4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Praise Through Song:
Meditation & Prayer:
What does it mean to “love your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”?
What does it mean to “love your neighbor as yourself”?
Tell God you love Him.
Be specific about your feelings toward Him.
Ask God to give you opportunity to love your neighbor this week.
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. —————- 9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 1:1-5; 9-14
Praise Through Song:
Meditation & Prayer:
What does “in Him was life, and the life was the light of men” mean?
What does “all who did receive Him, who believed in His name” mean?
Talk about how special it is that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”.
Thank God for the truth of His Word.
Specifically praise God for truths about Him that we see in today’s Scripture reading.
“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” 1 John 4:10
Jesus is absolutely the reason for the Christmas season, yet He is often overlooked. People are always asking others what Christmas is all about. The answer is simple: love.
God loved the world in this way, that He gave His one and only Son – the only begotten of the Father – to die as a substitute for sinners such as us. This portion of Advent magnifies how deep the Father’s love for us is!
Here are our songs:
O Holy Night —
1 John 3:16-18 —
16 By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
1 John 4:7-12 —
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us.
Midnight Clear (Love Song) —
You’re Here —
Galatians 4:4-5 —
4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
(inv) Make Room —
I hope to see you with us, whether you gather in person, in the parking lot via speaker, or on Facebook or YouTube live!
If gathering in person, please remember that masks are recommended and that we need to remain vigilant in our social distancing measures. Continue to pray for those who are sick – not just our members but all those around the world.
8 There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours. 9 All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name. 10 For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God. 11 Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name. 12 I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever. 13 For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.
15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Praise Through Song:
Meditation & Prayer:
Why is God’s love described as “steadfast”?
What are some things that make our God unique?
Sing today’s hymn and think of three things you are thankful for.
Tell God why you adore Him, and thank Him for your three things above.
4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:21
Praise Through Song:
Meditation & Prayer:
Think about how the gift of Christ’s life and sacrifice has impacted your life.
If you are reading as a family briefly share your testimony with each other.
How can you share this gift with others during this season?
Thank the Lord for the gift of salvation.
Individually, think on the sin that has enslaved you and thank God for purchasing your freedom from it with Jesus’ sacrifice.
Ask God to deliver you from specific sins and/or situations that you are struggling with/in currently.
Pray specifically for people in your life who you believe do not know Christ as their Lord and Savior.
The Christmas season can feel a bit like tug-of-war sometimes. There is the pull of the world and commercialism. There is a definite push toward giving – and especially receiving – and going and doing and seeing. Yet there is always a tug at our hearts that is reminding us that there is more to Christmas than lights and presents. That tug prompts our hearts to look for something holy rather than a holiday.
I find myself pondering, year after year, how God feels about all of this. How much of Christmas focuses on or even includes Christ?
Much time is spent this time of year discussing and debating what is the true meaning of Christmas. Many argue for joy or peace or hope or family or giving or kindness. And it is almost certainly each of those things, at least a little bit. But the meaning of Christmas is most definitely love – the steadfast, always-and-forever, never-stopping, never-giving-up love of God.
God’s love for His people is unbelievable. Arguably, the greatest verse that describes His love is the one that is most familiar to us – John 3:16. In this verse, we see the heart of the Father. We see a love that outshines any earthly love. And, as a father, I cannot fathom loving anyone or anything that much. Our Father loved so much that He gave His only Son.
I have been blessed with two children. I would not put up with either of them being harmed, much less killed, for any of you. I remember the day that my oldest child was born. As I stood there, terrified and holding her in my arms, Daddy leaned in and whispered: “Now, you understand Christmas; now, you start to understand Easter.” That moment, when my heart was filled with more love than I could ever imagine, is the first moment I could feel the anguish and care – but still only a glimpse – that God the Father has for us. Yet I would deny you all to save my children. But our Father is not like that.
God demonstrates His love for us in that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). His love flows from Him “being rich in mercy” (Ephesians 2:4). He loves us enough that we can “be called children of God” (1 John 3:1). And it is because He “did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all” that we can trust that He will take care of us and keep His promises to us (Romans 8:32).
The way that Jesus describes the love of God in John 3 is simple enough that new believers can drink of it and deep enough for those who have believed for decades can eat and still be full. How beautiful and fulfilling it is to be loved by God and get to love Him in return.
Let us dive a little deeper.
God gave Himself for us in the person of Jesus so that we could have everlasting life. He did not come to condemn us or beat us down in our sin. He came to rescue us from our sin and the condemnation that it already deserved! This confuses some because they feel the need to beat people down for their sin, but there is no need for beating down or condemnation. The Law has already done that (John 5:45). One must look no further than their own hearts to believe that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and “none is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). We have enough condemnation on our own merits and minds to last us a lifetime. What we need is a Savior to take care of eternity!
