2013 ADVENT DEVOTIONAL
Advent is the season of the Christian year when we wait and prepare for the birth of Jesus on Christmas Day. Traditionally, it begins on the first day of the Christian year, four Sundays before Christmas Day. This year, Advent begins on Sunday, December 1st and it will end at midnight on Christmas Eve.
During Advent, we hope that you will enjoy and use these daily readings as you prepare for Christ’s birth. Reverend Bill Parr wrote the meditations for the odd-number days and Nancy Pratt, DCE, wrote them for the even-numbered days.
We originally thought that working together on these readings would provide you with a male and a female perspective on the season, but in writing them, we realized that we both have other differences in perspective as well: one of us is married with a family, the other is single; one of us has children in the household for Christmas, the other does not; one of us has celebrated Christmas in foreign countries and in distant locations, the other has celebrated primarily in the Dallas area; one of us celebrates this year with the special joy of renewed health, the other celebrates this year without a family patriarch for the first time.
We offer differing perspectives on the wait and preparation for Christmas Day. But we also offer a common faith, a similar hope in the message of Christmas, and a shared love for our Nor’kirk family.
May this Advent bring you peace and joy as you prepare for the birth of a King!
Read: Ephesians 2:8
Christmas is a time when it is easy to include former generations of the family in the festivities. When we sit down to Christmas dinner, we use Great Uncle Dub’s gravy bowl, Auntie’s serving spoons, Grandma’s turkey platter, and my dad’s mother’s blue dish for cranberry sauce. Some of these relatives I knew. Some of them I know only through stories. They are a part of our Christmas tradition, and they will continue to be. Becky and I are sometimes overwhelmed trying to remember exactly who first owned some of the china and other dishes, but when we all sit down together, somehow we remember. Even the boys are learning to carefully pass the moo cow that my dad thought he drank from in his childhood (it’s a pitcher!)
Do you include family stories and items from other generations in your Christmas traditions? Do you know and honor those who came before? Do you read the Christmas story from a family Bible? What traditions can you begin today to honor your past and to let future generations feel that they are a part of a heritage of love and faith?
Prayer: O God, we appreciate those who came before us. We honor them. As we anticipate generations beyond our own, help us to communicate our faith and family traditions to others. Amen.
Read: Luke 1:22
Recently, a friend asked me what the best gift I have ever received was. After some thought, I told him it was a piece of advice from my Grandfather Selvidge: “Silence is often the wisest voice in the room.” At the time, I didn’t fully appreciate the words. But in the years since, I have come to understand the meaning and spirit of this advice.
Sometimes our words speak volumes, but at other times our silence speaks even more. In a world where words are taken for granted, learning to listen is even more valuable. Often our advice is not what is needed. Instead, what is needed is our willingness to be available.
Today, remember that our advice, and opinion matter less than our presence. Not only will this be an incredible gift to those in need; it is a blessing for us as well.
Prayer: Gracious God, help me listen for Your word in my life and not miss how that word can transform my world. Amen.
Read: Matthew 2:10-11
All of us can remember receiving a special Christmas gift. A new car, a computer, a special ring – these make wonderful gifts. But as we’ve been told all our lives, the value of a gift doesn’t always reflect the cost. I received the best Christmas gift ever last Christmas, and it cost little more than the price of some duct tape, computer ink, and a few sheets of paper.
The gift was the last one under our tree. It was to me from Becky and Darrell and the boys. Inside a shoebox covered with duct tape, I found 365 folded pieces of paper, each with a memory. From Becky: “I remember fighting over the blanket on the bed when we would visit the Batemans. We pulled so hard that we heard it start to rip!” From Matt: “I remember your car Jade and how cool the CD changer in the trunk was! I always liked to be in control of the remote when we went places together.” And so on. 365 slips of paper, with memories from five of the people I love most. Something to read and remember each day of 2013. This is a gift I’ll cherish and re-read and enjoy forever, long after the bottle of expensive perfume has evaporated or the shiny new laptop has become obsolete. It took time and thought and it reflects good times, memories, and love.
What “forever” gift can you give to the people on your Christmas list?
