This devotional will contain three short sections for each of the four weeks of Advent, and they are meant to be read one at a time after hearing the corresponding sermon. Devotionals will be posted weekly, with the latest post at the top of this webpage. The four Sundays of Advent are December 2, December 9, December 16 and December 23. Sermons will be posted the following day on the Advent sermon series webpage.Download a PDF version of the Advent Devotional here.
Welcome to the story. The story that God started to write before time itself and continued throughout the generations, all leading up to and then because of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, His only Son, the greatest gift ever given.
As we embark on the Advent season, our prayer is that you are able to shift your hearts to discover how joy, give, awe and view can change the way you celebrate and remember Jesus, ultimately leading you to a new kind of wonder. A new kind of worship. A new kind of responding to God for who He is and what He has done.
Read through this on your own, with your family or with a small group. Engage in the way that helps you become more of a disciple, more like Christ in all of life, and to answer the call to consider a new kind of wonder. A new kind of worship. A new kind of responding to God for who He is and what He has done.
If you have children—from toddlers to teenagers—use the family time at the end of each section to start conversation about the various topics each week. Adjust the questions and activities based on the age of your children, and encourage older children (teenagers!) to read this entire Advent devotional for themselves.
WEEK TWO ADVENT DEVOTIONALS POSTED BELOW CORRESPOND TO THE “OUR FINEST GIFT” SERMON ON SUNDAY, DECEMBER 9.
give, week two, day one, peter
Words are funny things. They seem so simple yet are collections of letters specifically arranged that can suddenly carry the weight of the world behind them. Their power is defining and can shape our thoughts, actions and relationships, whether we acknowledge it or not.
What is the word CHRISTMAS filled with for you?
What does the word WORSHIP mean to you?
If worship is responding to God for who He is and what He has done, then it matters who we think God is and what we think God has done. It will shape our response to Him.
Who do you see God to be? What are the pieces of your story that have shaped who you see God to be?
What do you believe that God has done for you?
Matthew 16:13-16 // When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
The above is a conversation between Jesus and one of his disciples and closest friends, Peter. Peter has known Jesus at this point for a while, and it is here where Peter tells Jesus who he thinks He is.
How does Peter see Jesus?
How was Peter able to come to this conclusion?
Most good things in life take work. Relationships that are healthy and growing take time, vulnerability and intentionality. Graduating from school takes studying and doing the work. Getting promoted requires you to do your job with excellence. There is not a lot outside of faith that isn’t earned. But God breaks all those rules. Until we realize that Jesus truly was a gift, we aren’t able to fully grasp how deep and how wide His love is for us.
John 3:16 // For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Note the fourth and ninth words in the verse above.
Why did God do what He did? What did He give?
How does receiving a gift from God shape your definition of worship?
God gave Himself. He didn’t give things or new jobs or a winning lottery ticket. He gave Himself. Responding to this gift—nothing we can earn or deserve—of God Himself shapes the way we respond to Him in worship and giving.
Spend time praying today and thanking God that He gave us the gift of His Son, knowing we could never earn salvation on our own.
give, week two, day two, the first gifts
The first Christmas presents. The Magi brought them to Jesus because they responded to the good news with great joy by giving specific gifts to Jesus Himself. These men who gave the gifts were men considered to be ancient priests who used patterns seen in the sky to seek wisdom and direction. They were not Jewish. However, they would have been aware of the Jewish Scriptures; therefore, when they looked at the skies and took into consideration the knowledge that they had, they took action.
Matthew 2:1-16 // After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod,Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.
The Magi were not physically sitting still. Where did they go?
Why did they take these actions?
How did King Herod respond?
How did the Magi respond to hearing about Jesus’ birth when they went to see Jesus for themselves?
Worship leads to giving.
The gifts the Magi brought would have represented more wealth than someone born in to a family like Jesus’ would have earned in their lifetime. Scripture says that they were “overjoyed” to give the gifts. Couldn’t keep the joy inside. Couldn’t contain it. They had an opportunity to give, so they gave.
The Magi brought gifts because they discovered a very different kind of God. They were from a different culture—the Ancient Near East. People in their culture sought gods for protection and assistance, not a relationship. You couldn’t know the gods, and they certainly didn’t love you. But Yahweh is different; He gave life and Himself. In fact, the primary action the God of Israel takes in the Bible is GIVING. Yahweh is drastically different from the other gods with which the Magi would have been familiar.
