Category Archives: Advent

A Prayer for Those Who Grieve at Christmas

By: Dena Johnson

“The thief comes only to steal, and kill, and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” – John 10:10 NASB

I’ve spent the last eight months doing everything I can to keep my faith strong, to trust God. But this week, I am losing the battle. I am collapsing under the weight of this year.

rejoice-emmanuel

The last few days, I find myself simply falling apart. I can’t hold back the tears for another moment. I can’t put a smile on my face and pretend I am doing just fine. I can’t hold in the grief that is filling every inch of my being.

Perhaps you understand. Perhaps you too feel as if this year has been a nightmare, destroying your peace and security. Perhaps you feel as if your very life is crumbling, collapsing. Perhaps you can no longer hold in the tears, no longer pretend everything is just fine.

If you are consumed by grief this Christmas, you are not alone. Can we just take a moment to pray?

Lord Jesus,

I am so overwhelmed. My heart is heavy, burdened. The losses this year are crushing me, overcoming my peace and joy. I know you tell us you are close to the brokenhearted, but I don’t feel you. I feel lost, hopeless, abandoned.

I know this is a season, a season that has a beginning and an end. But right now it feels like it will never end. I need hope, hope to believe you will truly restore me, strengthen me. I need hope to believe you will one day have me put together and on my feet for good. I need a vision of the future you have for me, a future of hope and blessings from you.

It’s so easy to become distracted, to focus on the many losses I have experienced. Forgive me. Help me to put my thoughts, my attention on you. Help me cling to you, to your word, to your promises. Help me be fixed on you because I know it’s the only way to enjoy your perfect peace.

As I walk through this holiday season, give me a fresh glimpse of who You are. Help me remember the suffering You experienced as You watched your Son on the cross, a gift given just for me. Help me remember with joy and wonder the amazing gifts we have simply because you gave, a precious baby born that Christmas morning. Help me focus my heart and mind on Immanuel, God with me.

You are my hope, my only hope, for Christmas and every day on this earth. May I always carry your hope with me.

In Jesus’ Name I pray, Amen.

It’s a Miracle!

Do You Believe in Christmas Miracles?
By Lynette Kittle

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). — Matthew 1:23

Have you noticed how many Christmas movies focus on receiving a Christmas miracle?

Although many center on Santa Claus making things happen, still Christmas is portrayed as a time for long-awaited hopes and dreams to be fulfilled.

Rightly so, too, because Christmas is all about miracles!

It’s a celebration of the miraculous virgin birth of Jesus, God come to earth in human form, to live among mankind and save people from their sins. What could be more miraculous than that?

So how do you approach Christmas? Are you hoping for God to do the impossible in your life? Do you believe what Jesus said, that all things are possible with God? (Mark 10:27)

If you aren’t expecting God to do the impossible at Christmas or any other time of the year, perhaps it’s because of past disappointments, of times where you had great hope and anticipation but didn’t see your prayers answered?

If so, ask God to renew your expectancy in Him, to revive your faith despite your disappointments. Choose to base what you believe about God on what Scripture says about Him, rather on past discouraging experiences.

If former letdowns are holding you back from having faith in God, James 1:6 encourages you to believe with all your heart and not doubt God because doubt inhibits the impossible.

Scripture explains what happened when Jesus visited His hometown and the residents doubted Him. Their disbelief effected what they were able to receive from Jesus. As Matthew 13:58 explains, “And He did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.”

If you’re lacking faith in believing God is able to do the impossible, ask Him to increase your faith. Hebrews 11:1 explains, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

Consider how everything you see created was once impossible without God. As John 1:3 explains, “Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.”

As Jeremiah 32:17 describes, “Ah, Sovereign Lord, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for You.”

Colossians 1:16 further describes, “For in Him all things were created; things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through Him and for Him.”

At Christmas and all year long, choose to believe that nothing is too difficult for God to bring about in your life by stepping out in faith and asking Him to transform your impossibilities into possibilities.

Hail the Incarnate Deity

~Charles Swindoll

On that still winter’s night, something was up… something extraordinary… something supernatural. The shepherds raced to the City of David and found their Savior, just as the angel had said… swaddled and lying in a feeding trough. This was the Promised One, the Messiah! God had finally come to dwell with His people, but in such an unexpected way.

