1 John 4:7-21
My heart was clearly not in the right place. I can justify my bad attitude and say that I was just a kid, but that’s not much of a defense. I had already given my life to Jesus and I was already asking Him to give me a loving heart. But that transformation was difficult and halting (and, even today, it still hasn’t been completed yet!).
It was, as I remember it, “The Christmas of My Deep Resentment.” My Mom and Dad had decided to share our Christmas dinner with a stranger. They thought it would be a nice idea to invite somebody over who didn’t have any family, somebody who might be lonely on Christmas, somebody who might enjoy being with children. My sisters and I cautiously agreed to play along, but in my mind was this single thought: “This stranger better not mess up my Christmas!”
I can’t remember exactly how my Mom and Dad found “our stranger,” but I distinctly remember my Dad leaving that Christmas afternoon to pick her up. She was a resident at the state mental facility and she came to our church sometimes. And, as expected, she was thrilled to be coming over for Christmas dinner.
I’d really like to tell you that everything turned out great, that I was surprised by how much fun our dinner was, that our stranger fit in fine. In truth, it was pretty awkward. It was different having a stranger in the house. We actually had to make some sacrifices to help her feel at home. It was uncomfortable.
But many years later, this is what sticks in my mind: how my Mom and Dad showered her with affection, how they listened to her talk, how they included her as if she were family, how they treated her with dignity and respect, how they hugged her and waited on her . . . and loved her.
I have asked God to forgive me for my rotten attitude that Christmas. And I also, often in fact, have thanked God for our stranger that year. When I think of her today, I remember that love is the theme of Christmas – God’s love for us, of course – but, then, our love for others.
As John says it, “since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” May that be true for us this Christmas.
“Is anything too hard for the Lord?”
In other words, is there anything that He cannot do? Is anything too wonderful for Him? Is there anything that can keep Him from accomplishing His purposes?
Before you answer too quickly, take a moment to put yourself in Sarah’s place. Sarah’s faith was as strong as yours is. Her confidence in the Lord was as steady as yours is. If you had asked her if she trusted God, she would have said, “Of course I trust God!” That’s probably what you and I would say too.
But when Sarah was told that she would have a son, she laughed. She didn’t fall on her knees and praise God. She didn’t break out into song. She didn’t ponder the news in her heart. No, she laughed. Later, she denied it, of course. But, in fact, she laughed.
And who could blame her? You and I probably would have laughed too. Even today, when we catch a glimpse of what it is that God is attempting to do – and HOW HE IS PLANNING TO DO IT! – we have a hard time keeping down the giggles.
We say that it’s too late – and God says that He hasn’t even noticed the time.
We say that we’re too old – and God reminds us not to forget Sarah.
We say that we’re too young – and God tells us stories of babies who made a difference.
We say that we’re too weak – and God says that He likes to hear that because then we’re in a perfect place to lean on Him.
We say that there’s no way things will ever be different – and God promises that He will have His way no matter what.
Despite her denial, Sarah did laugh. But then she learned a little about God’s unlikely ways.
Is anything too hard for the Lord? No. Nothing at all. It may be unlikely. But with God, it is never impossible.
The season of Advent helps us understand the importance of preparation. Christmas simply requires that we get ready. That might mean shopping or cooking or cleaning – or it might be the inner spiritual work that will get us ready for Christmas – but preparation of some kind is utterly essential.
Evidently, according to our reading today, God understands that completely. In fact, He takes a long time getting things ready for Jesus’ arrival here. He has been at work preparing a people who will receive Him, He calls together all the actors in the drama and teaches them their lines, and He also chooses a special messenger to set things in motion. Once the preparation is finished, Christmas can come.
I remember one particular Christmas. The weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, that year, had been especially chaotic. Of course, there had not been enough time to do everything – and Julie and I were harried and frantic and tired. It was late on Christmas Eve. Finally, the children were nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads. (Actually, I don’t think they were dreaming of sugar plums – but you get the point.)
Packages had been wrapped – and cookies and milk had been left out for Santa – when we noticed one box in the corner. I can’t even remember what the toy was – but I can still see the words that caught my eye late that night: some assembly required.
Let’s just say that I didn’t get much sleep that night. “Some assembly” sounds to me like something small, minor, easy – a few minutes perhaps. Maybe a screw driver and a hammer. It turned out to be a little more complicated. But as tired as I was, the preparation was important and it had to be done.
I realize that God doesn’t get tired like we do – but I can imagine Him looking around just before that first Christmas – making sure that everything is perfectly ready.
And then He points to His special messenger and He says, “It’s time!”
In the darkness of midnight, the Redeemer was born
For those who were broken and lost and forlorn.
Christ broke through the darkness and said, “I am Light,
I give you salvation, and healing and sight.”
Many were astounded when they heard what He said.
Some rejected His message, refused to be led.
But some listened further; they invited Him in,
To secure their forgiveness and to save them from sin.
We hear the same message He shared long ago
And we face the same challenge: say yes or say no.