No one wakes up and perfectly loves others and loves God in the way that they live generously. It takes practice. Just like a marathoner doesn’t start out running 26.2 miles without training, we don’t immediately live generously.
Therefore, here are some ways that you can begin to practice living generously in reflection of the God who loves you enough to have given you His one and only Son, following the example of the Magi.
- Give financially. For you, it might mean putting your money where your mouth is. You have the resources, and God is opening doors for you to be financially generous.
- Be an encourager. Even if you are not naturally one to use words to encourage others, look for ways to tell those around you what you appreciate or see in them. Rarely do people remember what you said or did, but they always remember how you made them feel.
- Give the gift of time. Be less scheduled so you can be more available to the people around you, or schedule time specifically with those who matter to you most.
- Give assistance. Who needs help hanging pictures? Getting a ride to the airport? Having a babysitter for date night? Look at those around you, and ask yourself how you can help them this week.
- One at a time. “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love,” Mother Teresa said. There is overwhelming need in the world, and there is no way that you could meet the needs of every person who you know. However, there is likely one person with one need over time who you could serve by giving.
- Give in community. There are sometimes needs that you can’t meet on your own, but you likely could do something to serve others by serving with others. If you are involved in a Life Group, a Community or have a large family, consider how you could pool your resources to live generously with others.
How else could you give?
Which of those ideas above are easy and natural for you?
Where could you “stretch” a little to grow in giving generously?
Spend time praying and asking God to reveal to you how He wants you to give. Talk with your spouse, family or friends, and commit to taking one step to give generously this Advent season as a way of responding to God for who He is and what He has done.
give, week two, day three, that blue shirt
THAT BLUE SHIRT
I used to have a long-sleeve, light blue workout shirt. It was one of those non-cotton things that was great at keeping me warm when it was cold out and cool in hotter weather because of the material. The color coordinated well with other workout clothes. And it fit perfectly. I loved that shirt! One of the reasons I loved it so much is because my mom bought it for me. It was a cherished gift because she’s not nearly as outdoorsy as I am and only goes to REI when she’s shopping for me. Buying this gift for me meant that she not only knows what I love to do and wants me to have the gear needed for such activities but also took the time to go to a place that she wouldn’t typically go just to pick out a gift for me.
I really loved that shirt. I wore it all the time, more than any other long-sleeve shirt in my workout collection…for about seven months.
My final appearance in that shirt was on a seven-day hiking trip in Africa. And I didn’t lose it.
At the end of our epic trek up a big mountain, we—the seven of us who embarked on the adventure together from the United States—had an opportunity to donate gear to the amazing, humbling, inspiring porters (guides) who were the only reason we all made it up to the top. They served, encouraged and supported us in ways that are unfathomable. There are no words that do justice to the awe and gratitude felt toward this group of men, the 20 of them that the seven of us needed to successfully summit the 19,431-foot Mount Kilimanjaro.
When we arrived at the bottom of this mountain on the last day, shared a meal and stood around to say our good-byes, we all jumped at the chance to sort through our piles of gear—stuff that isn’t available in Tanzania—to give to these guys who are out in the elements every week serving others. I had a pair of ski gloves with me that were my “old” ones, so I easily handed those over. I had purchased a new, fancy water bottle that had no memories marked by stickers collected, so I tossed that in the pile. There were a few other things, too: a short-sleeve shirt and a pair of socks.
And then I found myself looking at my blue shirt. My favorite blue shirt. I knew that it would fit one of the guides standing in that circle. I had another shirt that I didn’t like very much, but I knew it would be too small for any of them. But my favorite blue shirt would be used. My favorite blue shirt.
I tossed it in the pile quickly without thinking. I knew if I hesitated even a moment I’d justify the decision and change my mind. We hugged good-bye and climbed on the bus. As we drove away from what surely will be one of the most incredible experiences I’ll ever remember and seven days that provided hundreds of life lessons, I chose to stop thinking about the shirt, not thinking that it would be a big deal. It was, after all, only a shirt.
But it was a big deal. Not a life-changing big deal, but giving away my favorite blue shirt was a big deal because it taught me about gifts and giving.
It taught me that gifts were meant to be given away. God blesses us in abundance out of His love for us because He knows what we need and what we like, according to who He uniquely created each of us to be. But those gifts are not ours to own forever. Instead, they are ours to use to the best of our ability for a time—perhaps decades, maybe months and, sometimes, only for minutes.
