Advent 2017 – Week 4

Today we light the pink candle known as the ‘Candle of God’s Love.’ It is a lighter colour than the others because it symbolizes the effects of God’s love. The darkness begins to give way under the impact of God’s gracious act. The Light of His love has come to us. Now let the light of His love shine in us and through us.

The Apostle Paul wrote about the connection between hope, love and the work of the Holy Spirit

Hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Rom 5:5)

In 1 John 4:7-12 The Apostle John reminds us:
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

Lord, thank you that Your gift of love entered the world in darkness and that you split darkness with the light of a star. You invites us to not be afraid. These Advent candles burning this morning remind us that fear is cast out as we enter into the radiance of His Love. Make your love to to shine in us and through us. Amen.

Advent 2017 – The Final Candle

This Christmas Eve we light the white candle. This is the Christ candle. His candle is brighter because he is the light of the world! Our hope, our life, our King and our Saviour has finally come!

Luke 2:1-7 says: In 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 his 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. 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 room for them in the inn.

He became one of us:
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

The apostle writes about the amazing humility of His love:
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. (2 Cor 8:9)

The birth of Jesus was just the beginning. No one else has ever had the impact of Jesus, He has changed history and is continuing to change it. We celebrate the gift of life and hope. We light candles because God has split the darkness. We bring gifts because God has given his Son to us.

Jesus, you are the Father’s greatest gift. Your teachings, your life example are precious. Your death in our place is beyond price, for we have not been redeemed with silver and gold but with the precious blood of the Son, the Lamb of God. Your resurrection has broken the sting of death. And the gift of Your Spirit leads and guides us through the days of our lives, until at last we are carried into your eternal presence. Jesus, we celebrate your birth, the fulfillment of the ancient Promises of God. You are our hope, our joy, our life, our everything. We love you, Lord. Amen.

Let’s celebrate!

Advent 2017 – Week 3

Today we light the third purple candle, called the “Shepherd’s candle.” The lonely shepherds who responded with awe and joy illustrate a proper response to the coming of God in Christ Jesus. The light burst into their cold, desolate, and dark existence. They were drawn into the circle of joy. Come celebrate a new baby born. For this Baby is the Promised King , the Saviour of the World.

Luke 2:8-20 says:  And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Lord, rekindle in us the joy we had in the beginning. We all have been invited to this birthday party. Give us shining eyes, smiling lips, voices full of laughter, and hearts full of good cheer! ‘A Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.’ Amen.

Advent 2017 – WEEK TWO

Today we light the second candle, the purple ‘Candle of Faith’. A young woman, Mary, was pledged to be married, but not yet married. She was visited by the angel Gabriel, who told very disturbing things. The angel told her things that would change her life forever. What amazing faith she showed. Mary put her trust in the Lord God surrendering herself to be the servant of His will.

Luke 1:26-38 says:  In the sixth month, 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 favoured! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 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, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon 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. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.”
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.

Lord, long ago Mary surrendered herself to you and was used by you to bring the Saviour into the world. Give us that same faith, that same deep confidence in you. For you are at work in us and through us, especially in the hard things. Lord, we love you and we trust you. Give us the faith to say, ‘I am the Lord’s servant.’ Amen.

Advent 2017 – Week One

Today we light the first candle known as the “Prophet’s candle.” Imagine the eager waiting and longing for the appearance of God’s chosen one. 700 years before the coming of the Promised Christ, the Messianic King, God gave these prophetic words through the prophet Isaiah:

Isaiah 9:2-7 says: The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder. For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.

Give us our fill of expectation. Renew in us the eager longing of those who waited for the Messiah’s First Coming. Give us that same hope as we await the Second Coming of Jesus. Amen.

Advent Day Five: Let the Star of Morning Rise

Lord God,
in the deepest night
there rises the star of morning,
    of birth,
        the herald of a new day you are making,
a day of great joy dawning
    in yet faint shafts
        of light and love.
I hear whispers of peace in the stillness,
fresh breezes of promise
    stirring,
winter sparrows
    chirping of life,
a baby’s cry
    of need
        and hope —
            Christmas!

In the darkness I see the light
    and find in it comfort,
         confidence,
            cause for celebration,

for the darkness cannot overcome it;
and I rejoice to nourish it
    in myself,
        in other people,
            in the world
for the sake of him
    in whom it was born
        and shines forever,
            even Jesus the Christ.

                            —Ted Loder

Reflect on the words of this poem. What does it mean to you? How do you see yourself living this out? Do you see a day of great joy dawning? What does it look like?


Christ has come. Christ still comes to us. Christ will come again. May the Spirit prepare and enable you to receive Christ daily, in the midst of the challenges and the joys, with wonder and gratitude and hope.

reflections taken from Two Steps Forward: A Story of Persevering in Hope by Sharon Garlough Brown

Advent Day Four: Love Descends

Imitating Christ’s Humility

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father. — Philippians 2:1-11 (NIV)

In what ways does Jesus descend? What would it mean to have the same mind and love and Christ?  What are some practical ways to model self-giving, humble love?

Spiritual Practice: Generosity

Practice giving gifts to others this week. Prayerfully consider what would be a meaningful expression of love and offer it wholeheartedly.




