Tag Archives: 3rd Sunday of Advent

JOY: Christmas Presents That Won’t Break

This is the 3rd of the Advent series based on James W. Moore’s and Jacob Armstrong’s Advent study, Christmas Presents That Won’t Break.  As always, I am very appreciative for the work these two have done and making it available to others for their Advent.

 

Scripture:

Matthew 1:22-25, NLT

     22 All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:

23 “Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,[a]
which means ‘God is with us.’”

     24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. 25 But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.

 

Luke 1:28-38, NLT

     28 Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings,[a] favored woman! The Lord is with you![b]

     29 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. 30 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 And he will reign over Israel[c] forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

     34 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”

     35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.36 What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. 37 For the word of God will never fail.[d]

     38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.

 

Notes for lighting the advent candle for JOY:

Looking up ‘joy’ in the index and concordance of my Bible, I find some interesting pieces:

 

Joy is defined as “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortuned.” The first reference in the concordance is in Deuteronomy and the last one is in 1 John; but during Advent, the focus is on the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Just in the gospels, the concordance lists 14 entries of which only five of the verses are included in the traditional Christmas story. The others are primarily either later in Jesus’ ministry or as the end of his life.

In the index, there are fewer listings. In fact there are only a total of 11 of which seven are from the gospels. Psalms includes two, Philippians have three and Romans only one.

Key to all, though, is the emphasis on the emotion of joy comes from being faithful and in relation to God, especially through acceptance of Jesus Christ as your savior.

Mary’s role in the Christmas story helps us to understand this emotion of joy because she delivered the baby Jesus to the world and that human role is something we understand. The gospel of John [16:19-24, NLT] completes the explanation in Jesus’ words as he tries to explain what he meant when he said, “In a little while you won’t see me, but then you will see me. . . “:

19 Jesus realized they wanted to ask him about it, so he said, “Are you asking yourselves what I meant? I said in a little while you won’t see me, but a little while after that you will see me again. 20 I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn over what is going to happen to me, but the world will rejoice. You will grieve, but your grief will suddenly turn to wonderful joy.21 It will be like a woman suffering the pains of labor. When her child is born, her anguish gives way to joy because she has brought a new baby into the world. 22 So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy23 At that time you won’t need to ask me for anything. I tell you the truth, you will ask the Father directly, and he will grant your request because you use my name. 24 You haven’t done this before. Ask, using my name, and you will receive, and you will have abundant joy.

 

 

JOY: The Christmas Present That Won’t Break

 

            JOY: What a packed word! This small word has immense power to take a gloomy day and turn it around. Yet in today’s world joy is evasive. The climate in which we currently live is so full of political and human turmoil due to so many factors that finding joy could be a chore. Yet, joy is one of the very best characteristics of Christians.

Take a minute to reflect on the people you know that you feel exhibit a Christian attitude. Do you not see them as joyful or joy-filled? I contend that a solid understanding of one’s faith in God and living the Christian lifestyle transforms our human lives into joyfilled lives rather than cynical, embittered, and miserable lives.

As a cook, I can see the recipe for a joy-filled life begins with the basic ingredient of God as introduced to us through Jesus Christ. Maybe that why I find joy in preparing a meal for family and friends; and no time is better than during Advent and Christmas time to realize that the mere act of preparing a meal with all kinds of special dishes is exactly what the gift of joy is. Preparing a special holiday meal is a gift that does not break and is one of encouragement, of thoughtfulness, and of graciousness. The satisfaction that it provides the guests as well as the cook(s) is joy!

In James Moore’s study, he writes that joy has three types: encouragement, thoughtfulness and graciousness. He argues that when God is with us, we provide the very ingredients of those three qualities. He states:

. . . the great truth of Christmas, the great message of Christmas, the great promise of Christmas, the great joy of Christmas, all wrapped up in that one word, Emmanel, which means God is always with us! (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 63)

When we prepare a meal, we demonstrate the very idea that God is always with us. (For instance, how else can we be safe with knives and hot stoves and liquids all around us.) God is with us when we realize who we hope will come to our table and when we show love to the guests. The invitation itself is a gift of ‘encouragement’ as you include them in your life and pray for their joy, too. As guests, they are encouraged to join in your life as family and/or friends—what an opportunity to share God’s story, also:

That is part of our task as Christians, isn’t it? We need to say to a scared, anxious, confused, fretful world, “Boy, have we got good news for you!? The good news is that we can share it because God is with us and will see us through. Our part of that good news is saying to people near us, “I care about you,” “I believe in you,” “I trust you,” “You can do it.”

Maybe the best gift we can give someone we love this Christmas is a gift that will not break: the joy of encouragement. (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 64)

 

But back to the meal, we plan the meal, knowing the guests’ likes and dislikes as well as knowing the traditions the guests enjoy sharing. From the minute the decision to serve a meal is made until the final dish is put away, the cook(s) are operating with love. Love guides each choice and step of the meal’s preparation. Planning and preparing the meal is also an exercise in ‘thoughtfulness’ which Moore identifies as another type of way to give joy.