It taught me that true sacrifice hurts, even if only a little, because if not, it wouldn’t truly be a sacrifice. Yup. I learned that. Over a shirt. (It’s a little embarrassing to put this into words on a page that other people will read, but it’s true.) I still think about that shirt when I’m looking for something similar in my drawer of workout clothes. I wish, selfishly, at times, that I didn’t give it away.
It taught me that I am selfish. I’m inclined to give out of convenience and ease but almost never give when it sacrifices my own needs and desires and comfort, at least in ways that I can’t control. I budget my tithe, plan out my time and have margin in my life so that I can “give” when needs arise. But I rarely give anything in a way that pains me and is not what or how I intended to give.
This morning, when I went digging through my drawer of workout clothes and that blue shirt came to mind, I found myself wondering how amazing it would be if I made a habit out of giving abundantly with what God has given me…especially when it wasn’t something I wanted to give.
What ways do you naturally and easily give to others?
Where do you see others giving easily that you wish you could emulate?
What is the “blue shirt” in your life that you could give generously this Advent season?
Close your time by spending some time asking God to give you His wisdom for when He is calling you to give generously during this Advent season.
give, week two, family time
Acts 20:35 // In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
Have each person share about the best Christmas gift they were able to give and why they liked giving it.
Discuss about how your family could practice giving. You could give deliciousness by baking cookies for a neighborhood, give time by volunteering or give resources by having each person contribute to a financial gift to a nonprofit. Choose one to do together before Christmas.
WEEK ONE ADVENT DEVOTIONALS POSTED BELOW CORRESPOND TO THE “JOY TO THE WORLD” SERMON ON SUNDAY, DECEMBER 2.
joy, week one, day one, cause + effect
She was determined. All the might she could muster as a 6-year-old little girl was focused on waking up early, so when the alarm set by her older brother went off, she bounced out of bed and ran downstairs as fast as her little legs would carry her.
She knew she wasn’t allowed to interrupt Grandma and Grandpa’s sleep before the sun came up, so she paced and played, sometimes erupting into spontaneous giggles because the joy deep down in her soul had to explode out somewhere. It just had to.
Her mom and dad heard her, no matter how quiet she thought she was, and slowly crept downstairs to join her, making coffee, reminding her to be patient and preparing for what was to come. Her brother was now awake, too. The house was starting to stir and it was almost time.
Those moments leading up to ribbons ripping, tape tearing and paper parting over what was surely to be “the-best-ever-toy-she-could-have-ever-wanted” lasted longer than normal ones. Waiting for what was to come was haaaard.
It was Christmas morning, and she knew it was going to be good, no matter what was unwrapped next to the twinkling lights on the tree and sleepy adults sipping coffee.
She knew she would be surprised. And she knew she could barely stand waiting any longer for the gifts given from gift givers out of love, even if stringing together that reasoning wasn’t yet something she understood.
That joy. That explosive joy of a young child. That explosive joy of a young child on Christmas morning. If only we could bottle it up and take it with us to work when the days were dragging, infuse a little extra into our relationships that felt fizzled, and restore wonder to worship. True wonder.
Describe a time when you experienced childlike joy. Even if it was in decades past, write down what caused such great joy.
What does a child believe to be true about the gift givers that cause such great joy?
What does a child believe about gifts that cause such great joy?
Romans 15:13 // May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Great joy like that doesn’t just happen. It just doesn’t. Even if it is merely because of being reminded of something joyful that happened in the past or a seemingly small delight, there is still a cause of great joy.
These things that potentially cause great joy sometimes happen without us even noticing because we can’t see clearly, are too distracted or aren’t paying attention at all. We live in a world full of too much “so much” all the time and everywhere. Abby Odio, in her 2016 sermon at Menlo Church, suggests three things everyone can do to increase the joy factor in life and reshape the way we respond to who God is and what God has done and is doing.
1. Turn around. Change directions. Go in a new direction. Repent. Repentance doesn’t conjure up images of smiles and happiness. Oftentimes, we associate the practice with lamenting over specific past mistakes. However, sometimes, when we are failing to experience the joy that the Lord has for us it is because we are needing to change course with our behavior and attitudes. Pride, selfishness, a lack of forgiveness, entitlement, greed and other sinful behavior and attitudes tend to destroy relationships—our relationship with God and our relationship with others, stealing our joy and the joy we could be sharing with others.
