Dec 25

December 25 :: Merry Christmas!

I hope that this Advent Devotional has blessed you with the presence of Jesus each and every day and that the reflections shared on these pages have been used of God to make your heart ready for your Christmas celebration. What a gift to have these four weeks to focus and prepare to look again in the manger and see the incarnation made known to us in the form of the Christ Child! This one birth, this One baby has changed everything!

I want to thank each person, again who participated in this devotional. And I especially want to thank the staff with whom I work in the Spiritual Formation and Soul Care Department, specifically Ashley Wood and Rebecca Burchett Morgan. Our Communications Department, Heidi Launer, Donna McNamara and Julie Sather, have provided the layout, editing, printing, and production of this booklet. It is a blessing to work with all of these women.

A very Merry Christmas to you and joy in the New Year ahead, too!

 

Warmly,

Rev. Care Crawford

 

Dec 25

December 25 :: Christmas Day

For a Child has been born for us, a Son given to us; authority rests upon His shoulders; and He is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and His kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. – Isaiah 9:6–7

 

He is born!

Yet, He has always existed.

What a thought. The eternal Son of God sent from heaven to us here on earth to be born and live among us. As the prophet Isaiah reminded God’s people hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, “for a child has been born for us, a son given to us.” The birth of Jesus was unlike any other in so many ways, including the fact that He was born not for His earthly parents or His heavenly father, but for us.

Throughout the world on this Christmas day, gifts will be given. Some wrapped, some purchased, some handmade, some re-gifted.

As a child, I always loved unwrapping gifts. In the moment of tearing apart the patterned wrapping, fumbling with the tied ribbon, and pulling “the gift” out of its box, my heart would be racing. What could it be?
The possibilities were endless. Was it something on my list, or a surprise? I would observe the shape, feel the weight, and shake it as I wondered what it was.

In fact, not knowing the full extent of the gift kept me unwrapping.

However, something changed once I saw what the gift was. Once I had opened it, I never would open it again. With nothing else to discover, my excitement would move to the next unopened gift.

Even though I was thankful for all the gifts I received, there was always a twinge of disappointment when it was all done.

I think we do the same with Jesus.

After receiving Jesus and “unwrapping” Him, we mistakenly think we know the full extent of the gift that He is and our excitement wanes.
We eventually stop unwrapping. Our excitement moves on to something else to discover.

What if receiving the gift of Jesus meant that you had the opportunity to spend the rest of your life in a continual unwrapping of the depth, height, and width of his presence in your life? What if every morning was Christmas morning in your relationship with Him? What if every day you chose to continually unwrap the truth that Jesus is the “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace”? The Jesus that this Advent devotional points to is as accessible in July as it is in December. Let’s keep unwrapping the gift that Jesus is!

 

– Rev. Dr. Drew Sams

Dec 24

Evening December 24

From His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son,who is close to the Father’s heart,who has made Him known. – John 1:16–18 (The Message)

16-18 We all live off His generous bounty,
gift after gift after gift.
We got the basics from Moses,
and then this exuberant giving and receiving,
This endless knowing and understanding—
all this came through Jesus, the Messiah.
No one has ever seen God,
not so much as a glimpse.
This one-of-a-kind God-Expression,
who exists at the very heart of the Father,
has made Him plain as day.

 

I have always been struck with this phrase, “grace upon grace.” How can you get more grace “heaped upon” than grace already is? John says we ALL receive this gift…everyone…not the good or righteous, not those born into privilege or born in this country—rather, all people receive from GOD. Advent gives us time to focus our gaze toward Bethlehem, to a manger where grace and truth are born. In that birth, that unlikely birth, in an unlikely town, through an unlikely virgin, God makes Himself known—how very unlikely! This vulnerable, dependent new born, the God of the universe, points us to, what Eugen Peterson describes, “This one-of-a-kind God-expression.” Jesus is a one-of-a-kind picture of God…in flesh, in diapers—human and God together. Through this infant, grace and truth are born.

