Our Hope and Joy (Guest Post: Teresa Abernathy)

advent devotions

Teresa Abernathy

“Indeed, you are our glory  and joy.” I Thess. 2:20

It was Christmas Eve and my parents loaded us kids up and we headed to town to do some last minute shopping. When we entered the Five and Dime Store, my younger sister and I headed to the toy aisle to check out the dolls, tea sets, and games. Anticipation of what Santa would bring that night made us giggle with delight. We stopped and admired each and every thing, wondering if that would be what Santa had for us.

Before long my mother grabbed our hands and told my dad we were headed to the grocery store. As we made our way down the street, mother got distracted as a neighbor stopped to wish us a Merry Christmas. I took the opportunity to look back to see if my dad was headed our way because I had something I wanted to show him in one of the shop’s windows. But as I glanced back, I noticed he was loading something into the trunk of the car.

I suddenly felt sadness overcome me and I found my joy was disappearing. The boxes looked a lot like the boxes that held the dolls that we had just admired at the five and dime store. But wait! Wasn’t Santa suppose to bring us those gifts tonight after we were in bed?

The rest of the night sadness claimed me as we ate our feast, opened gifts and mom tucked us in to bed, told us that Santa would soon be there. I was afraid to ask her about the boxes, afraid I already knew the answer.

The next morning my fears were confirmed. I recognized the dolls in the boxes under the tree as the ones I saw my dad loading into our car. But somehow now they didn’t seem as special.

The JOY was gone.

And Christmas never felt quite the same.

Until———– I’ve learned the True Meaning of Christmas.

That Joy doesn’t come from a little, jolly man with a white beard and a red suit.

Instead it comes from a baby born in a stable, laid in a manger,    that angels, shepherds andWise Men came to celebrate.

That JOY can not be stolen away because He lives and He is our LORD and SAVIOR. He won’t disappoint. The joy, hope, love and peace, He brings can’t be taken away.

I’m no longer that 8 year old little girl. Now I know that my joy is complete.

My JOY comes from the LORD.

Gracious God, Thank you that our joy is complete in You. Amen.
Teresa Abernathy
Acworth, GA
Director of Hospitality Ministries
Liberty Hill Church – Canton, GA

Joy with a Capital J (Guest Post: Karina Simonis)

advent devotions

Karina Simonis

It’s easy to get caught up in the “Christmas Spirit” of joy and happiness, but what happens when all the lights, decorations, and family head home? You are left alone in an empty house with nothing but New Years resolutions of losing weight, finding “The One” and getting a raise are looking back at you in the mirror. How do we make that happiness last? We can’t. What we need is Joy with a capital J! And the only way we can get that is though the Gift of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We can try to give expensive gifts to make our loved ones happy and get that excitement of giving, but that is nothing compared to the Joy that you can have when focusing on the ultimate gift of life that Jesus gave us. Paul says in Hebrews,

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2

When you fix your eyes on Him, He will get you through those “post holiday blues”. When the music stops, family leaves, and you’re left alone taking down the tree, remember you are never truly alone! There is a God who loves you and gave you the most valuable gift that will last through all eternity. Fixing your eyes on Him, and carrying out that Joy through the New Year will be the best “resolution” that you could possibly make.

As you sing Christmas carols, make cookies with your loved ones, and watch your favorite holiday classics, remember that this happiness you are feeling doesn’t have to end. Try bringing Christ into these fun activities and shine the light back on Him at all times. We are blessed with and Emmanuel who is always with us! So this year, get ready to kick those “post holiday blues”!

“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”  1 Peter 1:8-9

“My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you-I whom you have redeemed.” Psalm 71:23

Eternal God, Thank you for the gift of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Karina Simonis
Senior at the University of Alabama

Bouquet of Joy (Guest Post: Tom Sullivan)

advent devotions

Tom Sullivan

Joy springs eternal.  The Christmas holiday truly brings out my joy from all the colored lights on the tree to the joyous holiday songs all leading to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.  As my journey with Christ deepens, I’ve learned to experience joy more and more in my life.  God plants little flowers of joy throughout my day.  Every time I find one I am filled with love and gratitude for being able to experience joy that starts in my soul with the Holy Spirit and blooms to where I have a beautiful bouquet of Joy that God so lovingly gave me. #ThankYouJesus!

On the night of the birth of our savior there was tremendous Joy:  “When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy!” (Matthew 2:10) In one of my favorite Christmas songs “Oh Holy Night” the lyrics “Till he appear’d and the soul felt its worth” move me to tears. For it’s “The Thrill of Hope” that reminds us of God’s eternal Joy in his Kingdom.  So keep gathering those flowers daily for your own bouquet of Joy and find God’s presence in the present.

God of infinite joy, Thank you for surprising us with bouquets of joy. Amen.