Do people associate you with the word joy? Why or why not? Of what do you need to repent that prevents you from experiencing more joy?
2. Too full? When our lives are too full—“too much of a good thing”—we miss out. We often have to give up things to make space for joy. Joseph had to give up expectations for his future wife and how she would have a baby that was not his before marriage. Mary had to give up her body and her own expectations for marriage. In the Old Testament, Abram had to walk away from everything he ever knew to go where God wanted him to be. The Israelites had to leave slavery to go wander in the desert, and there were times that they thought staying in slavery would have been the better option. It’s not an uncommon theme in life; to take on and walk into what will be, we must walk away from what was, creating space. Perhaps it’s making yourself so busy with social obligations that you aren’t able to spend time with your own family or closest friends this Christmas season? Participating in community and attending parties are good things, but if God is calling you to spend more time with your family or to invest in a few, specific relationships, than giving up the social engagements could lead you to a new kind of joy that God has for you.
Where is your life too full? What might God be calling you to give up so that you can receive what He has for you, even if what you are giving up is a good thing?
3. Eyes up! Within seemingly weeks of smart phones becoming a thing in our culture, there were viral videos of people focusing on electronics and walking into trash cans, walls, each other and anything else in their way. Metaphorically speaking, we do that with our whole lives. We stop paying attention to where God is already moving and working. Take time to look up and open your eyes to what God is doing. In the New Testament, many of the stories about Jesus’ miracles begin with “He saw.” He had to first see people around Him to even know that there was a need to meet or a miracle to perform. Look up!
How could you look up to see people and what God is doing around you?
Spend time praying today asking God to open your eyes to see joyful moments in your day. Then, when you see joy—true joy—it’s hard not to notice. And it’s contagious. Ask Him also to help you realize what are the roadblocks to experiencing joy in your life and how you might begin to shift habits and patterns, allowing you to experience more joy on a regular basis.
Specifically, for the next 24 hours, when you see great joy, take note. Start a joy list in your phone. Text it to a friend. Make a list at the end of the day.
We’ll continue tomorrow by looking at how a few of the characters in the Christmas story reacted to Jesus being born—the cause of truly great joy—and how they worshiped, responding to God for who He is and what He has done.
joy, week one, day two, the shepherds
Joy. Great joy. The things that cause great joy. It is easy to get too busy and too distracted to notice the things that could cause us great joy.
In Luke 2, we read about the birth of Jesus. Joseph and Mary were there, obviously. Perhaps there were other women helping Mary give birth. What we do know is that the word about Jesus’ birth spread quickly, and today, we’ll discover how the news started and spread through some of the most unlikely characters: the shepherds.
Luke 2:8 // And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
Where were the shepherds? What were they doing? When were they doing that?
These might seem like simple questions with simple answers. In the fields. Nearby. Keeping watch over their flocks. At night. No big deal. Just shepherds. Just watching sheep. Just standing in fields. Just one night.
But who were these men and how did their role position them to be in the exact time and the exact place doing the exact thing that would prepare them to experience something that would cause them—and the entire world that day and for generations to come—great joy? Shepherds. Being a shepherd was not a glamorous job. It was stinky. It was at night. It was dangerous. It was isolating.
They worked at night because that was when there was the greatest risk that the sheep would be attacked. Someone had to stand guard and protect them. They couldn’t lean back against a tree and take a nap. They were actively keeping watch over their sheep, taking a big risk themselves against the elements and the other animals out there.
There were no 24-hour diners where they would take breaks and then get back to work. They didn’t have a smart phone to check. There were no books they could take with them to pass the time. They were there continuously, making sure that those sheep were safe. They missed out on much of everyday life in a culture that didn’t have the technology to stay awake at night. Life happened during the day, and they were not part of it.
These isolated shepherds were guarding the sheep that would eventually be sacrificed in the Temple, used for worshiping Yahweh, the God of the universe. They were guarding important things used by important people at important times. Yet they themselves were not important. They were so not important that by the nature of being around those dirty animals, they were actually considered unclean and were forbidden from participating in the worship for which they guarded the sheep. They were isolated from their faith community.