What do grace and truth look like for you this Advent season? How do you define grace? In seminary I remember someone describing it as our only true “free lunch.”

Tonight is Christmas Eve. The carols we sing, the presents we offer are all part of keeping the Christmas tradition as we know it. Tomorrow we celebrate Jesus birth. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in that one tiny event, in a tiny village, when a tiny Baby was born—Immanuel,

God with us, Grace and Truth…these are just some of His names.

How do your plans for Christmas Eve and Christmas day enable you to receive grace upon grace? It isn’t wrapped in a package under the tree. It has to do with what your soul can receive. It is about the interior life…where grace does its work and where truth has its roots. Our creative God…whom we have not seen, decided to create again when Jesus was conceived. What does the environment of your heart need to look like for you to receive this gift? Tonight you can prepare your heart to receive—“Prepare Him room!”

Born for you…grace upon grace. Born for you, grace and truth! May you have a truth filled and a grace filled Christmas.

– Rev. Care Crawford

 

Dec 24

Morning December 24

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen His glory, the glory as of a Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified to Him and cried out, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because He was before me.’”)  – John 1:14–15

As we prepare to celebrate Christmas amid the rampant commercialism, hectic shopping, decorating, wrapping, cooking, and frayed nerves, may we pause to reflect on the significance of John 1:14–15 to our celebration.

Here in this text, the Apostle John distills the entire message of the Bible and declares that the Word—the eternal God who existed before time and history, who spoke into existence the universe and all living things—became flesh and appeared among us as a human baby! The invisible, infinite, supernatural Creator became the visible, finite, flesh-and-blood Jesus of Nazareth! In one sentence, John covers the 33-year life span of Jesus and reminds us that we actually saw the glory of God in Jesus.

Just as the Shechinah—the glory and presence of God—appeared among the Israelites in the wilderness (Ex. 16:10; 24:16; 40:34), so was God’s glory revealed in Jesus at his birth (Lk. 2:14, 30-32), transfiguration (Mt. 17:2; Mk. 9:3), death, resurrection, and ascension (Jn. 7:39; 12:16, 23, 28; 13:31, 32).

The glory seen in Jesus came from the unique Father-Son relationship that he had with God before the universe was created (Jn. 17:5), and permeated His earthly life and ministry. We not only saw the glory of God in Jesus, but also the fullness of God’s grace—the limitless mercy, kindness, and love of God for sinners—and the embodiment of the truth of God’s nature and characteristics.

And as Jesus prepared to return to His Father, He promised that He would not leave us alone, but that His Holy Spirit of truth would be with us to teach, guide, comfort, and help us.

So as we gather with our families and friends this Christmas, may we find time to give thanks to God that He did not stay remote and aloof from us in His heavenly realm. Through Jesus, God identified with our humanity, loved us, suffered for us, and ultimately died for our sins in order to redeem us and give us fullness of life—now and for all eternity.

– Derrick Coy

 

Dec 23

Evening December 23

But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:12–13

When you think of “birthright” you often think of the English monarchy and the birthright of a royal family. Because of their blood line, they have access to the king or queen and many privileges.

Throughout the Bible we read of the lineage of Jesus, the blood line of David; an individual was introduced as the brother of … the son of … their birthright and their lineage established their identity. Your mother, your father, brothers and sisters, your family defined who you were.

In John 1:12-13, John made it clear that when he spoke of becoming a child of God that he wasn’t speaking of a natural birth so there would be no confusion about a blood line or ancestry, but that being a child of God and belonging to the family of God is a matter of faith, and your identity is in Jesus Christ. When you, in faith believing, accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you become a child of God. You have access to the King! As a child of God you will hunger to know Him better and will desire to be with your brothers and sisters in the Lord. It is in that time when we share with one another as we worship, study and pray, united in heart, that we learn to become more like Him. We grow in faith and demonstrate love for one another because of His love for us. Our love for one another identifies that we are a child of God.