This Savior is God’s Son; He continues to call.
He reveals His dear presence and seeks to save all.
In the darkness of our day, we still pray for grace.
We seek healing and comfort, and a glimpse of His face.
Lord Jesus, we adore You; bless us now with Your sight.
Save your people from darkness; grant the gift of Your Light.
Sometimes words help us understand – and sometimes words make things more complicated. The word for today is “incarnation.” It’s a big theology word that simply means that God has come to be with us. In Christ, God took on human form. He was born in Bethlehem. He became a human being. Through that act of incarnation, God accomplished His great work of salvation.
At the same time, God demonstrated His desire to identify completely with us.
The story is told of a nineteenth-century missionary named Joseph Damien. He ministered to people with leprosy on the island of Molokai in Hawaii. The suffering lepers there grew to love him as he lived a life of sacrifice among them.
One morning Joseph was getting ready to lead a worship service. As he was preparing a cup of coffee, the hot water spilled onto his bare foot. It took him a moment to realize that, even though the water was boiling hot, he had felt no sensation. Gripped by the sudden fear of what that could mean, he poured more hot water on the same spot. There was no feeling whatsoever.
Father Damien immediately knew what had happened. He realized that the absence of feeling in his foot could mean only one thing. He knew that he had now taken on the suffering of the people he served; he knew that he had now contracted leprosy.
As he walked tearfully to the chapel to share his sermon that morning, no one noticed the difference in his opening sentence – but it was significant. He normally began every sermon by saying, “My fellow believers.”
But this day, he began his sermon with these words: “My fellow lepers.”
That’s what incarnation means – and that is what our gracious God has done. He has identified with us completely. That means that He understands our pain, our fear, our losses, and our limitations.
He is, indeed, God with us. Thanks be to God for the incarnation!
2 Corinthians 9:15
When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait for Christmas. I would count the days (and even the hours) – and I’m not sure that I ever slept at all on Christmas Eve. The anticipation of Christmas gifts was simply too much for me to deal with. In fact, it was so hard to wait . . . that sometimes I didn’t wait!
I guess I was about eight or nine years old. For some reason, my older sister and I had been left home alone for a short time. It was only a few days before Christmas. We were old enough to realize that there might be some Christmas presents hidden somewhere in the house. Together, we set out to find them. After looking in some of the more obvious hiding places – and finding nothing – we stumbled on a gold mine. Actually, we didn’t really “stumble” on it – it required some climbing. On the top shelves of our parents’ closet, there were indeed some gifts. All we wanted was to see them, and to know that they were there.
I have this vivid picture in my mind: my sister is standing on a chair reaching as high as she can. I am standing next to her demanding that she tell me what she sees. Then, much to our surprise, our Dad is clearing his throat behind us to let us know that he is watching the whole thing. He had come home unexpectedly.
It wasn’t one of my better moments – even though I tried to explain that I simply couldn’t help myself. (And, of course, I also explained that I was only following the lead of my older sister!)
Other than the embarrassment that I still feel today about that episode, I don’t remember how – or if – we were punished. I think we already felt plenty foolish, and Dad probably knew that. And I don’t remember if he ever told Mom what we had done.
I confess that looking for the hidden presents was a silly thing to do. All the same, our childhood escapade captures the excitement of an anticipated gift – not a bad way to feel this time of year.
Our Heavenly Father has given us the best gift ever given – His only Son. And if we are not filled to overflowing with excitement and anticipation at this point, then we probably don’t understand what an incredible gift has been given.
In a part of his letter to the Corinthians that deals with generosity and ministry and service, the Apostle Paul lets loose with a shout of praise: “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” As we look forward to Christmas this year, that’s a perfect word to prepare us for God’s greatest gift.
The season of Advent invites us to focus on the first coming of Jesus. This special season is a time of waiting, anticipation, and worship. At Advent, we celebrate what God did long ago – and we celebrate what God continues to do today.
Advent is a glorious time. For the next few weeks, we prepare our hearts for the arrival of Jesus, God’s Son. Yes, Jesus has already come; He was born in Bethlehem a long time ago. But in another way, we receive Him over and over again. In fact, receiving God’s gift of Jesus is the focus of Advent every year. Again this year, we can choose to receive Him – if we are prepared and ready.
Good preparation includes remembering. Good preparation includes telling and retelling the story. Good preparation involves listening and learning. Good preparation requires that we watch and wait. And good preparation also calls for confession and prayer and worship. This is a season set aside for the holy task of good preparation.
This Advent season, we are all invited to do what needs to be done – to spend time with God, to spend time in prayer, to spend time with His Word. Hopefully, these devotionals will help us. As we read and pray, let’s listen for the movement of God’s Spirit. Let’s watch and discern where God is at work in our lives. Let’s look for ways to share His grace with others. And having done all of that, we will indeed be ready for Christmas.
Each day, we will post a Bible reading and a devotional. We sincerely hope that these devotionals will be a source of joy and encouragement to you. May God fill you with His love and surround you with His grace!