Dive Into Advent Devotionals
Follow how the “Impossible” is gifted, lived and experienced through the lives of a few of our Advent figures. We will merge the sermon series being pulled from the Old Testament into how the New Testament highlights and unwraps the idea of God making all things possible.
These weekly reflections enhance and complement the weekend’s teaching, providing you with an additional lens to see the “Impossible” in the everyday moments of your life. In the midst of this busy season, we invite you to create space to discover time with God and the gift of the possible.
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.”
- Matthew 2:1-2
This past weekend we experienced the rich Advent tradition passed down since 1880, “Lessons and Carols.” This is a tradition that points us to the grace of God through the message of hope and joy that was given to us in the most unlikely of ways, a baby born to a teen couple, witnessed by a community of farm animals.
No one expected this story. No one that is except this mysterious group of people from the east: the wisemen. Have you ever thought of the Magi?. “The Three Kings” as they are called in the classic Christmas carol.
I’ve always been fascinated by these mysterious fellows who show up near the beginning of the Christmas story. When I started to pay attention to them, I noticed some interesting things and was left with even more questions.
Magi Moment: Did you ever notice when they actually arrive on the scene of the Christmas story? Take a look at Matthew 2:1-11. No seriously just click the link and read the passage. I’ll wait. ... Ok did you see it? They weren’t at the manger. They come some time later as they go into the house where Mary and Jesus were staying. This explains why my family and I put the wisemen from our annual manger scene in the kitchen. It’s also a great conversation starter for friends and family who visit during the Advent season.
One of my big questions is how did they know to look for this star of the new King of the Jews? Could it have been Daniel? Daniel we know is fresh in our minds and hearts as we have just finished up a two-month sermon series. From that series, you might recall that Daniel held the position of wiseman. Another thing we know about Daniel is that he and his closest friends continually lived faithfully before God as testified by King Darius, “May your God, whom you serve so faithfully, rescue you.” (Daniel 6:16)
Daniel, as a faith-filled Jewish exile would be looking for the day God would restore Israel. When the Messiah, the Promised One of God would come. However, when the Magi from the Christmas story noticed the star in the sky, something prompted them perhaps to recall these words of Daniel pointing to God’s faithfulness and plan for His people.
This is a glimpse of how the story of Jesus works isn’t it? God working behind the scenes many times unnoticed yet through the words, actions and stories of the faithful. Through the lives of those who have come to know Jesus in such a way that they, like Daniel, are compelled to pass on the story of God is setting things right through the Promised One, through Jesus.
This Advent season I encourage you to cherish and recall the loving mystery of how you came to know Jesus. Who told you? Perhaps send them a card of thanks for their faithfulness. Individually or as a family share your story with one another and join the long line of faithful storytellers pointing each other to Jesus.
“Join me in spreading the news; together let’s get the word out.”
- Psalm 34:3, The Message
To help you toward this end, here are a few guidelines to create a Spiritual Genealogy. This is a great way to trace through whom and how God worked in your life to bring the story of Jesus to you.
A Spiritual Genealogy
To start your Spiritual Genealogy, answer the questions concerning your coming to faith in Jesus. Then interview the person who introduced you to Jesus (if possible) and answer the same questions. Do this as far back as possible to see all that God used to bring you into the family of faith. After you’ve gone back as far as possible, create a poster board with pictures of key people or places, write a couple of lines describing that person’s coming to faith to visually represent your Spiritual Genealogy. Then stand back and marvel at the beautiful grace and love of God and how it weaves through our individual stories to bring us into the grand story of God’s redeeming love for the world through Jesus.
- Who introduced you to Jesus?
- Where were you when you invited Jesus into your life?
- How old were you?
- What were the circumstances which enabled the person to share Jesus with you?
- What’s the best thing about knowing Jesus personally?
The Shepherds (Through Angel’s Eyes): Week 2
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
- John 10:11
Place yourself on the scene of Luke 2:6-20 by imagining you are one of the angels preparing to announce the arrival of Jesus to the shepherds.
Whew, this is a biggie. Can you sense the excitement? There’s such joy and wonder in the air that it’s nearly uncontainable. We just received word to be on alert to announce the birth of the long awaited Messiah!
It’s been some 400 years since we’ve had instructions to do such an announcement. Sure we were behind the scenes doing what we angels do, but this is definitely different. This is going to be very public. We’re pulling out all the stops. Full chorus of angels, trumpets, heavenly glory and such. I can’t wait to see the looks on the nobility’s faces in the palace.
Wait . . . .what? We’re not doing this at the palace in Jerusalem? OK, then the temple it is. Those Priests are in for a show. I’m going to…Oh, I see. Not the temple either? Well, town square?
That can’t be right…Let me understand this. We are breaking not only 400 years of silence but are announcing the arrival of the Messiah, the Promised One of God, to a bunch of shepherds, in a field?
I know it’s been a while since we’ve done this, but you do remember shepherds are pretty much your baseline, blue-collar worker, right? They have no influence, little respect, no power. In fact, I can’t think of any reason we should announce the birth of Immanuel - “God with us” mind you - to a bunch of shepherds who in the world’s eyes don’t amount to much.