Tom Sullivan
Atlanta, GA
For more information check out the website: http://www.tomonair.com

God With Us/ Dios con Nosotros (Guest Post: Sharon Nichols)

advent devotions

Sharon Nichols

Missionary serving in Ecuador

” … And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  Matthew 28:20

If we could condense all the truths of Christmas into only three words, these would be the words: “God with us.” Often times we tend to focus our attention at Christmas on the infancy of Christ. The greater truth of His birth is His deity. More astonishing than a baby in the manger is the truth that this promised baby is the omnipotent Creator of the heavens and the earth … the Sovereign LORD Who walks before us and with us … our Creator holding us in the palm of His hand … transforming our lives.

Advent, Christmas and Easter go hand in hand; preparation for the coming of the Incarnation of God, the birth of Christ Who came to live among us, and the Passion of the Christ poured out for each of us on the Cross. Jesus came to die for the Salvation of the world. His very purpose in coming into the world was that He might offer up His life as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind. He came to die. This is the very heart of Christmas.

Living and serving in a Developing/3rd World Country comes with daily challenges … many times minute by minute challenges. But the Grace that holds us together in the place God sent us is the daily, minute by minute presence of Jesus Who promised to be with us always. The baby in the manger came to walk day by day, minute by minute with us. His words of promise are great assurance and bring great peace and JOY as they come from the heart of Christ to the hearts of His people. This is the beauty of Jesus, our Savior … long after the angels disappeared into the heavens, the shepherds returned to their flocks, the magi journeyed home and the great star set, He remained … for now and ever more.
“… y he aquí yo estoy con vosotros todos los días, hasta el fin del mundo.” Mateo 28:20

Si podemos unir todas las verdades de la Navidad en solo tres palabras, estas serán las palabras “Dios con Nosotros.” Muchas veces enfocamos nuestra atención durante la Navidad en la infancia de Cristo. La verdad más grande de su nacimiento es su deidad. Más sorprendente que un bebe en el pesebre es la verdad que este niño prometido es el creador omnipotente de los cielos y la tierra… El Soberano Señor Quien camina antes de nosotros, y con nosotros… nuestro creador teniéndonos en la palma de su mano…transformando nuestros vidas.

Adviento, Navidad y Pascua están muy conectadas; la preparación para la venida de la encarnación de Dios, el nacimiento de Cristo Quien vino a vivir junto a nosotros, y la Pasión de Cristo dada por cada uno de nosotros en la Cruz. Jesús vino para morir por la salvación del mundo. Su único propósito en venir al mundo fue para que el pudiera ofrecer su vida como un sacrificio por los pecados de la humanidad. El vino a morir. Esto es el verdadero corazón de la Navidad.

Viviendo y sirviendo en un país que está desarrollándose vienen retos diarios… muchas veces retos de minuto a minuto. Pero la gracia que nos mantiene en el lugar donde Dios nos envió es la presencia diaria, minuto a minuto de Jesús Quien prometió estar con nosotros siempre. Él bebe en el pesebre vino a caminar diariamente, minuto a minuto con nosotros. Sus palabras de promesa son un seguro grande y traen una gran paz y GOZO y vienen desde el corazón de Cristo a los corazones de Su gente. Eso es la hermosura de Jesús, nuestro Salvador…mucho tiempo después de que los ángeles desaparecieron al cielo, los pastores regresaron a su rebaños, los Reyes Magos viajaron a casa y la gran estrella desapareció, Él se quedó…por ahora y siempre.

Eternal God, Thank you for being with us and giving us joy. Amen.

Sharon Nichols
Missionary
For more information check out the website: http://www.Nichols4Ecuador.org

Jesus Is Enough (Guest Post: Donnah Wilson)

advent devotions

Donnah Wilson

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV)

Let’s talk about an attitude of gratitude.

We can and should be grateful for every thing in our lives that is good because James tells us that “every good and perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17). So we are grateful because God provides.

But what about the “bad things” that come along. James addresses this as well. He said we are to “consider it pure joy whenever we face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2) Why? Because God uses these trials to develop perseverance which then helps us to become “mature and complete”.

So God calls us to have an attitude of gratitude about the good things in our lives and about all the trials and tribulations and troubles in our lives.

That pretty much covers everything. Do you ever had any trouble with that last part? Trouble having an attitude of gratitude for trials and tribulations?

People I have encountered around the world who demonstrate an unconditional attitude of gratitude include Pastor Jacob. He has been the pastor of a small church in a very remote village in Kenya for the last seven years. He has a severe disability in his legs and his version of walking is much more difficult than our version of walking. He sets his crutches then he swings his legs through. Sets his crutches and swings his legs through.

Pastor Jacob walks 10 km, that’s over 6 miles, through a river to get from his home to the church he serves.