Our birthright may not be through the British royal monarchy, but it is through a King. As we celebrate this holiday season, let us remember that our identity and “birthright” is in Christ; for those who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become a child of God.

– Marianne Silva

 

Dec 23

Morning December 23

He [John the Baptist] himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through Him; yet the world did not know Him. 11 He came to what was His own, and His own people did not accept Him. – John 1:8–11

The very first words spoken in the Bible, and in creation itself, occur in Genesis 1:3: “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” According to this morning’s text in verse 9, the world came into being through the True Light. That Light is the Word made flesh—Jesus. The difference between the beginning verses of Genesis and the beginning verses of John’s Gospel is that John doesn’t juxtapose light in the usual way with darkness. Instead, he focuses on the fact that creation is blind to the Light’s existence, rejecting the very Light that created it. We easily identify the Israel of Jesus’ time as “His own people [who] did not accept Him.” John’s Gospel is often referred to as the universal Gospel. If it is to be understood as universal, then his words must apply to us as well.

From the earliest days of human history, people recognized the importance of light for life. December 21st marks the winter solstice—the shortest day of the year. As the days grew shorter, many in the ancient world feared that the sun would cease to provide the light needed to sustain life. They feared darkness. By the 23rd of December, however, they were able to observe that the sun’s rays were once again growing stronger, and notice the days lengthening. But these people who were obsessed with light, and who understood its necessity for life, did not recognize the Light of the World.

In 21st century Los Angeles, we suffer from light pollution. We live in a city with so much ambient light that, even on the clearest of nights, most of the stars are obscured by light of our own making. This is a metaphor for our self-sufficiency. Even worse than being blind to the Light’s existence, we are blinded from recognizing the brilliance of the True Light. At church, we boast about the “million dollar view” we have from the patio and parking lot, marveling at the twinkling lights of the valley below. Yet we easily forget that the true Light of the World was born so that we might have a relationship with Him.

In reflecting on these verses, I was reminded of one of the most disturbing and distressing images I ever saw in L.A. On the morning of January 17,, 1994, I experienced my first earthquake. After contacting family to let them know that we were okay, Care and I got in the car to check on some of the older members of the congregation. As we reached the crest of the Sepulveda Pass on the 405, we were both struck by the lack of light emanating from the valley. The only visible light came from fires that had started as a result of broken gas pipes.

I was too shaken at the time to process the sight. Looking back, I now recognize God’s lesson for me. On a daily basis, in ways big and small, I refuse to listen to and receive Christ. The Voice, a contemporary paraphrase of the Bible, comments on these verses this way: Jesus, as the Light, does not call out from a distant place, but draws near by coming into the world.” The only begotten Son of God, “God of God, Light of Light, True God of True God” in the words of the Nicene Creed, came so that we could draw near to Him and experience the light of His love. This is the universal lesson of these verses. This is the gift of God to each of us. Today, I challenge all of us to be like John the Baptist and “testify to the light,” not with our words, but with our lives.

– Steve Madaris

 

Dec 22

Evening December 22

If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; 7 but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. – 1 John 1:6–7

I walk alone

No light before me,

Satisfied with ambient rays to accompany my days.

These streams of light are not true Light, they tease in my darkness.

I stumble and stare- into a shadowed place,

No hope to share a life with One who promises and redeems.

The lies I tell myself are hidden deep in a false self I know well.

I construct a self apart from you. I am not worthy, I cannot dwell.

You call me in my confusion “Crawl to Me child, I am here, I am He.”

“I will not let you walk alone.”

I am invited- Light to shine, Light to offer. Light to reveal.

“My birth brings freedom and fellowship,” His infant face radiates a message too good not to be true.

Just sit by my cradle, and look. Be still my child, see the light reflect on your face.”