Prayer: O God, thank you for cherished memories, for people to love, and for simple joys. Amen.
Read: Philippians 4:13
Have you ever been disappointed by a friend, family member, or colleague? A wounded relationship is a difficult feeling. Our natural instinct is to be angry and to refuse to forgive. We want the other person to feel the same emotions we are experiencing. Yes, an “eye for an eye” is easier and more rewarding if we measure disappointment by human emotions.
However, God measures disappointment by grace. Imagine how the God of the universe must feel when we disappoint, fail, or disobey. What if God’s first instinct were to remain in anger? Where would we be?
Thankfully, God’s response to disappointment was to send Jesus as our example, friend, and Savior.
This day, don’t miss the opportunity to begin again in your relationships. God seized such a moment, and that has made the difference for you and me.
Prayer: God of forgiveness and new beginnings, help me begin again in my relationship with others as You began again with me. Amen.
Read: Philippians 4:4-7
I’ll admit it – I’ve never cared for white elephant or exchange type gift-giving parties. You know about these parties (the Nor’kirk even has one!): everyone opens a gift and then can trade it for something “better” or “more interesting.” I don’t know if I attended a party as a child and my gift was not well received, or if it’s the basic idea that trading a gift implies you don’t like it. There’s something that bothers me about opening a gift and then trading it for something better, particularly while everyone else watches.
Do I do the same thing with my faith? Do I profess one thing, but when the next best thing comes along, do I trade up? I’m not talking about changing basic beliefs, but do I practice my faith in only the newest, most interesting manner? Do I sing only the new and trendy songs? Do I fall one year for the prayer of Jabez and the next for WWJD and the next for the Left Behind idea? Do I exchange the way I express my faith with whatever society, even “Christian” society, thinks is a better deal?
I’m not certain what the answer is here. I enjoy the old, traditional hymns, but I also enjoy the songs we learn at retreats and camps and spiritual gatherings. I enjoy thinking about the story of our faith from other perspectives. I guess I just need to work on keeping and rejoicing in the old, looking at the new, and sticking with the tried and true while making some room for the new and improved! Does the way you express your faith change based on study and prayer, or based on the latest popular thing?
Prayer: O God, you are the God of my parents and grandparents and ancestors. Teach me to their faith, to look for new ways to know You, and to discern the right way to express my own belief. Amen.
Read: Ephesians 6:11
We’ve heard that clothes make the man. In our society, style is big business. Fashion dominates newsstands and plays a huge part in defining our culture. A Christmas ad states: “Of course, the measure of a man is more than what he wears, but what he wears describes how what we measure matters.” I hope we are not this shallow, but I understand the comment.
Paul says that what we wear in our spiritual lives matters too – not for the same reasons as our physical clothes, but with similar impact. What we “put on” spiritually provides a glimpse into our relationship with God. Just look at Paul’s suggested wardrobe for us: truth as the belt, salvation as the helmet, faith as the shield, peace as our shoes, and righteousness as our breastplate.
What we wear in our journey becomes the measure of life in Christ. So, dress well. It matters! Today, dress for success. The success that comes from having Christ in your heart.
Prayer: Gracious God, you clothe us in Your grace. Help me not miss the splendor of what You have in store for me. Amen.
Read: Isaiah 55:12
One of my favorite errands at Christmas time was to go with my dad to deliver baskets of oranges, grapefruit and tangerines to “old people.” From a child’s perspective, anyone over 20 is old, but these were people who had worked with my dad and had retired, so they were at least over 40! My grandparents arrived each Christmas season with a trunk filled with citrus fruit. It was more than our family could eat, so my mother would make fruit baskets for several retired friends and then Dad, Becky and I would drive all over Dallas making deliveries. It was fun to drop off gifts, to be told how much I’d grown since the previous year, and to sing Christmas songs in the car as we made the deliveries.
I learned three things from these annual visits: 1) it’s good to give attention to folks who have been important in your life but are no longer a part of your daily life; 2) sharing your plenty, your bounty, is fun; and 3) Christmas is a time for giving to those who cannot give back.