I see in Pastor Jacob and his congregation, a gratitude that goes beyond joys and beyond trials and tribulations. I see an attitude that says “Jesus is enough”. No matter how little we have.

Mercy is another person who exudes an attitude of gratitude. In obedience to God’s call, Mercy built and runs an orphanage in a slum in Nairobi. 300 children have a clean place to live within the despicable surroundings of that slum because of her obedience.

Most people who are the directors of an orphanage will go home at night or at least have a room of their own. She has neither. She has a bed. She sleeps in the baby room with five of the babies.

Mercy has given up everything, possessions and all, for the joys of serving the Lord. In Mercy, I see an attitude that says “Jesus is enough”.

The question I ask myself on a regular basis these days is, “would I be thankful if I didn’t have any of the quote “good gifts””.  If I had absolutely nothing. If it was all taken away. If I couldn’t even move my arms and legs. If I had no control of my own body, would I still have an attitude of gratitude? Would “Jesus be enough”?

My mom has been a great inspiration to me in this regard. She has been paralyzed on her left side for 12 years. When out of the house, she gets around in what she calls her “go buggy”, her hover round.  She looks quite capable & independent as she gets around. But if you saw behind-the-scenes you might wonder how she has such a positive attitude.

She requires someone to dress her, to bath her, to move her, to provide her every physical need. Once she is laid in bed, she is just there. She can’t rollover, she can’t get up, she just lays on her back until I get her up.

Would we have a great attitude of gratitude if we were in that situation? In the 2 years she has lived with me, I have never once heard her complain about her inability to care for herself. She doesn’t get in a bad mood! She continually shows me what an attitude of gratitude looks like. It looks like “Jesus is enough”.

We need to ask ourselves, what are we thankful for. Are we thankful for the things that God has given us, yes we should be.

But God wants us to turn our focus from stuff and from ourselves to a focus on Him. He wants us to turn our focus away from what happens to our physical bodies and turn it to a relationship with Him. If we can do that, then “Jesus is enough”.

Then, if all is stripped away, if we have nothing; if we don’t have a house, a job, a car, a family, if we don’t even have control of our own body, we can still be joyful in the Lord. We are still thankful because “Jesus is enough”

I have seen gratitude in people who have virtually nothing. And it’s not only in Kenya, it’s around the world. People who live in a grass hut. People who don’t have any food in their homes. People who have no hope of working to provide for their family. And yet they truly rejoice in the Lord.

God calls us to relationship, not stuff. His goal is for us to have relationship with Him. His goal for us is to only want Him, to only need Him. Then, “Jesus is enough” even when things go “bad” (even if they are first world problems).

When traffic is snarled, we don’t get angry because all we need is Jesus.

When our best friend stabs us in the back, we don’t turn to hatred because “Jesus is enough”.

When our spouse gets sick with cancer, we are not devastated because all we need is Jesus.

When God’s will for us is going down the hard road that we don’t particularly like, “Jesus is enough”.

If we are relying on the fluff, Jesus is not enough! If we take too much joy in the fluff, Jesus is not enough.

In church talk, it would probably be called the “sufficiency of Christ”.

But I’m a simple person so I say “Jesus is enough”.

I have posted this phrase around my house and in my car to remind me hourly that “Jesus is enough”. Jesus is all I need.

 

Gracious God, We give you thanks that Jesus is enough. Amen.

 

Donnah Wilson

Acworth, Georgia

Open Doors (Guest Post: Chris Thomas)

advent devotions

Chris Thomas

Jasper, Georgia

Luke 2:7  “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn”. (NRSV) 

As a small child I spent a lot of time with my grandparents.  Part of that time each year was a trip across the state of Ohio to New Philadelphia, which is in the southeastern part of Ohio.  At the time I didn’t know much more than it was to visit friends of my grandparents.  Over the years as I grew I came to learn how they met.  I don’t have a lot of details, but during the Depression my grandfather was fortunate enough to be employed building roads through West Virginia and Ohio.  As I understand it, one night my grandparents were driving back and were forced to stop along the way.  They went up to a home of total strangers, knocked on the door, and were invited in to stay the night.  That overnight stay became a lifelong friendship!

Those of you that know me understand I am convicted to take care of the homeless and less fortunate.  When the weather turns cold my thoughts and prayers turn to those who do not have warm shelter.   However, I also am challenged by the example of my grandparents and actually asked my wife what we would do if total strangers came to our door and asked to stay the night.  The easy answer is we could put them up in a hotel.  The harder answer is I don’t really know.

This troubling thought brings me back to the text above.  Like my grandparents story, I really don’t know much of the context.  Like a Hollywood adaption, we all have visions of the manger from movies, TV, or the children’s Christmas pageant (Charlie Brown, anyone?).   We can make assumptions about the motivation of the Innkeeper, even know this may have been driven by what Joseph and Mary could afford.   Frankly, the reasons are not that important.   It is the result that matters.  Someone opened the door to strangers, and something wonderful happened.

