Saturday, December 23, 2023

Dec 24 - Where is He?

Where is He?

Sunday, December 24, 2023
by: Bambi Wheeler

Scripture:  Matthew 2:1-12

Key Verse: 
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.
Matthew 2:1-3

Have you ever heard a song that’s lyrics chilled you to your very core? A song so disturbing that you couldn’t really even speak right after you heard it because it left you so unsettled? That is a really unusual way to begin an Advent devotion, but stick with me for just a second. 

My mom and I were traveling to Branson a couple of weeks ago to watch Esther at the Sight and Sound Theater (sidebar: if you haven’t seen that yet, RUN, don’t walk, to that theater and see it!). On the way over, we had Christmas music on full blast because genetically, I am 90% elf and Christmas everything is my favorite, but especially Christmas music because it’s typically joyful, hopeful, peaceful, even, and it leaves me feeling warm and happy. We were shuffling through some Pentatonix Christmas songs and landed on one I had never heard before. The tune was dark and ominous, very unlike all of the songs that preceded it. It took me a minute, but when I tuned into the words they were actually singing, my heart sort of broke; the song was Coventry Carol, and I’m not really sure how I’ve missed hearing it my entire life, but it is a devastating song about King Herod’s response to the birth of Christ (I won’t elaborate any further, but check out Matthew 2:16 if you need more details).  This song didn’t leave me feeling full of hope, joy, or peace; instead, I just felt sad, and my mom and I sat there in silence for a little bit after the song ended.

That’s not the typical feeling associated with anything Christmas, and you’re probably wondering why this is the story I would choose to share on Christmas Eve, of all days! And if I’m being honest, I’ve been wondering that myself.  However, that song left a huge impression on me, and the lyrics have haunted me since I heard them. And then…THEN…a few days after hearing it, I signed up to write an Advent Devotion. There were only two spots left unclaimed when I signed up, and I chose Christmas Eve. I flipped open my Bible to the Scripture associated with my devotion, and would you believe it was from Matthew 2, the VERY CHAPTER in which Herod’s awful story is found?! 
I started out just reading familiar words about the Magi seeking the King of the Jews because they had a desire to worship him. I was anxiously wading into the story, excited to get to the good stuff: these wise men following a star to the house where Mary and Jesus were, being overjoyed when they found Him and bowing and worshipping, offering up their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. It’s a wonderfully perplexing story because these men weren’t even Jews, but yet they understood Who Jesus was even better than some of the Jews did and they weren’t going to let anything stop them from finding Him.

The Massacre of the Innocents - Rubens
But in the middle of that beautiful story, you have verse 3, which says, “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed…” And as anxious as I was to get to the good stuff, I had to pause my reading for a minute. Because yes, the wise men were going to find Who they were seeking. And yes, they were going to worship Him. And yes, they were going to offer up their oddly specific gifts. But immediately after that, they were going to incite the wrath of King Herod, and some pretty awful things were going to happen to innocent people. And for just a minute, I had that overwhelming sense of sadness again, just like I felt after listening to Coventry Carol. Why, in the middle of anything good, does there seem to always have to be a verse 3? Why does sickness exist? Why do people have to die? How can humans be cruel to one another? Why can’t we just love one another? Why does doing the right thing have to feel so hard? As much as I’d like to relish in the fact that we live in a beautiful creation, we are fearfully and wonderfully made, we have a God that loves us so much that He was willing to send His own Son to this earth to die for us so that we can spend eternity with Him, as much as I would LIKE to relish in that, life is just full of verse threes that seem to hit me in the face and leave me sad. 

So, I paused. And I asked God what He was trying to teach me through this. And He left me with this Scripture: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” This life is gonna be full of verse threes, but you can’t let that rob you of the good stuff. Because of that baby born in Bethlehem, we have the promise of eternity with Him, where there is no more death and there are no more tears. HE has overcome the world, so we don’t have to. We just have to trust Him. I pray you are blessed this Christmas, and that you truly know and accept the love of our savior Jesus Christ. Merry Christmas. 


Holy God, you gather the whole universe
into your radiant presence
and continually reveal your Son as our Savior.
Bring healing to all wounds,
make whole all that is broken,
speak truth to all illusion,
and shed light in every darkness,
that all creation will see your glory and know your Christ. 