Just who was this holy Child the shepherds gazed upon? Make no mistake: He was incarnate deity. The newborn Jesus existed in eternity past as God the Son. He was coequal, coeternal, and coexistent with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. However, Jesus relinquished the privileges and the pleasures of His existence in heaven when He took upon Himself the limitations of humanity (Philippians 2:6-7). In emptying Himself, Jesus voluntarily set aside the prerogatives and prerequisites of life as He had known it, an existence He had enjoyed; He released His right to that kind of life, saying to the Father, “I will go.”

Go where? To Bethlehem. He took “the form of a bond-servant, and [was] made in the likeness of men.” Allow yourself to picture what the shepherds saw. There He is, the baby. Do you see His ten fingers and ten toes? His button nose? Can you hear the cries? There’s humanity. In this holy infant is the beginning of an earthly life. Look deep into His eyes and see the beginning of life itself.

Later, this divine man, completely unique in His nature and in the perfect life that He lived, “humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Isn’t that amazing? Of all ways to die, He died on a cross—the most humiliating and painful kind of death.

God the Son lowered Himself. He took on the flesh of an infant. He died a humiliating death. As a result, God the Father “highly exalted Him.” One day, all will bow in worship of the risen Lord, “to the glory of God the Father.”

It’s all about His glory. What a plan. What an execution. What a perfect, awesome wrapping! The God-man. Jesus is undiminished deity and true humanity, two distinct natures in one person, forever. That’s the baby in the manger!

See Isaiah 7:14 and Philippians 2:5-11.

The baby in the manger is undiminished deity and true humanity, two distinct natures in one person, forever.

-Charles Swindoll

What do the candles in our Advent wreath mean?

A wreath with three lit candles marks the third week of Advent. Photo by Kathleen Barry, United Methodist Communications.
A wreath with three lit candles marks the third week of Advent. Photo by Kathleen Barry, United Methodist Communications.

The Advent wreath began as a German and Scandinavian home devotional practice used to mark the four weeks of Advent. Families would light a candle for each past week and the current week at their dinner or evening time of prayer. The configuration of candles, whether in a line or a circle, did not matter. Neither did the color of the candles (all colors are used in homes in Europe). What mattered was the marking of time and the increase of light each week in the face of increasing darkness as the winter solstice approached.

As Advent wreaths began to be used by congregations on Sundays in some places in Europe and America beginning in the late 19th century, several adaptations were made to make them work better in public worship spaces. Candles needed to be larger and more uniform than the “daily candles” handmade or purchased for home use. They also needed to be more uniform in color to fit with other décor in the sanctuary. That is why candles used in the Advent wreath are usually purple or blue, to coordinate with color of the paraments used during this season.

This shift in context from home to public use also made it important in the eyes of some for the candles to be given a meaning more that simply marking time and  increasing light. This led to special ceremonies being developed for lighting these special candles each week. 

As this practice began to catch on by the mid-twentieth century, several church supply houses who sold Advent wreaths and candles for public worship also developed resources, banners, and bulletin covers assigning a theme to each week, and thus each candle, based on scriptures from the one-year lectionaries used at that time. Those themes were Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace, in that order. 

Today, almost no one uses those one-year lectionaries, so those themes may not always fit the scriptures we hear in worship. The one exception is the Third Sunday of Advent, where the current lectionaries have continued to support the centuries old observance of “Gaudete” or “Joy Sunday.” That is why church supply houses often offer rose or pink colored candles for the wreath for use on this day.    

So how may we talk about the meaning of the Advent wreath today?

We can reclaim the original home use of marking time with the hope of increasing light as we await the return of Christ, that day when “The city no longer has need of the sun or the moon to shine upon it, because the glory of God illumines it, and its lamp is the lamb.” 

And we can develop meanings or themes for each week based on the focus of the scriptures themselves. After all, the candles and the wreath are an accessory, not an end in themselves. Their meaningfulness comes from how we use them to point toward Christ, the world’s true light, who was, and is, and is to come.  

This content was produced by Ask The UMC, a ministry of United Methodist Communications.