 

Spiritual Practice: Gratitude

Practice rehearsing God’s faithfulness to you. Begin by naming the more obvious gifts, then offer thanks for ways God cares for you in less noticeable ways. Find ways to express your gratitude to others.
 

Sing a verse from a hymn or chorus that has exclamations about who Christ is and what He has done.

reflections taken from Two Steps Forward: A Story of Persevering in Hope by Sharon Garlough Brown

Advent Day Three: In a Place Like This

Are you able to name a time in your life when you offered a costly “Here I am, Lord” prayer of surrender? What happened?

Spiritual Practice: Prayer

As you pray focus not on “behold me” prayer but on beholding Jesus. Don’t start with your ‘Here I am’ to God,” rather start with God’s ‘Here I am’ to you.”

A shoot will come up from the 

     stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear
     fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on
     him—
  the Spirit of wisdom and of
     understanding,
  the Spirit of counsel and of power,
  the Spirit of knowledge and of the
     fear of the Lord—
and he will delight in the fear of the
     Lord.

He will not judge by what he see with
     his eyes,
  or decide by what he hears with his
     ears;
but with righteousness he will judge
     the needy,
  with justice he will give decisions
     for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of
     his mouth;
  with the breath of his lips he will
     slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt
  and faithfulness the sash around his
     waist.

The wolf will live with the lamb,
  the leopard will lie down with the
     goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling
     together;
  and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
  their young will lie down together,
  and the lion will eat straw like the
     ox.
The infant will play near the hole of
     the cobra,
  and the young child put his hand into
     the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
  on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the
     knowledge of the Lord
  as the waters cover the sea.

                      —Isaiah 11:1-9 (NIV)

Ponder and pray over what it means to wait for the kingdom of God to be revealed, to groan and struggle and weep even while taking comfort in the work God has already accomplished through Jesus Christ.  What does it mean to sing hope and good news in a minor key?

The Word became flesh and blood,
    and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
    the one-of-a-kind glory,
    like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
    true from start to finish.
                    John 1:14 (MSG)


Take a moment to ponder the revealed glory and generosity of God in Christ.

reflections taken from Two Steps Forward: A Story of Persevering in Hope by Sharon Garlough Brown

Advent Day Two: Waiting in the Dark

Reflect on a time of suffering in your own life. What role did community play in the midst of trial, either in sharing your burden or compounding your pain? As you remember the experience, what can you give God thanks for? What still needs to be grieved or forgiven? Write about the sorrow or wound, and offer it to God.

Think about a time when you witnessed Christlike community. What did it look like? Or, if you have not seen the body of Christ functioning like Christ, what do you imagine it would look like? Where might God call you to offer ministry of his presence to others? What gifts of listening, compassion, or service has God given you to share?

Spiritual Practice: Worship

Is weekly worship with a group of believers an important part of your life with God? Spend time thinking about motivation and desire. If you have avoided worshiping in community, talk with God about the reasons why?


Spiritual Practice: Daily Review

Look back over your day as a way of discerning God’s presence in the midst of ordinary life, or as a way of glimpsing the ways God is being born in the midst of mess. Journal your insights each day.

reflections taken from Two Steps Forward: A Story of Persevering in Hope by Sharon Garlough Brown

Advent Day One: Keeping Watch

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
    and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.

                            —Psalm 130:5-6 (NIV)

What comes to mind when you think about the word HOPE? What helps you to persevere in HOPE?

 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” — Luke 1:28 (NIV)

Ponder what it means to be loved, chosen, favoured by God. Which Scripture verses remind you of the love of God? Write them down.


The greek word for “favoured” in Luke 1:28 means “graced.” In fact, the apostle Paul uses the same word in Ephesians 1:6 to describe God pouring out his grace upon us: “to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” Write down your own response to the word “favoured.” What helps you to receive the good news of God’s grace? What makes it hard to believe?

Spiritual Practice: Celebration

Ponder what it means to be “pregnant with the Son of God,” to be chosen and graced and favoured to bear Christ like Mary. Find a way to celebrate the Spirit’s work in making you a dwelling place of the Most High God.

Practice standing in front of a mirror and saying these words: “Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you!” Notice your receptivity or resistance to the exercise.

Jesus was not born in the Bethlehem Hilton, He came right into the mess of our world. And we look around at the mess of our lives and wonder, what can be born in a place like this?

Spend time considering the landscape of your own life. How are you welcoming Christ’s presence into chaos, trials, or mess? Or if nothing comes to mind with a current situation, contemplate a past experience. How did Jesus make his presence known? How might the memory of God’s faithfulness encourage you to trust God in the future?
 

Spiritual Practice: Waiting

One of the common ways God forms us is through waiting. If you find it difficult to wait – perhaps you find yourself battling impatience while waiting – look for opportunities to practice waiting well. If you choose to wait in the longest line in the store, don’t distract yourself with your phone or magazine while you wait. Use the wait time to be attentive to the presence of God. What would God have you notice about the people around you? How might you pray for them? Offer a word of kindness? Provide a simple act of service? Practice prayerfulness in the waiting times.

reflections taken from Two Steps Forward: A Story of Persevering in Hope by Sharon Garlough Brown