There are a variety of ways to celebrate the Advent season, depending on tradition and background. Many people use an Advent calendar, typically made up of 24 “windows” containing Scriptures, stories, poems or gifts, to count down the days until Christmas. As each window is opened and the final day draws closer, expectation increases. This reminds us of the hopeful yet anxious waiting God’s people experienced as they longed for the promised Savior to come.
Another popular tradition is marking the progression of the season through an Advent wreath made up of five candles. This symbol is borrowed from the emphasis throughout Scripture of Jesus Christ being the Light of the World (Matt. 4:16; John 1:4-9, 8:12). Each week a new candle is lit in anticipation of Christmas Eve. The last candle, called the Christ Candle, is lit on Christmas Eve to represent Jesus’ first advent. Through this theme of ever-increasing light penetrating the darkness, we see a picture of the gospel.
Regardless of the tradition, Advent is a significant time in the life of the church. It’s an opportunity for believers to remember God’s promise to send One who would overcome sin and death forever. God promised a Savior, and He kept that promise perfectly.
Advent in the Beginning: Many of us grew up with the story of Advent beginning in a stable. But, the story begins in a Garden. When God created the world, all things were just as they should be. Creation functioned in perfect order and moved in seamless harmony. Man walked in unbroken relationship with God, fully known and unafraid.
But in an instant, all that changed as Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s good instruction.
They took of the fruit, ate, and sin entered the world. Fellowship broken. Peace shattered. Creation thrown into chaos. Darkness, depravity, fear, shame and selfishness flooded the human heart, separating man from God. The situation was dire. But right then, amid the darkness, God spoke a word of hope: a Savior would come, born of a woman, to defeat the enemy and deliver God’s people… Before He addressed Adam and Eve, God turned to the serpent and announced that sin would not have the final say and that the schemes of the enemy would not prevail.
(Devotional credit: The Village Church – “Advent: He Keeps His Promises” )
Welcome to the most wonderful time of the year! As the Advent season gets into high gear, let’s pause each morning together, Monday thru Friday, here at Jumpstart to get perspective and keep proper focus. You might ask the question, “What is Advent?” Quick refresher: The word Advent is a derived from latin, and it means “coming.” Noel Piper says, “…it’s as if we’re re-enacting, remembering the thousands of years God’s people were anticipating and longing for the coming of God’s salvation, for Jesus… Even God’s men who foretold the grace that was to come didn’t know what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating. They were waiting, but they didn’t know what God’s salvation would look like.”
The Advent season consists of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, and is designed to remind us of our true longing for the Prince of Peace. The song “O Come, O Come Emmanuel is quite fitting as a description of what Advent means to us. Justin Holcomb put it this way: “While Israel would have sung the song in expectation of Christ’s first coming, the church now sings the song in commemoration of that first coming and in expectation of the second coming in the future.”
Not too long ago, John Piper wrote a fantastic family devotional called, “Good News For Great Joy” that I have gone through a few times. It has served as an appropriate encouragement to my heart in this special season. We’ll refer to it a few times over the weeks to come. Here is his opening-day reading.
“He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” (Luke 1:16–17)
What John the Baptist did for Israel, Advent can do for us. Don’t let Christmas find you unprepared. I mean spiritually unprepared. Its joy and impact will be so much greater if you are ready!
That you might be prepared . . .
First, meditate on the fact that we need a Savior. Christmas is an indictment before it becomes a delight. It will not have its intended effect until we feel desperately the need for a Savior. Let these short Advent meditations help awaken in you a bittersweet sense of need for the Savior.
Second, engage in sober self-examination. Advent is to Christmas what Lent is to Easter. “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” Let every heart prepare him room . . . by cleaning house.
Third, build God-centered anticipation and expectancy and excitement into your home — especially for the children. If you are excited about Christ, they will be too. If you can only make Christmas exciting with material things, how will the children get a thirst for God? Bend the efforts of your imagination to make the wonder of the King’s arrival visible for the children.
Fourth, be much in the Scriptures, and memorize the great passages! “Is not my word like fire, says the Lord!” Gather ’round that fire this Advent season. It is warm. It is sparkling with colors of grace. It is healing for a thousand hurts. It is light for dark nights.
(Devotional credit: John Piper, Good News For Great Joy)
Day 5: Genuine Thanksgiving
Paul had an attitude of genuine thanksgiving: “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak” (Colossians 4:2-4).
Here’s a man in his sixties who has been preaching for years asking for prayers for a clearer delivery. There was no pretense with Paul. No degree of success or number of years in the ministry gave him a false sense of ultimate accomplishment. He knew he had not yet arrived. He was convinced his preaching could be improved. And so with a genuinely thankful heart, he entreated his fellow believers for their prayers. Can you see the power of that kind of attitude? Very refreshing.
No wonder the man had such lasting impact for Christ. His secret bled through every one of his letters. He had learned to be content in all things. But we can’t leave the ink of these truths to simply sit and dry on the page. We must embrace the same secret for ourselves if we are to have the same lasting impact. Some personal reflection is in order.