All is well. All is lifted. All is Light.

“Just sit and rest.”

“Dwell with Me.”

 

Reflect:

Where is you shadow place? When do you feel in the dark?

When do you experience the Light of Christ within? How do you recognize it?

What does Jesus ask of you?

How will you respond to Him this advent?

 

– Rev. Care Crawford

 

Dec 22

Morning December 22

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. – John 1:5

 

What is it about the darkness that is so scary? When we are little and lying in bed, it is as if we can feel the monster about to jump out of the closet or reach a hand up from under the bed. A night light helps us feel secure. When there is a power outage we light candles and use flashlights so we don’t trip over things as we maneuver through our home. We take every precaution to be safe in the dark. Why is it that we don’t do the same when walking out into this world? It isn’t hard to see how dark our world is. Just turn on the news and you will hear stories of violence, pain and distress. At times I find myself stuck in darkness. How can that be when as a believer I have the light of Jesus pouring over me? My life gets so busy that I forget to pray or can’t make it to church or small group regularly. Or I disregard Biblical teaching and try to handle a situation my own way. It is no wonder I can’t cope! I am trying to maneuver through chaos without seeing the light!

I am so grateful that Jesus is my Savior. He realigns me. Just as we would do for a little kid afraid of the dark He says, “Come back, let Me put the night light back on for you.” Or, “I know it feels dark right now but follow Me, I’ll guide you through.” He has overcome the darkness. His light can’t be put out. And Jesus wants to shine upon us!

In this season of Advent I ask you to think about what area of your life might be hidden in darkness. How are you keeping them hidden and what can you do to bring them into the Light?

Father, thank You for guiding us when we are willing to follow and guiding us back when we go astray. Thank You for giving us the Word to light our path. I pray that You will help us see our own darkness so that we can heal and be able to better shine Your light through to others. Amen.

– Teri Proulx

 

Dec 21

Evening December 21

All things came into being through Him, and without Him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in Him was life, and the life was the light of all people. – John 1:3–4

Jesus made all things. This verse means that nothing would be made without His power and love. He gives all things life. His life is the light of all people. This applies in my life in many ways but it comforts me the most knowing that He loves me so much that He plans my life for me day by day.

Dear God,

Thank you for making all things. If you didn’t make the earth we wouldn’t have this beautiful world to live in. Amen.

– Montana DeTorre, age 8

 

Dec 21

Morning December 21

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. – John 1:1–2

The Apostle John opens his Gospel by proclaiming the deity of Jesus Christ. John states He was with God from the beginning, meaning that He was distinct from the Father, and the Word was God, meaning that Jesus was God in the fullest sense. This statement is important as it lays the foundation for John’s entire Gospel account and the purpose of his writing as stated in John 20:31, “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” In our depravity, there was only one way for us to be reconciled to God. We needed an intermediary, somebody who could take on our debt and pay the price for our sin. This someone needed to be with God from the beginning and, in fact, to be God in the fullest sense. In addition to being fully God, He needed to become fully human to be able to assume our responsibility and pay the punishment of death on our behalf.

In a few days we will be celebrating Christmas, when “the Word became flesh.” Jesus became human for only one purpose, to be crucified for the sake of His people. He was killed, buried, and then rose from the dead, conquering death so that He would have the power to forgive us from our sins and give eternal life to those who call on His name. Christmas is a time to celebrate the amazing and abundant love that Jesus displayed to us by being born in the manger. He humbled Himself so that we may have life in Him. As we finish our last minute shopping buying just the right gifts for our loved ones, don’t overlook the only gift that matters, the gift of eternal life. This morning, take a few moments to thank Jesus for the sacrifice He made 2000 years ago, stepping down from Heaven to become fully human, so that we can be reconciled to God and have life everlasting in His presence by accepting Jesus as our Lord and Savior. The most amazing gift of all!

Blessings to you this Christmas Season!

– Mark Phillips

 

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