Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Twelve Days of Christmas
On the twelfth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Twelve drummers drumming,
Eleven pipers piping,
Ten lords a-leaping,
Nine ladies dancing,
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree! 

It is an odd choice, yet everyone knows the twelve days of Christmas. Do you know why there are twelve days? For centuries Christians have celebrated 12 days of Christmas, from Christmas day, December 25 through the twelve night before Epiphany (when we celebrate the arrival of the Wise Men)  January 6. Some traditions have variations on this
timing but still maintain the twelve days. It  is called
Christmastide or Twelvetide which has drifted from
understanding in the United States partially because the Christmas shopping season ends on the first day of
Christmastide.  So, why go on and on about a
tradition that is all but forgotten? When we narrow the work of God in Jesus Christ to one day of the year we miss the point. We often bend our celebration of Christ’s
arrival to be about us. Christmas is a special celebration both of Christ’s first coming and His return. We cannot just thank God one time a year, but we must continually thank God for his continuing work among us through Jesus Christ. This year how can you think differently about Christmas and what it really means to you?

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Joy to the World
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

“Joy to the World” was written by Isaac Watts. He wrote this song in response to Psalm 98. The Psalm begins, “Sing to the Lord a new song for he has done marvelous things.” Isaac Watts felt that singing about the birth of Jesus Christ and His eminent return proved the marvelous things God has done, is doing, and will do for us. What marvelous things has God done in your life that are worthy of a song?

Monday, December 29, 2014

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus
Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s Strength and Consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

“Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” was written by Charles Wesley and originally published in 1744. Although we most closely associate this song with Christmas, Charles Wesley was inspired by Haggai 2:7 which reads: “I will shake all
nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty.”
Wesley was disappointed and saddened at the shape of the world. He was distraught at the troubles that faced the
people of his time thinking that little had changed in the 1,700 years since Christ’s birth. He then thought about the birth of Jesus Christ and was immediately filled by a sense of hope. He reread the prophesy of Haggai and the hope that the prophet had for the first coming of Christ. It inspired Wesley to celebrate the first coming of Christ and  also to look forward with hope to the second coming of Christ. As we prepare for Christmas, what in your life makes you
distraught about our times and hopeful for the second
coming of Christ?    

Weekly Theme December 28 through January 3

Christmas Carol Special Edition

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.
1 Thessalonians 4:16-17
Advent is the time of preparation and celebration for the coming of the Lord.  We just assume that means the celebration of Jesus coming into the world at his birth in Bethlehem.  It does include that yet this is only a part of the story.  Jesus promised He would return and that  He would finalize His victory over evil and death.  At Advent and Christmas, we should celebrate Jesus first entrance into this world and we should remind ourselves and prepare ourselves for the expectation of Jesus’ Second Advent.  The return of Jesus is the Blessed Hope of every generation of Christians.  The Second Advent of Jesus is what will bring about the fullness of our faith. The Second Advent of Jesus will leave no doubt for us that we serve a mighty and great God.  Advent is about our great and mighty God coming among us and bringing us salvation that we so desperately need.  This is what happened in Jesus’ first Advent and that is what will
happen in Jesus’ Second Advent.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Revelation 3:19-20
19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

Throughout the scriptures we have read this week and many more, we have not studied we see the relentlessness of the love of God in Jesus Christ knocking and pushing its way into our lives and not wanting to be stopped by our no vacancy signs. It is a great reminder that there is hope for all of us. Is there room in your heart for Christ to be born?

Friday, December 26, 2014

Luke 22:7-13
Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.”
“Where do you want us to prepare for it?” they asked.
10 He replied, “As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters, 11 and say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 12 He will show you a large room upstairs, all furnished. Make preparations there.”
13 They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.
14 When the

In our scripture today, we see the preparation for Jesus’ last meal with his disciples. The fun part about this is that the word used for the Upper Room is the same word the
historian Luke uses to describe the inn (or guest room) in the birth narrative.  A pastor once commented that if there were a real innkeeper who did as we thought and turned Mary and Joseph away for one reason or another but upon hearing about the ministry of Jesus Christ it all came back to him. The star, the cries, and a newborn baby that he turned away. Repenting from his turning the Lord away, he invites Jesus and his friends to come and be his guest and this is where Jesus sends the disciples. Even if the inn
keeper is not real, this is a great reminder of the grace that God has bestowed on us in Jesus Christ. No matter if you have denied access to Jesus we can still turn and welcome him. What hope do you find in looking at the story in this way?