What do you mean, “exactly?” Exactly what?
The Lord talking to Samuel was a while ago, but I think it went something like, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
If I remember correctly, Samuel was saying this in reference to David who was out tending his family’s sheep.
OK, saying the last part slowly again, “Tending his family’s sheep.”
Keep going with that story a little bit later? OK, fast forwarding, Samuel tells David, “This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies has declared: I took you from tending sheep in the pasture and selected you to be the leader of my people Israel.”
Yes I know Psalm 23, “The Lord is my Shepherd…”
It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed what Micah foretold, but yes I think I can remember, “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler, who will shepherd my people Israel.”
So, shepherds. Yeah, I’m starting to see the subtle, brilliant imagery this is meant to convey. The humble servants of the people who care and look out for the flock at the cost of their own life. Shepherds? Why not shepherds? It has to be shepherds. Yes, shepherds!
The only thing that could top this is to nickname Jesus, The Lamb of God.
Can you imagine! Angels announcing to shepherds. And shepherds there to welcome the Lamb of God?! Oh, that’s just too much.
Ponder again the story of Luke 2:6-20 and be led by the Good Shepherd in the everyday moments of your life.
Simeon and Ana: Week 3
“Waiting time is not wasting time. Waiting patiently in expectation is the foundation of the spiritual life.”
- Henri Nouwen
Place yourself on the scene of Luke 2:22-38.
Traditionally we don’t often consider Simeon and Ana as part of the Advent narrative. But then again, we don’t often hear a message on the justice of God during Advent, as we did this past Sunday, either.
Maybe I’m just fascinated by following the baby Jesus through the first few days of His life. What a mesmerizing mystery to consider how the One who sculpted galaxies, mountains and the first humans is now being carried and cared for, in the hands of His earthly parents. Their caring, faithful hands lead them to do, what all faithful Jews did after the birth of a child - present the prescribed offerings at the temple.
As an Advent aside, it’s interesting to notice how this is another glimpse into the humble beginnings of the Lord Jesus. The actual prescribed worship offering for the birth of a child was a lamb, but if that couldn’t be afforded by the family then two turtle doves and two pigeons would do. 
In the midst of this celebratory act of worship with the baby Jesus at the center, we are introduced to two unique and mysterious people, Simeon and Ana. We don’t know much about them. What we are told is that they both have a deep, patient faith that is visible to those around them. Simeon lives “in the prayerful expectancy of help for Israel.”  Ana was widowed at an early age and has resided, better put - worshiped, prayed and fasted in the temple for the last 84 years. Both, we are told, are waiting for the Messiah to come.
I can imagine Simeon and Ana knowing each other. Ana having seen Simeon so excited and animated it caught her attention, as she came over wondering and finding out yes the One Simeon has been waiting for all these years has come.
That is what Advent means literally. The term is a version of the Latin word meaning “coming.” Jesus coming on the scene is God’s justice in action. Jesus is the means to set things right. Here in our story, you have two faith-filled people who have been waiting, literally their whole lives for this event.
But let’s be honest waiting is hard. We all know about waiting, don’t we? Waiting for those big events in life where the more eager we are to see it happen the slower time seems to move. Remember waiting for your wedding day? Or that well-deserved vacation? When I was little I remember feeling how time seemed to slow down to a snail’s pace the closer it came to Christmas.
The more sobering reality is that it’s one thing to wait for Christmas as a child or your wedding, as a young adult, but it’s quite another to wait for the phone call telling you the results of tests. Or the email that will hopefully come with the job offer after being out of work for six months. Or the tear-filled waiting for any word from an estranged child. This kind of waiting can be disheartening and soul shrinking.
Yet, it’s this kind of waiting that Simeon and Ana were involved. They and generations before them had longed for God’s justice to restore Israel as a free people. The last 400 years God seemed a distant memory, buried in silence. During Simeon and Ana’s time, they were under Roman occupation. Yet both of them seem to have souls that are growing and shaping others on the waiting journey. How?
As I sought some helpful answers, formational points, as I like to call them, here is what I discovered and pondered as I sat, watched, and listened to Simeon and Ana live their waiting in front of me.
Formational Points Towards Faith Filled Waiting
- Hopeful expectation for God to do what was promised.
Coming into this story I was struck by Simeon and Ana's faithfulness in waiting since the context is some 400-plus years of God’s silence. Yet they still anticipated that God would do what was promised.
- Jesus at Center.
Their whole world had God at the center. God wasn’t one item to check off among many in their week but was the center from which they lived life.
- Sensitivity to the leading of the Spirit.
How often do I miss promptings of the Spirit because I’m simply not expecting or looking for them? What if I was?
- Fasting and Praying.
Honestly, it’s been a while since I have fasted. But when I read through the Scriptures, this was a normal part of life for the faithful. In fact, I’m reminded that Jesus says in Matthew, “When you fast...” 
There is this sense of God infused gratitude through this whole story. It starts with the act of worship at the beginning and flows through to the praise of thanks from Simeon into Ana’s exuberant outpouring at the end.