Let’s turn the spotlight away from the man housed in Rome back then and focus it on you and your life, wherever you find yourself right now. Are you making a difference in the lives of those closest to you by the way you respond to your circumstances? Are others inspired by your faith, or are they discouraged by your fears? Are the attitudes of unselfish humility, joyful acceptance, strong determination, and genuine thanksgiving evident in the way you respond to circumstances? Maybe it’s time to make some changes. Let’s see if I can help.
Start by refusing to let your situation determine your attitude. When your attitude overshadows your situation, transformation really begins. As we saw in Paul, the power to transform stubborn attitudes of fear and bitterness, anger and defeat, comes from Christ. The Lord our God stands ready to pour His strength in you. He alone has the power to deliver you from those relentless foes and send you soaring.
Keep an attitude of genuine thanksgiving.
(Devotional credit: Charles R. Swindoll, Great Days with the Great Lives: Daily Insight from Great Lives of the Bible)
Day 4: Remembering Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving has to be one of the most underrated holidays in America. Once Halloween has finished and the Jack-O-Lanterns are all put away, the Christmas frenzy takes over. Holiday specials start playing on TV, stores decorate their aisle with snowflakes and mistletoes, and people take the chance to hang Christmas lights while there’s no snow. It’s not all that surprising really; the Christmas spirit can be pretty infectious, it’s also a lot harder to profit off a holiday that emphasizes thankfulness.
I feel like this is how many people, even Christians, treat the idea of thankfulness in general. I don’t know about you, but I’m much faster at coming up with a list of things I want for Christmas than a list of things I’m grateful for. It’s also pretty easy for our prayers to become filled with phrases like “God, please give me…”, “God, please help me…”, or “God, I need…”. We get so tied up in what God can do for us, how Christ can impact our lives, that we forget how to be thankful for what we have. Luckily, God is good at reminding us what’s important.
A few months ago, I was leaving for work in the morning when I was greeted by my apartment’s cleaning lady.
“Good morning,” she said, “How you doin?” I thought about the question for a second and, trying to sound funny, said,
“Well, it’s a Wednesday.”
“Now, now,” she said, “It’s a good day. Do you know why? Because you’re walking, and you’re breathing.” You can’t really argue with that, can you?
So, this Thanksgiving, amidst the mayhem of football games and turkey dinners, I encourage you to take a moment to pray and simply thank Christ for the things in your life. Whether is for home, family, or a hot meal, remember to give thanks, for God is good.
(Devotional credit: Ryan Duncan, Crosswalk.com Culture Editor)
Day 3: Jesus and Gratitude
God Himself, in the person of his Son, Jesus, entered into our thankless world and lived in flawless appreciation of his Father. He then died on our behalf for our chronic ingratitude. Jesus lived a life of continual thanksgiving to God the Father. In Matthew 11:25 Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” John 11:41 says “…they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me…’” (Jesus then raises Lazarus from the dead).
In Matthew 15:36, Jesus “took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to his disciples…” (see also John 6:11 and John 6:23 which refers to the location as “the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks”). Lastly look at Luke 22:17–20: “And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, ‘Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.’”
Jesus lived a perfect life of thanksgiving to God the Father. He lived the life that we couldn’t live. He then died to pay for our sin of thankless living in which we fail to recognize God. And the great news of the Gospel is that not only does God then forgive us for our ingratitude but he gives us Jesus’ spotless record. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “he made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf that we might become of the righteousness of God in him.” Jesus became sin in order that by faith, we might become righteous!
Take time to thank God for Jesus, His perfect life, His death in your place, and the perfect record that is now yours by faith.
(Devotional credit: Epic Community Church in Aberdeen, Maryland)
Day 2: Gratitude In Prayer
Colossians 4:2: Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving…
Two commands are given in this short directive from the apostle Paul: continue and watch. First, we are to continue, or persevere, in daily and fervent prayer to God. But as we do continually pray, Paul reminds us, we must be also careful to be determinedly “watching” for occasions of thanksgiving.
The word “watch” means to be vigilant, alert, attentive. It seems Paul knew that we have a tendency to grow selfish and unmindful of the Lord’s blessings in our lives. We begin to take even the greatest mercies and most undeserved gifts for granted. We forget to give thanks for each and every grace in our life.
In your ongoing prayers, be watchful for opportunities to give thanks. Is there something in this request for which I could also be giving thanks? Is there a reason to be grateful, even in the midst of this trial?
For instance, as I pray for this loved one to be healed, shouldn’t I be grateful for having the loved one in my life to begin with? As I pray for revival in our country, in our church, and in my home, shouldn’t I thank God for the promise that He will be found by those who seek Him?
Beloved, be careful to pray today. And, as you pray, be careful to give thanks to God for His abundant provision and marvelous promises. Even in the needs, even in the sorrows, even in the trials there is always reason to be grateful.
(Devotional credit: Crosswalk.com)