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Luke 2:6-7

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

Merry Christmas! Again today we have the story of Mary and Joseph  unable to find room in the inn. On Tuesday we discussed how there is no actual innkeeper and why that might be. But you see there is a bit more to this story. The word here that is translated to have the phrase no room for them in the inn is a problem with the English translation. You see what the author is talking about here is there was no guest room available, meaning a room upstairs in a main house and because of the times this presumably Joseph’s extended family. Instead they are allowed to stay in the lower room of the house where animals would have been kept. This could be because there was no room, but it also may have been done to keep the families honor as Mary and Joseph having a baby would have been quite a scandal. Have you ever thought about the birth of Christ as a scandal? What does this mean for our faith today?

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Isaiah 53:2-6
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
    and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
    nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Surely he took up our pain
    and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
    stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
    each of us has turned to our own way;
and the 
Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

Our scripture today is one of Isaiah’s servant songs. Some have seen these as prophesies about Jesus who was yet to come. So many times, we want to have a pretty angelic
picture of Jesus but this scripture paints Jesus as someone despised by the world and yet he came to save it.  Are there ways that you see that Christ  is despised by the world? Are there ways that you turn away from him?

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Luke 2:6-7
While they were there, the time came for the
baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

Isn’t it interesting as we read this story that there is no
innkeeper. It is amazing that so many of our stories and songs detail the story of a person who is no where to be found  in the scriptures. In some ways this could be our attempt to find a scapegoat. If it were not for that evil
Innkeeper Jesus would have been welcomed to our world in the way that he deserved. If I had been there we would have done things differently. The trouble is that hindsight is 20/20 we would have not known more than the made up
Innkeeper. The question is rather are we still shutting Christ out? Are there parts of your life that you tell Christ there is no vacancy?

Monday, December 22, 2014

Luke 2:1-5
1In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.

Our scripture today reminds us that the story of Christmas is not an easy path. Mary and Joseph must travel a treacherous journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. But it is important for us to remember that so often our response to God’s call is a journey. In some ways this is a daunting thought that the response to God’s call is to go to places that are outside of our comfort zone, but at the same time it is a comfort to know that answers for our life in faith are not instant but a process or a journey. How have you seen that your life in God has been a journey?

Weekly Theme December 21 through 27

The Innkeeper

 “...Joseph Son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
  -Matthew 1:20b-21
Have you ever felt left out and alone?  Have you ever felt that there was no room for you in a certain situation? Being made to feel like there is no room for you is something that Mary and Joseph and the soon to be born baby Jesus experienced upon their arrival in Bethlehem.  Mary, who was very pregnant, and Joseph had traveled over 70 miles from the village of Nazareth to Bethlehem to participate in the Roman census.  When they arrived there was no room for them.  There was no room for Jesus.
Unfortunately, that is still the attitude that is shown toward Jesus.  Even those of us who claim to be Christians and follow Jesus will still hang out the “no vacancy” sign when it comes to letting Jesus into areas of our lives that we would rather keep off limits.  When Jesus tries to bring change into an area of our lives with which we are comfortable we can often respond by giving forth an attitude that says, “Hold on, Jesus.  I might follow you but there is a limit to what you can do in my life.  That area you want to mess around in is off limits.  There is no room for you there.”
Jesus is quite used to being told that there is no room for him in our lives.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Luke 1:34-38
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.” 38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

Today’s good news is this, faith is hard and what we do in our personal faith and as the church will never be perfect but we are not alone. God has sent the
Holy Spirit to each of us and we have each other to lean on. The Holy Spirit empowers us to move through and do things we could not do on our own. Just as Mary has her cousin
Elizabeth to understand what she is going through, we have our brothers and sisters in Christ who are praying and caring for us. In fact today other people from the church are
reading this journal and thinking about you as you should be thinking of them. Take a moment to pray for your brothers and sisters in Christ and thank God for them as partners on this journey of faith. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Hebrews 11:17-31
17 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, 18 even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 19 Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.20 By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.
21 By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.22 By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones. 23 By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. 24 By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. 25 He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered
because he saw him who is invisible. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and the application of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.31 By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.