Deciding to host a family and/or friends dinner takes thoughtfulness when considering what to prepare. We know the guests well enough to know the likes and dislikes, the allergies, and the traditional expectations. But consider if the meal were being prepared for strangers. The mere act of serving a meal to strangers is an example of thoughtfulness, but Moore had another example of taking that to even another level tell the story of the First United Methodist Church in Shreveport, LA, who decided to serve dinner on Christmas Day for anybody who might be hungry or lonely. The meal offered not only a complimentary meal but also fellowship and Christmas carols:

Moore said, “Just after lunch on Christmas afternoon, I drove to the church to see how things were going. . . . As I went inside, I met several members of our outreach committee coming out the door and heading for home. ‘What happened?’ I asked. ‘Is it over? Didn’t anybody show up?’ A committee member answered, ‘Oh, they are in there for sure. About 300 are eating right now. The only reason we are leaving is that some new workers came in to relieve us.’ . . .

When I went into the kitchen, I was moved to tears by what I saw: There was my good friend, a rabbi, along with 14 members of his temple, who had told our people, ‘This is your special day. Go home and be with your families, and we will work for you.’ (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 65)

 

Just imagine the joy Moore experienced. The thoughtfulness of the rabbi and his volunteers delivered joy in so many ways. In a surprising way, the story of Christ came to Shreveport and it was a gift that cannot be broken.

As a cook, preparing a meal for my family and friends at any time of the year provides extra prayer time for them, too. Serving a meal and joining in conversation can provides special, non-stressful times to talk out issues, provide words of encouragement, and demonstrate Christianity.

Cutting up the vegetables for the salads, becomes a practice of thoughtfulness, too. Each one who sits at my table gets a salad that is unique for their own tastes. Even the menu takes thoughtfulness to make sure that it is appropriate for the eaters. And then, for those special events, the preparation includes the traditions that match those at the table. The meal is a gift filled with thoughtfulness in hopes of bringing joy to each one seated.

Moore’s third form of the gift of joy is graciousness. Preparing a meal may seem a bit of a stretch to explain graciousness, but it comes with two views. First, consider the graciousness of the meal as the host/hostess. There is a level of selflessness demonstrated by the cook(s) and the host/hostess to prepare for the meal. The joy of graciousness is demonstrated by the work that goes into the meal—a form of sacrificial love.

Secondly, there is a gift of graciousness that the receivers give, too. Acknowledging the work of the cook(s) and/or the host/hostess provides a level of joy to them, too. Giving the gifts that do not break whether it is hope, love or joy, also has a return for those who are doing the giving. The doers end up receiving joy from witnessing the effect of their efforts. The guests, too, return the gift of graciousness in expressing their joy openly.

The essence of Christmas is the joy or gracious, sacrificial love. Christ came to show us what God is like and what God wants us to be like, and the word is love: love came down at Christmas, and the joy it brings is the best and most unbreakable gift of all! (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 67)

During the next week, we will continue to listen to the news and hear of all the challenges to life whether it is the wildfires in California, the hurricane victims still trying to rebuild their lives, or all the individuals who have been abused or harassed or bullied in one way or another, God calls us to give the gifts that won’t break. Those gifts are to provide hope to the hopeless, love to the unloved, and joy to those who are joyless.

Jacob Armstrong adds to the study how we can gift the gift of joy when tragedy strikes, we lose a loved one, or we simply feel unhappy with our lives. He writes:

. . . Can there still be joy?

Yes, God says. There can be joy. That’s what Advent is all about. It’s about our hoping, believing, waiting for God to come and make something out of our mess. We wait for God to step into what appears to be impending doom and save us. Advent hold out the belief that in the midst of that kind of waiting, God brings the gift of joy.

  • God often uses the most impossible thing you can think of as the very sign that God is with us. And in the impossible being made possible, we find
  • The Jesus story teaches us that we can find joy even in scary and impossible situations.
  • Knowing God is with us is the gift that brings joy. (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 72, 74, 76-77)

 

So, Merry Christmas! As you begin the final week of preparation, remember that the story we celebrate provides the gifts that won’t break. The gifts of hope, love, and joy are worth all the efforts we put into loving one another as much as we love God and as much as we want to be loved. With these gifts, will come one more—the gift of peace.

Closing prayer:

Dear God, thank you for the gift of joy

And for the way it brightens our days.

Help us give joy to others

Through what we say and do.

Show us how to make this Christmas

A true season of joy. Amen

Work Cited

Moore, James W., and Jacob Armstrong. Christmas Gifts That Won’t Break. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2017.

 

 

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The Fears of Christmas

given on December 14, 2014

Maybe the idea of fears at Christmas time is unsettling, but mentally check the picture of the little kids who line up to see Santa. Parents are planning the annual photo op and kids want to make sure Santa has their Christmas list. Then fear sets in:

  • The photo op turns into pictures of screaming kids squirming to get off Santa’s lap,
  • Babies are crying and faces are turning bright red,
  • Parents are embarrassed, or they are laughing,
  • Toddlers suddenly see Santa as a stranger and a danger warning clicks in their heads,
  • Feet go into a kicking mode and Santa’s face shows signs of pain, and
  • Youngsters suddenly panic wondering if they are on the naughty or the nice list.

