Advent Devotions

God with Us in the Flesh (the Peace Candle)

John 1 • December 20, 2015 • Greg Gibson

“Peace is a joy so great, that even in this earthly and mortal life there is no word we hear with such pleasure, nothing we desire with such zest, or find to be more thoroughly gratifying.” - Augustine(5) “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth... And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” – John 1:14-18 God brings everlasting peace to this broken world by means of his Son Jesus, who came to the earth as a human being, fulfilled the requirements of the Law of Moses, suffered at the hands of the Jews and was crucified by the Romans. This is what he had come to earth to do. This is what was necessary to bring peace between God and man. This is the Christmas story. The fourth Sunday of Advent is about Peace, and how this comes through Christ’s justice. The candle lit on this Sunday is sometimes called “the Bethlehem Candle.” Bethlehem was sometimes called “the city of David,” because that is where King David was born. Likewise the prophets said that this was where the Christ child was to be born. Jesus’ rule on the throne of David served as a reminder to all of Israel that Jesus was truly “the Christ,” the promised King who would bring justice and Peace not only to the land of Israel, but to the whole world. In John 1, we see this peace expounded in a slightly different manner. Instead of focusing on Jesus’ relationship to Israel, John focuses on Jesus’ relationship to God. It is God’s presence on earth that brings peace and “grace upon grace.” As Christians living at a future point in time, we know that Jesus Christ’s reign will last forever. Suggested Prayer: Lord, we celebrate the peace you have given to believers, but we also look forward to the day that this everlasting peace is truly realized throughout the world. We thank you for the gift of peace found in Jesus. We pray that this substantial peace – like the hope, love, and joy – would be felt in our lives, despite what we might be going through and despite the reality of sin. We pray for complete reconciliation in all conflicts that we have a part in, whether we are offended or we are the ones who offend. We pray this in Jesus’ name, and for your glory. Amen. Suggested Activity 1. Write a “thank you” note to a member of the police, fire department, EMS, or branch of the military. These are people who need a lot of encouragement and do not see a lot of “peace” in their jobs. 2. Write down the names of two people you have a conflict with. Maybe they’ve hurt you, or maybe you have hurt them. Consider contacting them to offer or ask for forgiveness and peace. 5 St. Augustine, The City of God, 19.11. The City of God, trans. Marcus Dods (New York, NY: Random House, 1993), 686.

God with Us in Everything (the Joy Candle)

Philippians 4:10-13 • December 13, 2015 • Greg Gibson

“There are indeed many reasons why we should go on living, and the largest one is that God really is there, He really does exist, and He made us for Himself. Knowing that He is there, and therefore that we do not live in a silent universe, changes everything.” – Francis Schaeffer(4) “I can do all things through him who gives me strength.” – Philippians 4:13 God ordered the events of the world so that, in the fullness of time, his Son would be born. God brought all things about for his glory. This is the Christmas story. The third Sunday of Advent is about Joy, and how this Joy is expressed through a hope that God will restore all things. The candle lit on this Sunday is sometimes called “the Shepherds’ Candle” because of how the shepherds were given “good news of great joy” (Lk. 2:10). This Joy was so profound that it caused a multitude of angels in heaven to break out into song, but it was a joy that could be appreciated by mankind. In Philippians 4, we see this Joy at work as Paul lives day in and day out in the power of the Spirit. Because Paul is content in every circumstance, because he trusts in the One who brings all things about at just the right time and in just the right way. With this in mind, the Joy candle is lit to remind us of how God has already brought joy to this broken world, even as we look ahead to its full restoration with Christ’s return. Suggested Prayer: Lord, we praise you for your ability to redeem this world and repair its broken parts. We thank you that you would reveal some part of this plan to us in your Word. We thank you for the gift of joy found in Jesus, and how it extends to every area of our lives. We pray that this substantial joy – the joy experienced even by the angels in heaven – would be felt in our lives and that you would set us free from the evils we are experiencing in our daily lives. Even in times of great sorrow and loss, we thank you that the joy you provide is stronger and outlasts the pain, because it is rooted in the eternal hope of the renewal of all things. We pray this in Jesus’ name, and for your glory. Amen. Ideas for Activities: 1. Visit someone who is in a nursing home or in a hospital – someone you know, who you haven’t seen in a long while. 2. If you like to sing, go Christmas caroling with a group! 4 Francis Schaeffer, The Letters of Francis A. Schaeffer: Spiritual Reality in the Personal Christian Life. ed. Lane Dennis (Westchester, IL: Crossway, 1985), 113.

