking for Him.




Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His faithful love endures forever. 1 Chronicles 16:34 When I was five or six years old, I did something that I would never forget. My older brother, Tyler, had made some money from helping my father cut grass, and I couldn’t help but wonder what my brother would spend his newly received change on. In fact, I thought about it so hard that I couldn’t help but come to the conclusion that I could use it better than Tyler! As we were getting ready to go to the grocery store, I stole four quarters from my brothers hard-earned money. I ended up spending it on a gum-ball machine at the grocery store. When I got home my dad asked me, “Trisha, where did you get those quarters?” I began to sob and confessed that I had taken them from my brother’s change lying on the table. I knew every step of the way that what I was doing was wrong. Now, I was accustomed to getting spankings when I disobeyed. What happened next, though, took me by surprise. My father didn’t spank me. Instead he said, “You already know what you did was wrong. I’m not going to spank you. You will pay your brother back, but this time I’m showing you mercy. I’m doing this because I’m your father and I love you.” Isn’t that a magnificent picture of our Father in heaven, and how He loves us? He wants us to rejoice in His goodness, especially when we mess up! This Christmas season, let’s give thanks to our Lord for His love that never grows tired or weary or impatient. The God of this universe showed us His ultimate love and mercy by sending Jesus to us.




But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23 Simply put, I love to fish. Since I was a young boy, my father and I spent many weekends on the water making memories that will be with me for a lifetime. If asked, I would also tell you that I love Jesus, my wife, Reese’s® peanut butter cups, coffee, camping, good music, and sometimes well, “certain people.” Many of you could respond to this list with a strong, “Amen! Preach!” We often use the term “love” to describe a deep “like” for anything. In fact, “love” is the most powerful word we have when describing our connection to things and people in our life yet it is also a word that can be liberally applied if we are not careful. We are shown in God’s Word that “love” is part of the fruit of the Spirit in the life of a believer. In fact, it is the primary mark by which the world will know whether you are a believer or not. Jesus tells His disciples in John 13:35, “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” After saying this, He would soon demonstrate the greatest love imaginable by laying down His very life for His friends and sinners like you and me. In a world that conveys “love” as simply a deep “like” for things, let us challenge that notion by asking ourselves, “Am I motivated to do for others as Christ has done for me, or am I giving so that I may receive something in return?” May you and I be a people who define “love” as it has been demonstrated by our Savior, Jesus Christ, and may it be made evident by our actions that we belong to Him.




There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. So the one who fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because He first loved us. 1 John 4:18-19 When our daughters were young, they would jump off the side of the pool into our hands—over and over again! They were excited, bright eyed, and soaking wet! Even though the water was over their heads and they were sometimes afraid to jump, they trusted we would catch them, and then took the plunge. To them, mommy and daddy’s arms were strong and safe. Their perfect love and trust drove out any fear they had. How does that relate to “no fear in love?” Think about this … if our daughters did not completely trust that we loved them and would catch them in the pool, they would not have jumped. In the same way, if we don’t completely trust that God is good, trustworthy, and loves us deeply, unconditionally, and perfectly, we will fear “going under.” How do we get beyond doubting God and learn to trust and love Him? For me … 1. Reading about God’s faithfulness in the Old Testament has been crucial. His work covered many years and difficult situations, but He was always faithful over time. This helps build my trust in Him. 2. Recognizing the long-term benefits of biblical obedience and the consequences of sin has helped me to accept that His ways are always right, even when I don’t understand or agree with them. This helps to drive out any fear of obeying His Word. 3. Experiencing God’s willing forgiveness of my sin, and yet He still loves me, causes me to love and trust Him in return. This helps me forgive others—because all of us are imperfect sinners needing a Savior. Because He loved us first, we can love and trust Him and love and forgive others. Go ahead … take the plunge!




Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13 My brothers, Randy, Rodney and I started singing 3-part harmony when we were 5, 6, & 7 years of age. There’s just something special about tight, family harmony. Rodney always sang the melody, Randy sang the high tenor and I sang whatever was left over! We realized very early in our musical lives that the melody was key. The melody made sense of the song. The harmony parts were to support and embellish that wonderful melody line. There’s another trio that began harmonizing ages before the Stone Brothers. The name of the group? “Faith, Hope and Love.” And they are still singing today! In fact, they will remain forever! “Remain”….Isn’t that a great word? That word gives me confidence and assurance. Singing groups are here today and gone tomorrow, much like prophecies, tongues, and knowledge. But love? Love remains forever! Faith and hope are graces granted to humans as a means to salvation and LOVE is the ultimate end. All three are important but only one is the melody, if you will. Here’s the good news. Love is a Person. JESUS is the LOVE. He is the melody in the chord. He makes sense of the music of life! Jesus is the Savior of the world born in Bethlehem and He remains forever! Thank God Jesus is not a passing romance, a tease, a temporary “fix,” or a lifeless idol. Our love is a Person who loves us back with an everlasting love and His kingdom will never end. Yes, there is “faith, hope and love,” but the greatest of these is Love! Come on people of God……….You have the Melody. So sing the song in love!! “The love of God, how rich, how pure, how measureless and strong. It shall forever more endure the saints and angels song!”




This is the best 30 minutes of the Christmas season! The true meaning of Christmas comes to life during this sweet time as we sing carols and read the story of Jesus’ birth!




For God so loved


For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 I have received many gifts through the years. Some I have loved, some hand-made, some expensive, some I wanted to return, and yes, a few I was embarrassed when I opened themthink Ugly Christmas Sweater. Most of my presents were carefully picked out with me in mind – lots of time was spent choosing and purchasing just the right gift. A gift, the giver knew I would love. A special gift just for me. The Bible says “for God so loved the world – me – that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him would have eternal life.” God loves me so much, loves me in this way – He gave me the best He had – His Son, His One and Only Son – So that I could live forever with Him. WOW, that’s the best gift anyone could receive. You too can receive the best gift this Christmas. If I realize that God loves me, believe in Jesus, ask Him to forgive my sins (no matter how bad) and trust Him completely, then I will live with Him forever. That’s the best and most expensive gift anyone can receive for Christmas.


RejoiceChrist is born


Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him. Matthew 2:2 Some three years have passed since baby Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph have moved back to Nazareth. The news of the Savior’s birth has reached some of the wise men of the east and they have followed His star to Jerusalem. They have come to rejoice and to worship Jesus. The good news of Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection, and return is still spreading through the world and people are coming to Him to rejoice and give Him worship. In a small town in Mississippi in November of 1939, a gracious but unsaved couple were awaiting the birth of their first child. The baby was to be born around Christmas Day. Late in the evening on November 7, the mother began to have contractions. She and her husband were living with her parents. Things began to get more complicated. They called the doctor. He came immediately for a house call. Other members of the family came. As the midnight hour came, the doctor decided it was too late to try to get the mother to the hospital. I do not know all that happened in those few hours, but according to the recollection of mother, daddy, and others, I was born just a few minutes into November 8, 1939. I was premature, a blue baby, no incubator and with no hope of living. Every day the doctor came by expecting that I would not live another day, but by the grace of a God none of my family knew, I kept on living. My birth was the door God used to bring the good news of salvation to our family. Just as He reached out to the wise men of the east and led them to rejoice and worship His Son, God touched my family—not right then but four years later in 1943 while my daddy was serving in World War II. A little lady from a newly founded church on our street asked my mother to let me come to Vacation Bible School. She said I could go, and through that contact, God brought our whole family to know, love, worship, and serve Jesus. Let us rejoice that our Lord is still calling people to trust and worship our Savior. 36

Whitesburg Advent book 2017  

Devotions for Advent 2017