What areas of your life relate to being a shepherd? Not glamorous? Dangerous? Isolating? On a different schedule than others in your own life and than you’d prefer? Feeling a little stinky?
It’s likely that there is something that you wish would be different. We live in a fallen world, far from perfect. Sometimes it’s messy, dark and quiet. We might feel like we are standing in a field with stinky sheep and being excluded from seemingly more important things when in reality that’s exactly when God is sitting on the edge of His seat about change everything.
From what the text tells us, the shepherds were nearby when Jesus was born. They didn’t know that they were that close to the miracle that changed the trajectory of humanity for everyone ever created before and after them. They were simply doing what they were always doing at night, watching over their sheep, and in the exact place at the exact time doing the exact thing that they always did…and about to be the first people told about THE miracle of all births.
Luke 2:9-20 // 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 that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, 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 heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor 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.
Picture this scene for a moment because when you let it play out in your mind it’s absolutely crazy: Besides the sound of the sheep and any other shepherds that might be nearby, it’s quiet. There was no music playing on a speaker or TV buzzing in the background. Not a peep coming from anything but perhaps animals and the wind blowing. Only the moon and the stars light up the sky, if it wasn’t cloudy that night, but their light is blurry and from a distance. There are no city lights because electricity hadn’t been invented yet. There was no confusing the shining glory of Lord with a drone, blimp, airplane or anything else that they could have never imagined. They responded how you would have: they were terrified.
This is where it gets good. God has the angels tell them, the shepherds, the men who weren’t even allowed to worship in the temple because they were unclean. That’s who God chose to tell in the middle of the night when no one else was around and when they were probably not expecting it. It was then and there in that moment that the angels brought “good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”
What was the good news that the angels had for them?
Jesus is the creator of the good news that caused the great joy, and the shepherds responded to God for who He was bringing into the world and what He was doing. These shepherds were not summoning the angels, and they did not ask to be told first. They were simply keeping watch over their sheep in the middle of the night when they heard something that was worth dropping everything to see for themselves. Scripture tells us that they then “returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen.”
What did the shepherds go do after hearing the good news? How did they do this?
What did others do because of what the shepherds did?
They hurried to go see the baby and His parents. Then they went and told people. And people were amazed.
It’s quite simple when you think about it. When you hear about something amazing happening, the natural thing is to go check it out for yourself—even if you have zero doubt that it’s true, you want to see it, hear it, smell it and touch it. You want to enter the story and be a part of it. Because it’s that good. Standing on the sideline is not an option because who wouldn’t want to be a part of something so wonderful? You are compelled to get up and go.
And go immediately. When there’s chocolate cake in the break room, you don’t finish going through emails, make a phone call and think about going to eat some delicious dessert. You get up and go before it’s gone. And that’s just chocolate-cake-sized news. Imagine life-changing, eternity-altering news. News that Yahweh Himself announced to you in a field. At night. When it was dark and quiet. You move and move fast.
You also go tell other people about it. You don’t keep it all to yourself forever, even if it doesn’t affect anyone else. Of course, there are circumstances where you may hold on to something wonderful for a time or share it only with a small group, but eventually, the things that cause great joy in our lives tend to explode all over everywhere, inviting others to participate in experiencing the great joy with us.
How have you taken action because of something wonderful God has done in your life that you did nothing to cause?
How has your life been changed because someone else shared the good news with you?
How have you shared the good news of Jesus being born with others? How could you do so this Advent season?
They were just shepherds. They lived in the fields. At night. When no one else was around. They stunk, too, because they were surrounded by animals. Yet they were the ones who had the privilege of being the mouthpiece for the greatest news ever told. They were the first to whom God announced Jesus’ birth. They were invited into the story, shared the story and overflowed with great joy from this good news.
Consider where God is using you today. Pray about how you are positioning your heart and mind to pay attention to what He is doing in you and through you in what might seem like the mundane things of everyday life. Then, when you see God moving in ways that only God can move, tell someone. Share the good news, and attribute it to the One who causes such great joy.
joy, week one, day three, joseph
The greatest gift ever given in the history of the world by the only perfect gift giver was given over 2000 years ago in the form of a baby born to a teenage mom in what was an unconventional pregnancy situation. And that gift—illogical and inconvenient—sparked great joy in the lives of those who heard of it and were part of it. The birth of Jesus, the cause of such joy, was truly unexpected and spurred those closest to the situation to worship, responding to God for who He is and what He had done.