God with Us in Our Joy: The Love Candle

Philippians 3:7-14 • December 6, 2015 • Greg Gibson

Dec. 6 – God with Us in Our Joy (the Love Candle): Philippians 2:1-11 “We talk glibly of the ‘Christmas spirit’, rarely meaning more by this than sentimental jollity on a family basis. But ... the phrase should in fact carry a tremendous weight of meaning. It ought to mean the reproducing in human lives of the temper for Him who for our sakes became poor at the first Christmas. And the Christmas spirit itself ought to be the mark of every Christian all the year round.” – J. I. Packer (3) “If there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” – Philippians 2:1-2 God the Father loved the world so much that he sent his Son into a hostile world. God the Son loved the world so much that he was willing to live in extreme poverty and face death on our behalf. The Holy Spirit loved the world so much that he walked alongside individuals in their struggles, patiently revealing God’s plan for salvation. This is the cause for celebration. This is the Christmas story. The second Sunday of Advent is about God’s Love and the joy it brings. The candle lit on this Sunday is sometimes called “the Angels’ Candle” because of how the angels sang of God’s perfect love, as expressed through the coming of Christ. Christ died for the sins of ungodly and wicked people. As John 3:16 tells us, these are the ultimate expressions of love. In Philippians 2, we see this Love at work in the actions of Christ. Paul rehearses the life of Jesus, highlighting what he had to give up to express his love to the world. He shed his divine appearance and authority. He took the form of a servant, and was born into a poor family. He became obedient to death, even submitting to a degrading and painful form of execution. We can participate in this Love and share it with others, just as we have received it from Christ. We can join in the angels’ chorus. Suggested Prayer: Lord, we acknowledge our own unworthiness as we receive the loving sacrifice of Christ. We thank you and praise that you would consider us, as guilty men, women and children, people that can still be redeemed. We thank you for the gift of love found in Jesus. Through the kindness that you have shown to every generation, and through the comforting words of your revelation, you continue to put your Love on display. Please help us to trust in your power to wipe away every tear and offer comfort to all the afflicted. We pray this in Jesus’ name, and for your glory. Amen.  Ideas for Activities: 1. As a family, name three people who might be sad this time of year, to invite over for dinner, or out to dinner. 2. As a family, make a list of happy things to praise God for. What are some good things that happened this past year? 3 J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 55-56. 12

God with us in our suffering: The Hope Candle

Philippians 3:7-14 • November 29, 2015 • Greg Gibson

“At times it seems to me that all my joy is buried like a dead thing, and all my present usefulness and all my hope of being useful in the future are coffined and laid underground like a corpse ... but if I sink right down among the dead men yet will I hold to this blessed hope, that as Jesus rose again from the dead, so also shall my joy, my usefulness, my hope, my spirit rise.” – Charles Spurgeon(1) “I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish ... that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” – Philippians 3:8, 10-112 God did not for a moment ignore suffering or take it lightly. He entered into it, and through his Son he offered the Hope of salvation to a world in desperate need and out of options. This is the Christmas story. The first Sunday of Advent is about Hope, and specifically the Hope of Salvation. The candle lit on this Sunday is sometimes called “the Prophecy Candle” because of how the prophets spoke of the coming of the Christ child, the one who would take away the sins of the world. The men and women of the Old Testament could not have known when or how this Christ would come, but they hoped with all their might that he would. Even at the beginning of the season we know where the story is going. In Philippians 3, the Apostle Paul speaks of the incomparable worth of the Hope available in Christ as one living after the fact. This Hope is in a God who sent his Son to live on earth as a man, to suffer through the human condition, and die on a cross. But that is not all; Christ was also raised from the dead. Paul writes about how he counts everything in his life – his upbringing, possessions, accomplishments, or status, all of which would have been considerable – as complete rubbish when compared with the power of Christ’s resurrection. All this is to say the story of Christ’s coming to earth is more precious than any other gift we have ever received. Suggested Prayer: Lord, as we begin this celebration of the Advent season, we thank you for where the Christmas story leads. We thank you for the preparation that you put into the salvation of your people, and for the gift of hope found in Jesus and ultimately his resurrection. Through the reminders of your promises and the words of the prophets, you gave your people hope that salvation would come. This salvation would be from all the evils of this world, and from the punishment our sins deserve. Please help us to continue to trust in your preparation as we live our lives. We pray this in Jesus’ name, and for your glory. Amen. Ideas for Activities: 1. As a family, name three people who are suffering this week. What is one thing you can do for each of them to encourage them? 2. As a family, make a list of sad things that need lots of prayer. What are some things you’d like to see happen this year? 1 Charles Spurgeon, The Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus (Sermon 1653), April 9, 1882. 2 All biblical references taken from the English Standard Version (2011 update).