The Revised Common Lectionary

Friday, December 22, 2023

Dec 23 - The Joy of the Shepherds

The Joy of the Shepherds

Saturday, December 23, 2023
By: Andy Lambel

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”   Luke 2:8-11

This is a very familiar Scripture text to most of us.  It’s part of the narrative of the Christmas story as found in the Gospel of Luke.  The story that will be read in most churches on Christmas Eve.  It’s a story that’s so familiar to us that maybe we’ve lost our fascination with it.  So, I’m trying to read this with a different set of eyes than I normally would.  

I’m looking at the words “great joy,” and wondering what that might’ve felt like or looked like some 2,000 years ago when these angels appeared in the night sky to those shepherds.  

Before going on I wanted to know the definition of the word joy so here’s how defines joy: “the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation.”

I also found a Biblical definition of joy.  The Greek word for “joy” is chara.  Chara is Greek noun which describes a feeling of inner gladness, delight or rejoicing.  Joy is a feeling of inner gladness, delight or rejoicing.

So, with that in mind, let’s think about this “great joy” that the angels told the shepherds about.
I think we’re all searching for joy.  At least, I know I am.  And this time of the year marketing agencies try to capitalize on that.  Every technology ad promotes it, and Christmas business strategies rely on it: unshakeable, undiluted, undeniable joy.

Melani Pyke - Good News of Great Joy
Are you looking to receive joy this Christmas season?  Buy this subscription.  Do want to sleep better at night this Advent?  Buy our comfortable new luxury mattress.  Want to find fulfillment? Enjoy our half price meal deal at your favorite restaurant.  We’re inundated with aspirational images of a joy-filled individual.

Joy is an important theme throughout the Bible especially during Advent.  God makes it His priority to make it available to each of us.  Just like we would all rather hear a baby laugh instead of cry, God wants us to experience a deep rooted joy in our lives.

This is the message God sent to the shepherds in Luke 2:8-11.  The good news they heard was that Jesus is coming to redeem the restore the world.  God spoke to a group of men who needed joy, in a society where they were at the bottom of the totem pole, and completely disregarded by the culture as a whole.

Some of us are asking God to simply remove difficulty and trouble in our lives.  But Jesus offers you something better: His joy in the midst of it.

This Christmas substitute your contingent joy that dependent on circumstances with a courageous joy found in Christ.  Contingent joy depends on our external variables, but courageous joy makes us vulnerable and available to Jesus.

Take some time this Christmas and be like the shepherds.  Open yourself up to an interruption.  Open your ears to hear the word of the Lord: “Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”

Let Jesus come close and bring you into His joy.

Advent Prayer by Henri Nouwen

Lord Jesus,
Master of both the light and the darkness,
    send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas.
We who have so much to do and seek quiet spaces 
    to hear your voice each day,
We who are anxious over many things look forward 
    to your coming among us.
We who are blessed in so many ways long for 
    the complete joy of your kingdom.
We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence.
We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light.
To you we say, "Come Lord Jesus!'

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Dec 22 - Faith of Joseph

Faith of Joseph

Friday, December 22, 2023
by: Joy Ross

Scripture: Matthew 1:18-25

Key Verse:
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.  Matthew 1:24

We know so little about Joseph. The scriptures don't give us much information about him. But there are a number of things we can glean from what scripture does say.
  • First- he was righteous. He probably could have called to have Mary stoned for being pregnant but he was also carrying because he didn't want to expose her to public disgrace.
  • Second- he was a" son of David"- of the royal family line from which the messiah would come.
  • Third- he was obedient. Matthew 1:24 says " he did what the Angel of the Lord had commanded him amid took Mary home as his wife".
Can you imagine the faith Joseph must have had? We praise Mary for her faith but Joseph had to have had as least as much faith as Mary, perhaps even more! Can you fathom being a man finding out that his betrothed was pregnant and knowing that it wasn't his? The hurt, anger, embarrassment and loss of trust he must have felt? He might not have believed her when she told him it was no man's child, but God's, yet he still choose to treat her with kindness and dignity, hence, "divorcing her quietly". And then the Angel of the Lord came to him in a dream rather than when he was wide awake as Mary was when she was visited by Gabriel. It must have been enough to convince him of the truth of Mary's claim and he acted in faith- great faith, I would say!

His faith showed again when when he took his small family to Egypt at the instruction of an angel in another dream and yet, again, when he was told in the same way to return home.