I like the way that Paul David Tripp puts it: Jesus “would live on our behalf the life we could have never lived, He would willingly die the death that you and I deserve to die, and He would rise from the tomb as the conqueror of sin and death”! His life covers ours. His death replaced ours. His Life gives us life eternal. He bore our sins and carries our guilt and shame and condemnation (Isaiah 53:4-5) – so why hold on to it?
Jesus goes on to explain that He did not have to come to make judgment regarding the world because the verdict had already been given: “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than light” (v. 19). As bad as we hate to admit it, we know that to be true. We see it in the world around us every day. And we see it in our own hearts. Things seem darker and drearier every single day. Many are quick to agree with the old adage that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. But what about “for God so loved the world”? Where is the gospel influence – the good news – amid so much bad?
Let John 1:4-5 shine into your dark and dreary worldview:
In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
The Light. Shines. InDarkness. Darkness and light cannot co-exist. We live in a world where the darkness is trying to snuff out the light. But that is utter foolishness! Darkness has no power where light is present. You can shut yourself in the darkest room you can find, and a single candle will chase away the darkness. And Jesus, the Light of the World (John 8:12), is better and brighter than all the candles ever made, past, present, and future. He – the Light – shines in darkness, and – try as it may – the darkness cannot do anything but leave!
This should not come as a surprise to us. After all, the birth of Christ had been foretold over centuries before God ever “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Look at the good news promised through the prophet Isaiah:
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. (Isaiah 9:2)
I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness, I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prison those who sit in darkness. (Isaiah 42:6-7)
The prophecies continued in the months prior to His birth through John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah:
…because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet in the way of peace. (Luke 1:78-79)
The good news is there. All that is left is for us to believe it.
I know that there is much going on around us that gives us pause and can cause fear and anxiety. I know that the holidays are not always a time of joy and happiness for everyone. But I know that God loves me – and that I love Him. I can echo Job in saying that “I know that my Redeemer lives” (Job 19:25). I can echo Paul and shout to you, “If God is for us, who can be against us” (Romans 8:31)! I can tell you that no matter the darkness around you, the Light has come.
As we gear up for whatever Christmas 2020 looks like, may our hearts be lifted by the greatest gift that will ever be given – the gift of the Son for our salvation by God the Father. But no gift is ever effective unless it is received. If you will but “confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Receiving the “free gift of God” (Romans 6:23) is as simple as receiving Him as Savior and Lord.
Once you receive that gift, the lights and presents at Christmas lose some of their glimmer and glamour. After all, they pale in comparison to the Light of the world and His presence in our lives. And darkness – around us or within us – cannot abide in His presence; it must flee. We can pray and sing the Christmas hymn of old:
O come, Thou Day-Spring, Come and cheer Our spirits by Thine advent here Disperse the gloomy clouds of night And death’s dark shadows put to flight Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel
And Emmanuel – God with us – bring Light and rejoicing to us and ours as well. As always, I love and pray for you all. If you need someone to listen or to pray for you, feel free to reach out. I may not be able to meet your needs, but I can point to the One who can.
 Paul David Tripp, Come Let Us Adore Him: An Advent Reading Plan, YouVersion Bible App
2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. 3 You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. 4 For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. 5 For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. 6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
16 “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” 17 So some of his disciples said to one another, “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?” 18 So they were saying, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.” 19 Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’? 20 Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. 21 When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. 22 So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.
Praise Through Song:
Meditation & Prayer:
Look back through today’s Scriptures and thank God specifically for 1) who He is, and 2) what He has done.
Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.
22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; 23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”
18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Praise Through Song:
Meditation & Prayer:
Thank God for being “with us” always.
Be specific in your thankfulness. How have you seen God work in your life recently?
Ask God to make Himself evident in the life of someone you know is struggling.
If you are praying with others, share the person on your heart and pray together for him/her and join together to pray for them.
Christmas is a time where we are able to remember hope, peace, joy, and salvation — to focus on the One who is the brings those things to us.
The idea of the “12 Days of Christmas” comes from the popular song that talks about one’s true love bringing various gifts. But, this Christmas, may we focus on the gift of Jesus and the true love that can only be known through Him.
This reading guide is an opportunity to spend time reading God’s Word, singing His praises, and meditating on the Gift – Jesus Christ. You can access the reading guide below, free of charge:
8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
Merry Christmas, Sojourner!
I still cannot believe that it is nearly Christmas. I know that I said that last week, but it is still the case for me. We have begun singing Christmas songs at church, our tree is up at home, and there have been ugly sweater sightings all around. To top it all off, I have tasked myself this week to write about joy.
The concept of joy is often foreign for most of us, but it seems especially distant in December 2020. While this season is often difficult for many under normal circumstances, this year has added many unforeseen difficulties. Did I mention that I was going to talk to you about joy today? Even as I sit here typing, I think that this is an odd place to begin. But, then again, Jesus – the source of our joy – decided that His earthly beginning would be odder still.
All of us have seen a movie, television show, or fairy tale that shows the birth of a royal baby. Princes and delegates come from all around. The whole kingdom waits in anticipation of the birth of the child of the king.