If you have made it to today in the journal you might be wondering, “How are these terrible verses helping me grow my faith, everyone mentioned only got death, struggles, and strife for their faith?” Today’s scripture begins to offer help with that question because of the amazing things God does through those who are faithful. In a society that demands easy and quick answers faith is not something that is easy. If we are faithful to God, God has promised to transform the world through us. Are you prepared for the hard work of faith so God can transform the world through you? With all we have read this week what are your concerns about what you may face?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

2 Corinthians 11:24-28
 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 

Paul recalls here how his ministry is not easy and by no means perfect. If we as the church think that the ministry that God has called us to is easy and/or going to be perfect, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. The church itself is a perfect example of not being perfect. The church on one hand is God’s vessel to work in this world and at the same time it is filled with fallible human beings. The church will make mistakes and at times fail, our only hope is to fail forward with the Lord’s help. But that should never be a reason to do nothing at all. It is better to fail and
struggle in trying to do the mission of God than to do
nothing. What do you think the church could do if we gave up on perfect and were not afraid to fail?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

John 19:16-27
16 Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be
crucified. So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. 
17 Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called
Golgotha). 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle. 25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his
mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his
mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

For those who have seen the movie “The Passion of the Christ,” the most heart wrenching moment is watching Mary’s reaction to the suffering of Jesus. We all want to
forget about Good Friday and jump to Easter so we can get away from the bad feelings of the brutal death of Jesus Christ. It is why Christmas and Easter are the best Sundays of the year because they allow us to celebrate the great heights of joy. But we would have  neither if it were not for the death of Jesus. This is like our lives. Our days are not filled with innumerable joys. We have good days and bad days. We endure moments of great joy and pits of
extraordinary pain and sorrow. Take a moment now to think about your life. Think about the ups and downs in your
history. Thank God for both. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Matthew 2:13-18
When they had gone, an angel of the Lord
appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” 14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” 16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
 18 “A voice is heard in Ramah,
    weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
    and refusing to be comforted,
    because they are no more.”

If the whole teenage pregnancy, trip to Bethlehem, and
giving birth in a barn were not enough. now Mary finds out that Herod wants to kill them. What feelings do you think Mary had when she had to pack up her newborn baby and flee to a foreign land? What struggles do you think she is having with being faithful to God’s plan?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Luke 1:26-33
26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” 29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.

From the beginning of the story Jesus’ birth is not “perfect.” Jesus will not be born to a rich or influential family but a poor adolescent girl. It is easy for us to sanitize Jesus’ birth because we know the beginning and the end. Imagine facing the birth the way Mary did with little or no
explanation and no clue about what was going to happen. This way of looking at Christmas is far from perfect, it is real. What do you think your reaction would have been if you
received the news that Mary did (you are engaged and you are pregnant by the Holy Spirit)? How do you imagine others would respond? Would the angels’ words “do not be afraid” be enough to calm your nerves?

Weekly Theme December 14 through 20


  In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee,  to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Luke 1:26-28
Have you ever had that moment of something happening in your life that you knew it was absolutely not possible except through the power of God?  It is in those moments that we come to realize that God is doing something wonderful and good in our lives, and in many ways it is a process of rebirth and renewal. How do those moments happen in our lives?  They happen when we come to the conclusion that we are totally and utterly powerless to bring about any change in our own lives, so we surrender to the power of God in our lives and say “yes” to what God wants to do in us and through us.  Through those moments, little by little and over and over again, God makes us into new creations.  At the same time, we need to always realize that what is happening in our lives is only possible because God is the one doing it.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Matthew 1:22-25
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him
Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Today we have the same scripture as Wednesday. This is so we can note the importance that even though Joseph has doubt and fear he still obeys God. What do you think it means to obey God? How does this get lived out in your walk of faith?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Matthew 13:53
53 When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there. 54 Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous
powers?” they asked. 55 “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? 56 Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” 57 And they took offense at him.

In our scripture today we see Jesus get heckled in his hometown. This is a continued push to see that God does not operate inside of our assumptions. Just like Joseph and the people of Nazareth, we are all called to change our
assumptions from time to time. When have you had an experience or relationship that forced you to change some of your assumptions? What difference did it make?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Matthew 1:18-22
18-19 The birth of Jesus took place like this. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that.) Joseph,
chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced.
20-23 While he was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream. God’s angel spoke in the dream: “Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to get married. Mary’s pregnancy is Spirit-conceived. God’s Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus—‘God saves’—because he will save his people from their sins.”

This is the same scripture that we read on Tuesday but
today we see it from another translation.  When we look at Joseph we see someone who is a great man of faith, trying to live out his faith. When Mary gets pregnant and he tries to do the right thing but an angel comes to set him straight. Many times we are faced with moments like this in our walk of faith where we are confronted with a challenge that calls us out of our comfort zone to serve God. What would you want to do if there were no limitations to share the good news of Jesus Christ?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Matthew 1:22-25
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him
Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Our scripture today solidifies our point from yesterday. We like Joseph, may not understand and we may still doubt what will happen, but we follow in faith. What do you think about the idea that we can doubt and still have faith? What does this mean for your faith walk?