- Sharing of the Story.
As they waited, they told the stories that showcased God’s ultimate story of faithfulness to His people. They shared what they knew personally and practically of God’s faithfulness and the hope that is to come - that was promised. As followers of Jesus, we are now part of God’s rescue story - of setting things right - it’s ours to share as well.
Each was actively involved in corporate worship. Ana never left the temple and we can be sure Simeon was found there on a regular basis. Community makes all the above formational points come to life.
Toward a Practice of Waiting
Print out or do a screenshot of this devotional reflection to ponder the Formational Points in the following ways:
- Circle the formational points that come easiest to you.
- Underline the ones that are difficult for you to experience.
- Put a star next to the one formational point you sense the Spirit of Christ leading you to practice during this season of Advent and perhaps into the early part of 2020.
But those who wait upon God get fresh strength.
They spread their wings and soar like eagles,
They run and don’t get tired,
they walk and don’t lag behind.
- Isaiah 40:31
 Leviticus 12:8
 Luke 2:25, MSG
 Matthew 6:16-18, (Emphasis mine.)
- Hopeful expectation for God to do what was promised.
The Wisemen, Part 2: Week 4
“God's Kingdom is a place of abundance where every generous act overflows its original bounds and becomes part of the unbounded grace of God at work in the world.”
- Henri Nouwen
Using your imagination, place yourself on the scene of Matthew 2:9-15 and read slowly and intentionally as one who was there as an eyewitness to the events.
When you read through the Scriptures, the grace of God is in abundance and present through the everyday moments of life. We see God’s grace with a small boy offing his lunch of a few fish and bread to Jesus.
Jesus takes that humble lunch and feeds thousands. We see it again in the Temple where a widow offers two pennies as an offering and Jesus declares that she has put in more than all the others. Yet, so often in life, how many of us miss the grace of God simply because we’re not looking for it? Or dare I say not expecting it.
This week we return to the wisemen. As I shared in the first Advent Devotional
I find the story of the wisemen so intriguing and mysterious. But as we slow down and take another look at these travelers from the East, we also see a vivid picture of God’s grace at work in the everyday moments of life.
If you haven’t taken the opportunity to read our theme passage above, as a live witness on the scene, please do so. Engage your imagination in this way and read Matthew 2:9-15.
If you’re around any church during the Christmas season, this is a scene you’ve heard and even sung about numerous times - the wisemen offering gifts to the baby Jesus. It’s a special moment to be sure, but have you ever noticed what else was happening here? Did you catch it? Read it again but this time slow down when you reach verses 13 to 15.
Did you see it? Did you see God’s grace in action? It’s OK if you didn’t notice. It took someone pointing it out to me as well. Let’s review our context to help us see God’s amazing grace at work. The setting is in Bethlehem. We are with a family who has recently given birth to their first child. And based upon the offerings for a firstborn given in the temple, as we shared in our third Advent Devotional this was a poor family.
Some mysterious strangers from the East are in the doorway where this poor family is staying and they come bearing gifts. Not the obligatory bottle of wine, or scented candle but good gifts. Gifts that are extremely valuable. Why?
Oh, yes, I forgot to mention that this baby is the King of the Jews. The Promised One. The Messiah. You don’t bring the Messiah a scented candle you bring the good stuff. The really good stuff.
Gold: Just as it is today gold in the ancient world was seen as a very valuable gift and customary to offer to royalty, especially from visiting dignitaries.
Frankincense: This tree sap was as valuable as it was fragrant in the ancient Middle East. Due to its high value, it was often associated with worship in the Temple.
Myrrh: Another high-end tree sap that was very versatile being used in perfume, anointing oil, medicinal beverages and a key ingredient in the mixture of spices that were used to prepare bodies for burial.
These are gifts that pay homage to this little newborn king and who He is to become. And as captivating as the story is at this point, it’s only getting started. For we learn that this newborn king and family are now political refugees and have to flee for their lives.
Can you imagine the conversation between Joseph and Mary when Joseph tells Mary, “We have to leave now! An angel told me to head to Egypt.” If this was between my wife and me, the first question would be, “How are we paying for this?”
And I can just picture, as they both realize the grace of God active and present in their lives, as they look down in the corner of their living room the pile of gold, frankincense and Myrrh, with bows still attached.
God supplied what they needed so they could do what was impossible themselves. That’s the grace of God. That’s the impossible generosity of God available to all in the normal flow of our lives.
Many of us treat Christmas like this. We get caught up in the lights, families, wrapping, baking, cooking and festivities of the Christmas season and we miss God’s gift of grace in the midst.
Christmas - the incarnation of Jesus - reveals what God does for us that we can’t do for ourselves. Jesus is our fragrant, beautiful, beyond measure gift providing the way from death to life –offered freely to us.
That’s God’s grace at work.
Do you see it? Have we received this gift for life in the midst of the wilderness? If yes, then with whom can you share this gift to help them find life in the middle of their wilderness?
I told you the wisemen were pretty interesting.