I don't know about you, but it always helps my faith along when I get shots of reassurance or confirmation from God in ways I'm not expecting. For instance, Simeon and Anna at the temple the day Jesus was presented according to the law, or the visit of the Magi, who knew the prophecies regarding the Messiah. Even the shepherds at Jesus' birth confirmed God's word to Joseph and Mary.

Eventually they had to go back to Nazareth. Go back to the whispers, the looks. That took great faith as well, for them both. At some point, I imagine, something else came along to talk about in the community, but did the gossip ever go completely away? Did people ever really forget? Were Joseph and Mary ever truly respected in their town? We'll never know this side of heaven, and perhaps no one will care once they're there- it will no longer matter!

Joseph and Mary had great faith to accept God's calling on each of their lives. I'm not sure I would have been able to do that. They both had so much trust in God that they simply "obeyed". They didn't challenge or try to bargain or even ask "why me?".

Such faith, such trust! My prayer for each of us it that when God calls us to Acton, whatever it may be, that our response to God will be the same as that famous line from the movie Princess Bride, "As you wish." No more, no less.

O God of peace, who hast taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and confidence shall be our strength: By the might of thy Spirit lift us, we pray thee, to thy presence, where we may be still and know that thou art God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
[Online] Book of Common Prayer

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Dec 21 - Angelic Declarations

Angelic Declarations

Thursday, December 21, 2023
by: Millie Ball

Scripture: Luke 1:26-33

Key Verse
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God."  Luke 1:29-30

Have you ever been amazed at what God’s plan for your life looks like? You know that everything we have or will ever have is but a gift from God. One amazing gift we received happened when we were first stationed in Hawaii. We were two country kids a long way from home, but in a beautiful land. Trying to become pregnant wasn’t working for us, so I decided to take a civil service test and go to work. However, that was not God’s plan and before I was scheduled to take the exam, I suddenly started having morning sickness. We were so excited our prayers were answered at the most unexpected time! Yes, excited, nervous, and feeling alone, I prayed and thanked God and realized that we are never alone as believers.  I wonder if Mary experienced the same emotions I felt. God took care of all my emotions and blessed us with a precious baby girl;  just as God blessed Mary with our Savior.

I’m sure Mary, a virgin girl, was amazed and shocked when the angel Gabriel told her she was going to have a baby. “”How can this be, since I have not been with a man?” (Luke 1: 34) How am I going to tell Joseph, the man I am betrothed to what is happening; can and will he believe me? Then the angel told Mary, “do not be afraid for you have found favor with God.” (Luke 1: 30)  God is all powerful all knowing; it is no secret what he can do, he knew her heart and her thoughts and sent an angel to tell Joseph he had nothing to fear. This was God’s perfect plan for Mary and Joseph and they found peace, love, and joy in knowing that this was a special and divine gift. We, too, need to let go and let God work his glorious plan in our lives. Let His love work through us as we strive to bring more and more people to know and accept Him as their Lord and Savior.

Father God we love you and praise you; open our hearts and let your love flow through us as we strive to expand your Kingdom. In Jesus precious name we pray. Amen

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Dec 20 - Prepare the Way for Jesus

Prepare the Way for Jesus

Wednesday, December 20, 2023
By:  Larry Ball

Scripture: Matthew 3:1-12

Key Verse:
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”  Matthew 3:1-2

“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."  Matthew 3:11

Which road to take? That was a question I prayed about some 20 years ago. Things in my life seemed to be crashing down on me; I was in a deep valley both with my work and with my family. I was praying sometimes and going to church regularly, but I suddenly realized I was a Sunday Christian. Meaning I was striving to be a faithful servant only one day a week, and not following God’s plan for my life the other six days. It was at that point I said, “Lord Jesus I surrender all to you and your master plan.” In order to surrender all, we must chose to put Jesus first in our heart. By choosing that road and God’s plan for our lives, we will experience Christ’s grace, love, peace, and joy.

John the Baptist followed God’s plan and became a great preacher, telling people “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” (Mathew 3:2) John prepared the way for Jesus by preparing others to welcome him. When they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River. John said, “I baptize with water those who repent of their sins and turn to God.” (Mathew 3:11) Let us make straight the road for One coming very soon who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. 

We, too, can be road builders and urge people to repent, confess their sins, be baptized and live for Christ. John compared people who claim they believe God, but don’t live for God to unproductive trees that will be cut down and burned up. When Jesus returns, he will separate the believers from the nonbelievers and gather the believers unto himself while telling the nonbelievers he never knew them.