But that is not how the King of kings and Lord of lords began His time on earth. He did not choose to be born in a castle – and there were many fine palaces available at the time. He could have been born in the capital and shut the city down with parades and celebration, but, instead, He chose to be born in a seemingly insignificant town – and, even then, in the equivalent of a barn with a feeding trough as His first cradle. He could have had kings and emperors come to bow the knee – and they all inevitably would (Philippians 2:10-11), but He chose a ragtag group of shepherds camping out and taking care of their flocks.
Now, as odd as that is, He did not hold back on the spectacle or the announcement. He gave those shepherds a birth announcement that would outshine all others. Can you imagine what it was like to be those shepherds? They were minding their sheep when, all of a sudden, the angel army of the Lord showed up out of nowhere, fully arrayed in the glory and splendor of the Lord.
Naturally, the shepherds were terrified! Our translation above says they were “filled with great fear”, but the three words that make that phrase in the original language could be translated as “to be afraid”, “mega”, and “source or occasion for fear” – two different words for fear! They were frightened and mega-afraid; who could blame them?
The darkness was filled with light. The shepherds were filled with fear. But the angels brought news that would cure both. They brought “good news of great joy”. And it is in that message that they gave those “certain poor shepherds in fields where they lay” where we will find our joy in the same good news:
“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
I doubt that the shepherds felt that the angels’ sudden appearance was a good thing, but the first bit of good news that they gave was that the shepherds did not need to be afraid. I think that the angels’ response to the shepherds was that their mega-fear was going to be replaced with mega-joy, and that joy was to be “for all people” – available to every, single person.
But, to understand the good news, we must understand the truth about all people. We have all “sinned and fall[en] short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), and “none are righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). We are sinners. And just as shepherds do not usually receive royal birth announcements, no one is lining up to rescue sinners. But that is just what Jesus came to do! In Matthew 1:21, Gabriel told Joseph that Jesus would “save His people from their sins”. That is good news that brings great joy.
People are often confuse joy and happiness. Happiness is fleeting. If I was to be totally honest, I am not very happy right now. But I have joy. The word translated joy here in this passage means “reason for gladness” or “object of joy/delight”. It is rooted in something deeper than happiness. For sinners caught in their sin and facing a holy God, there is nothing to be happy about. To be faced with the consequences of our sin, namely death (Romans 6:23), is no object or reason to be glad and nothing in which to delight. But Jesus was born to change all of that.
For Unto You is Born a Savior
As I stated above, a sinner standing before a holy God is a frightening prospect. There is nothing we can do to clean ourselves up. We cannot cover our sin. Our shame is on full display before God. It is bad news.
Bad news does not bring happiness, and it is does not produce a reason for gladness. BUT GOD “shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). “BUT GOD, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us” (Ephesians 2:4) provides a way for us to be saved. “BUT when the goodness and loving kindness of GOD our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy” (Titus 3:4-5).
Just as the angels interjected themselves into the peaceful night of the shepherds, God Himself interjected Himself into our timeline to be born as our Savior. Yes, the reality of our sin is terrible news, BUT GOD came to us as a child. He put on flesh and lived among us (John 1:14). At just the right time in history, God was born as a little baby in Bethlehem to make a way for us – for all people – to be saved (Galatians 4:4-5, John 14:6).
He explains it as clearly in Scripture as the angels’ voices rang out on that clear night so many years ago. Romans 10:9 tells us “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Any and every one – all people – who turn away from their sin and trust in Him as their Savior and Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13).
That is good news! That gives reason for gladness. Jesus is the only person – the only thing at all in this universe – that can truly and constantly be the object of our joy and delight. And, just as those shepherds were able to rejoice that night, we can rejoice in Him today.
And This Will Be a Sign For You
This year is probably not going your way. I have found more than enough reasons to complain and am likely to find more yet, BUT GOD has given us reason for joy. The shepherds give us a good example of how to proceed and how to put Jesus as the true object of joy in our lives.
You see, the shepherds did everything that the angels told them to do. They went to Bethlehem and found everything exactly the way that they were told by the angels. They found their sign – the baby wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger. It was the same sign that was prophesied so many years before by the prophet Isaiah:
“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel.”
Those dirty, unworthy shepherds were standing in the presence of God Almighty. He was every bit the King of kings and Lord of lords in that tiny, helpless child as He was when was nailed to the cross – as He was when He walked out of the tomb – and as He will be for all time. He is just as much Immanuel (which means God with us) for us today as He was for those shepherds.
The God that has always been humbled Himself and became a baby. He lived the life that we are not capable of, and He died the death that we deserve. The wages of sin is still death; He just loved us enough to die in our place (Galatians 2:20). He loved us enough to give us His Life as a free gift, ready to be received by faith in Him (Romans 6:23). Have you received that gift? Have you trusted in Him as Savior and Lord? Have you called out to Him?
The “good news of great joy…for all people” that the angels shared with the shepherds is still good news today. I pray that you look to Him as the reason and object of your joy and gladness today.