Because they were ready for it.
Before this first “Christmas,” the people closest to the situation had the opportunity to be prepared for it. It was their perspective of God and their trust in Him that allowed them to be ready and, therefore, to respond the way that they did…before they knew how the story would unfold.
Mary and Joseph. It’s easy to think that their response to God telling them about the birth of Jesus was normal and appropriate. We know what would happen next. We know that Joseph doesn’t leave Mary. We know that when Jesus was born, people came with gifts and to worship. We know that Jesus grew up and eventually had brothers and sisters. We know that Jesus lived and died and lived again. We know the end of the story.
But they didn’t. They were young: full-fledged adults in their culture but youth by today’s definition. Their relationship was not their own, probably at least partially orchestrated by older relatives in their lives.
They had agreed to get married, and that’s all we know. They aren’t living together, and when we meet Joseph for the first time, he is told that his fiancée is pregnant with GOD’S SON and that he should still marry the girl.
Matthew 1:18-25 // This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
What was Joseph’s response to the angel of the Lord?
“He did what the angel of the Lord had commanded.” He chose to obey. He took the information he was given, and chose to act on it. We don’t know if he was doing cartwheels and shouting from the mountain tops with confidence in the gift God was giving…or if he scratched his head the next morning and tip-toed around awkward social situations avoiding eye contact as people whispered about his pregnant fiancée.
What Scripture does tell us is that “he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him.” He obeyed.
Obedience is one of those funny little words that is sometimes associated with a negative attitude and that sometimes reminds us of homework assignments. It means chores and must-do’s instead of want-to’s. But it’s only when we obey that we get to the good stuff. Joseph obeyed, and he became the husband of a woman like Mary and the earthly father to Jesus, the God who created him.
This man—and many others throughout Scripture (read Hebrews 11!) didn’t know what would happen after he obeyed. He only knew that the God who loved him enough to create him and was faithful and inviting him into something that he couldn’t yet see, and he chose to walk faithfully into that something, not knowing if it would be awesome or awful.
Our actions, our mindset and our decisions are how we respond to God for who He is and what He is doing. When we obey, we are worshiping God with our response. Worship is not passive, as we saw with the shepherds. They worshiped and got moving. And oftentimes, it isn’t until after we obey that we are able to discover the great joy that God had prepared for us well in advance. It isn’t always the shallow happy feeling of things going the way that we had hoped. However, as we grow more as disciples, becoming more like Christ in all of life, we grow in the way that we experience God’s presence and in relationship with Him, which ultimately leads to great joy, true joy.
When is a time that you chose to obey whatever it was God wanted you to do, and you were surprised by something that caused great joy?
When is a time that you chose to obey whatever it was God wanted you to do, and even though it didn’t work out as you had hoped or expected, you were able to find joy in how God was growing you and deepening your faith?
We read the story of Jesus being born, Mary and Joseph being chosen to be His earthly parents and all the events surrounding this, knowing the end of the story. It’s easy to be numb to their profound and bold response to what God tells them because we know how it worked out for them.
But in our own lives, we live in the middle. We live in the middle where obeying doesn’t always feel as clear or as easy. We don’t have angels arriving in our dreams dictating specific instructions. Sometimes, obeying isn’t so clear.
Romans 12:2 // Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Scripture has an answer for what to do when the obedience isn’t spelled out in an email or found on Google: Be transformed. By the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is.
Where are you living in the middle? How can you trust God by obeying and waiting on Him, and what joy might come from that?
Spend time allowing your mind to be transformed, whether it be through prayer, meditating on Scripture or worshiping. Specifically ask God to use this time to transform your mind so that you may boldly worship Him through obedience. Wait patiently to see how He will use your circumstances, even if they seem as crazy as someone’s fiancée becoming pregnant miraculously with the Son of God. And choose to walk courageously, like Joseph did when he married and cared for Mary and this Child, who was the Savior of the world.
joy, week one, family time
Ask your children to tell you about the best surprise that they ever received and then share a story of your own.
As you share your story, talk about how great joy does not happen on its own; something causes great joy—whether it be a surprise or good news.
Ask how they feel about Christmas and whether or not it is easy to wait to open presents.
Talk about how the people who were there for the first Christmas—Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth and everyone else—were part of a people who had waited hundreds of years for the Messiah. When Jesus was born, it was good news that caused great joy.