Lord Jesus we love you and praise you; help us witness to the lost and help them to repent, confess their sins, and put your love in their heart. Amen.

Monday, December 18, 2023

Dec 19 - For God So Loved

For God So Loved

Tuesday, December 19, 2023
by: Brian Groe

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  John 3:16-17

This is probably the best known and the most quoted verse in the Bible.  However sometimes I wonder if we really understand what this verse means to us today.  

Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why God loved us?  Is it because we have so much to offer God?  How often have you heard someone say, "We are so lucky to have so-and-so in our church.  They contribute so much to our services and ministry."  

Paul says in Romans 5 that "at the right time, when we were still powerless Christ died for the ungodly..." (verse 5).  Then a little later Paul says "while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."  (verse 8) Then Paul concludes by saying "while we were God's enemies we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son" (verse 10).

I was lost, still living in my sin and an enemy of God.  Yet God so loved me that He gave His only Son so that I might be reconciled to God.  I had nothing to offer, nothing to bring to the transaction, and yet God so loved .... God loves because that is who He is.  

So what does this mean for us as a church today (and more specifically for me as a child of God)?

It is easy for me to love those with whom I have something in common: family, friends, those who share common values or social standing.  But what about those who think differently than I do, the socially awkward, those that are on the fringe of our acceptable society or those who have special needs.

I am so thankful and delighted that our church has a Sunday School class that ministers to those who have special needs in our community.  The members of this class are some of our most faithful attenders of our services and activities, and they bring a unique sense of joy everywhere they go.  

Over the last year several members of this class have accepted Jesus as their Savior, and become members of our church.   

One of the key members of this class is Tina.  Our hope was that we could interview Tina for this blogpost, and share her answers with you, but illness caused some lockdowns at her facility, so we were unable to talk to Tina directly.  Hopefully next year we will be able to share Tina's remembrance of Christmas with you all.

Diana and I joined FUMC in the spring of 2007, and one of the first people we met was Tina.  All it took was introducing ourselves once, and from then on Tina called us both by name.  

I can't do that!  I am constantly asking people to tell me their name over and over again!  (Diana and I had an agreement that when we were at any kind of work function, and someone came up to talk to us; if I didn't introduce them right away, Diana would introduce herself because I had forgotten their name!)

In the summer of 2007 Diana and I moved to Boston, and we were there for seven years.  On our first Sunday back in 2014 I walked into the sanctuary, and Tina said from across the room, "Hi Brian!"  After seven years, Tina still remembered me by name.  Tina has a remarkable memory, she is a wonderfully loving person, and she is one of the fixtures of our worship services.

This year as we prepare to celebrate Christmas my prayer is that we can all learn about the love of God by sharing that love with someone who makes us a little uncomfortable.  God loved us while we were helpless, lost and actively hostile towards Him.  I pray that I can learn more about that love by sharing with someone that is helpless and lost.  

God of grace, thank You that when I was lost, you found me and when I was ashamed you forgave me, nailing the accusations against me to the cross (Colossians 2:13-14). Remembering that forgiveness cost everything for you and nothing for me, I receive the priceless gift of unconditional grace now.  Amen
Lectio 365 Devotion

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Dec 18 - Do Not Be Afraid

Do Not Be Afraid

Monday, December 18, 2023
By: Betty Coats

And when the time for the burning of incense came all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

Then the angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the alter of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was gripped with fear. But the angel said to to him "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He will be a joy and delight to you and many will rejoice because of his birth.
Luke 1;10-14

Zacheriah was serving as a priest and his division was on duty that day to go into the temple and burn incense. It was his duty to keep it burning in the alter in front of of the Most Holy Place where God's presence appeared. One can imagine Zacheriah was concentrating on his duty when suddenly Gabriel appeared. He had prayed for a child but at his old age was skeptical and did not believe the message that they would become parents and his prayer had been heard and answered. Not only it would be a son, but his name would be John a delight to him and to many.

We too have been in Zachariah's place of disbelief and fear. Knowing that phrase "Do not be afraid" is found in the Bible 365 times is a calling from God that we do not have to live in fear. Today it would seem there is much to fear and we pray to God to solve our fears and disbelief. In the scriptures he
tells us to be patient, be still and listen, and "Do Not Be Afraid."

Heavenly Father, during this time of Advent we lift up our fears and disbelief and lean on the hope, love, peace, joy and hope Christ's birth brought.   Amen