As the church, we are called to be welcoming.  I am especially thrilled to be part of a church where mission and ministry to the less fortunate is part of our DNA.  Still, I think it is fair to ask the question…just how open are our doors?  Or, more convicting, just how open are my doors (both figuratively and literally)?  This Advent season I pray that God helps me open doors and break out of my comfort zone.  You never know who is waiting to come in!

God of open doors, make us sensitive to the needs around us and give us open hearts.  Amen.

 

Chris Thomas

Jasper, Georgia

Waiting Is Part of Life/ Esperar es Parte de la Vida

advent devotions

Rev. Nora Colmenares

Assistant General Secretary

General Board of Global Ministries
United Methodist Church

“And I, because of what they have planned and done, am about to come and gather the people of all nations and languages, and they will come and see my glory.” Isaiah 66:18


Waiting is part of life. Parents wait for their children to be born, or to receive the blessing of an adopted child. We wait to be seen by a physician. We wait to see if we have passed an exam. We wait expecting to be hired for a new job. We wait for the results of a medical test. Advent is waiting. It is expecting for God’s outrageous action of love toward humanity.

In this passage Isaiah reminds us of God’s original plan: “to gather people of all nations and languages to come and see God’s glory.” That plan involved the incarnation of Christ in a life that demonstrated day in and day out that boundaries of ethnicity, culture, class, and life-style are to be crossed to share the unconditional love of God. That plan also involved God’s incarnation in the “body of Christ” – the church – called to cross boundaries of language, culture and religious rules to share God’s unconditional love. It is that body of Christ, originally multicultural and multilingual, that is called to “feed the hungry, visit the imprisoned, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the sick, and welcome the foreigner in your home” (Mat 25:41-45).

On this Advent season, as we eagerly await the arrival of “God with us – Emmanuel” may we remember that we – the church – are the body of Christ, incarnated today to demonstrate God’s unconditional love for all, no exceptions.

Christ has no body but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world,

Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,

Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.

Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,

Yours are the eyes, you are his body.

Christ has no body now but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world.

Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

Christ Has No Body, Teresa de Ávila (1515-1582)

“Yo, por causa de sus acciones y sus ideas, estoy a punto de reunir a gente de toda nación y lengua; vendrán y verán mi gloria.” Isaías 66:18

Esperar es parte de la vida. Los padres esperan a que su niño nazca, o esperan recibir la bendición de un niño adoptado. Esperamos que nos vea el médico. Esperamos para ver si hemos pasado el examen. Esperamos ser contratados para un nuevo trabajo. Esperamos los resultados de un examen médico. Adviento es esperar en la esperanza de recibir la acción extravagante de Dios por amor a la humanidad.

En este pasaje Isaías nos recuerda cuál era el plan original de Dios: “Yo, por causa de sus acciones y sus ideas, estoy a punto de reunir a gente de toda nación y lengua; vendrán y verán mi gloria.” Ese plan incluía la encarnación de Cristo en una vida que demostró cada día que las barreras de etnicidad, cultura, clase social y estilo de vida debían ser cruzadas para compartir el amor incondicional de Dios. Ese plan también incluía la encarnación de Dios en el “cuerpo de Cristo – la iglesia – llamada a cruzar barreras de lenguaje, cultura y reglas religiosas para compartir el amor incondicional de Dios. Es ese cuerpo de Cristo, que desde el principio fue multicultural y multilingüe, el que es llamado a “alimentar al hambriento, visitar al que está en la cárcel, dar agua al que tiene sed, vestir al que no tiene ropa, visitar al enfermo, y recibir en la casa al extranjero.” (Mat 25:41-45).

En esta estación de Adviento, mientras esperamos ansiosamente la llegada de “Dios con nosotros – Emmanuel”, recordemos que nosotros – la iglesia – somos el cuerpo de Cristo, encarnado hoy para demostrar el amor incondicional de Dios a todos, sin excepción.

“Dios no tiene cuerpo en la tierra sino el tuyo.
No tiene manos sino las tuyas.
No tiene pies sino los tuyos.
Tuyos son los ojos con los que la compasión de Dios mira al mundo.
Tuyos son los pies con los que Él camina para ir haciendo el bien.
Tuyas son las manos con las que ahora tiene que bendecirnos.

Cristo no tiene cuerpo sino el tuyo.”

Santa Teresa de Ávila (1515-1582)

God of all, guide us to embody your love for all creation as we reflect on your gift to the world. Amen.
Rev. Nora Colmenares
New York, New York
Assistant General Secretary at General Board of Global Ministries
United Methodist Church