Fears do invade Christmas, and this list is only from the point of view of the families lining up in the Santa lines. Fears have always surrounded Christmas.

In fact, Christmas is the result of fear and this fear does not mean respect as defined by so many sources in translating scripture. Frequently the phrase “Fear the Lord, your God” is used, especially in the Old Testament. For today’s Bible readers, fear is an emotional response that usually comes with a fight or flight response. Early translations used the word fear that we know understand to mean respect or honor God.

Today, though, the fears of Christmas are a reality that we tend to shove aside or to ignore because they do not fit the public images of Christmas. Yet, the fear God had that his people would not remain faithful is the very root of today’s Christmas.

Times were horrific in God’s view. His people were living among pagans and unfaithful people caught up in the hubbub of living. God was not the center of the people’s lives. The prophets had issued warnings, but the people were not making the life changes. Sending God’s son was a last ditch effort, as we might say today.

God’s fear caused him to join his people on earth in the form of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Savior, from the line of David, the Son of God, Mary’s and Joseph’s son, a cousin to John the Baptist. Every prophecy was fulfilled with this birth.

Does our world, right now, have fears this Christmas? Absolutely. In fact, the fears of children lining up to see Santa is just a light-hearted news clip of what God must be seeing. Fear exists in God’s eyes as well as the eyes of so many people anywhere on this globe: killings, stealing, unethical behaviors, environmental disasters, health challenges, and more. Finding Christmas joy is tough.

Yet, consider the fears we ourselves have as Christmas Day nears. Certainly we have that sense of anxiety that we have missed someone from the Christmas card list, or maybe it is that we have forgotten to include someone on the invitation list, or that the gift we bought is all-wrong. These are real fears, true, but they are not the ones that cause God to hear our heartfelt pain.

Christmas season creates a set of fears for men and women, adults and children that as Christians we need to see. We are to serve as God’s hands and feet while we live our faith out loud. Jesus is the reason for the season; are we living our faith in a manner that we can help others not to be afraid?

The littlest child can be afraid. The basic needs of life are food, shelter and clothing. Without them, life fails. The littlest children who depend on parents to provide those basic needs may be afraid each day that there is not food, that they are cold, or that there is no place to protect from nature’s elements whether rain or snow, heat or cold. What have we done to make sure these children of God have no fears?

Children in school are often afraid here at Christmas, too. Living in a social world created by the culture surrounding them creates fear: Fear of exclusion from social groups, of being bullied, of school failure, of poor athletic performance, and of poverty where gifts under a tree simply cannot be provided. For school-aged children, even the tweens and the teens, these are very real fears and certainly can make them dread Christmas. Are we dong all that we can do to make sure our young people have nothing to fear?

Even our native president Harry S. Truman knew how damaging fear is. Living by the principle that “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” Truman led this country to recover from World War II. Adults have fears that may include the same things as children; yet, adult fears often take much more complicated solutions.

Granted homelessness is a very real condition as is social isolation from mental illness and addictions and the loneliness from the loss of a spouse, child or friend. Adult fears multiply due to an enormous range of issues and Christians are just as susceptible as any human. God fears that his children may not remain faithful led to the birth of Jesus Christ, the reason for the season. Are we doing whatever we can to share God’s word: to love one another?

Christmas is filled with fears, but these fears can all be faced with the love of Christ. This is the third Sunday in Advent and the third candle representing joy can be extinguished when fear takes over. As Christians, the gifts we give should fuel the joy of living. We know that hope flickers whenever we show others God’s love. We tell others of God’s promise to take care of us now and throughout eternity making hope’s flicker a flame.

Are we listening to Scripture’s words? Today’s reading from I Thessalonians tells us how to live in order to avoid developing fears:

19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.”

Following the principles from the Bible is a practice that can keep fears from developing. It is not easy, but it does work. In fact, the other tool we each need to find is prayer: The same scripture tells us how to use it, too:

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

This third week of Advent, let us take the hope and the promise of Christmas and turn it into joy that warms us from the inside to the outside. Let the joy shine like the sun. Let the fears disappear like shadows on a moonless night. God’s promise of the Messiah came true so fears can turn into joy. The gifts we give do not have to be wrapped up and placed under a Christmas tree. The gift of prayer should never be wrapped up and put away; it should always remain open. Prayer is the biggest most powerful gift we can give to anybody, anytime, anywhere. Use it to calm the fears of self and others not only during the Christmas season, but continually:

23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

The joy of Christmas will shine through you so all may see Christ’s light shine year round.

Closing prayer:

Dear Father of Christmas,

Thank you for giving us prayer to use

Whenever we need to fight our own fears

Or fears of family, friends, and foes.

Hear our prayer this Advent morning,

Asking that the fears of young and old everywhere

Be replaced with joy in loving one another.

Help us to use our spiritual gifts

To keep your Christmas story alive

And to serve as your loving arms for those afraid.

Thank you, too, for giving us the gift of your Son

Who taught us how to love one another

And replaced our fears with joy unending. –Amen

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