What former associates and co-workers and friends would appreciate hearing from you this Christmas? What do you have to share?
Prayer: O God, it is so easy to be busy this time of year. Slow me down, help me to think of those who need my attention, and give me the nudge to call or visit them and share my blessings with them. Amen.
Read: Hebrews 11:1
While traveling in a small town several months ago, I found myself at the corner of Main Street and Hope Street. Needless to say, since I am a minister, the wheels began turning. I wondered how many people had stood at this intersection searching for the hope of their lives, asking questions about direction and, more important, a better destination.
The birth of Jesus marked a crossroads for humanity; in fact, Christ’s birth is literally the intersection of how we measure time – before and after the “year of the Lord” (A.D.). But isn’t it the same with our spiritual lives? God becoming like us, Emmanuel, signals a new place in our relationship with God. God has chosen us as God’s own and made our lives the crossroads for God’s love. In the end, what seemed like the street corner for one lonely journey after another became a place of new beginnings and better paths.
This Christmas, don’t miss the intersection of God’s love in your life. Trust me, it is nothing short of life’s intersection at “main and hope.” This day, smile at someone, and give them direction to hope.
Prayer: Gracious God, give me direction for my life by following Your lead through Jesus Christ. Amen.
Read: Isaiah 48:17
When I think of Christmas, I remember my grandmother’s hands. Grandma was with us each year for Christmas, and to her fell the task of stuffing the turkey for Christmas dinner. She made the dressing out of cornbread, giblets, and other mysteries, mixed it until her hands were coated in it, and then she would stuff the bird. The best part was watching her next move, tying up the bird. She would find a big needle and a thick piece of string and then she would patiently sew the bird closed. The needle, the string, her hands – everything was covered in slippery dressing, but she kept sewing. I remember watching the strength of her hands as she manipulated the bird and pulled the string. It was quite a process. Then she would tie a knot in the string, and the bird was ready to be lowered into the blue roasting pan. Grandma’s hands were old and wrinkled, but they were strong and quick. My mother told me once that I have my grandmother’s hands, and that makes me happy. Hands that have been folded in prayer, hands that have sewed up a turkey, hands that have given direction and held children and prepared meals for a family and hands that wrote a letter each Sunday evening to granddaughters who lived far away. Look at your hands. What stories do they tell?
Prayer: O God, thank you for giving me hands to work, to play, to hold, to teach, and to serve. Teach me to appreciate your wonderful works. Amen.
Read: Psalm 56:3-4
How much of life do we make happen, and how much of it happens to us? As a young Youth Minister, I took a group tubing on the Rio Frio. The water’s current pushed us with little to no effort. We just sat and enjoyed the ride. Nothing is more relaxing than floating leisurely on a river. Too bad life is not a lazy, albeit cold, river.
Life is more like when members of the mission trip go white-water rafting. There are moments of peaceful flow combined with some of the most harrowing currents. Half the ride, you sit and relax, the other half, you just hold on. Sound familiar?
Life’s been this way from the beginning. Certainly Mary and Joseph would have preferred options other than a stable in Bethlehem, but that’s what the journey brought. And so they made arrangements and went with the flow.
We learn from their experience in many ways – notably, that we take life as we find it and trust in God’s grace to guide us. God never promised a smooth ride, but God won’t let us sink either. Today, don’t let the frenetic nature of the holiday keep you from spreading the peace of the Christ.
Prayer: Gracious God, help me go with the flow of Your grace and trust in the current of Your love. Amen.
Read: Colossians 1:27
I remember the years after college, when our family Christmas was suddenly changed. It was just the four of us in my nuclear family, celebrating together. After years of grandparents’ visits and little girl Christmas adventures, we were four adults, trying to make merry while juggling work schedules and Christmas parties and individual plans. Becky and I both managed to take a few vacation days around Christmas and we both went to my parents’ home, but it wasn’t the same. I think that’s when it truly dawned on all of us that Christmas was more than shopping and parties and decorating. Christmas was about the birth of a baby hundreds of years ago in Bethlehem. We began then to attend our church’s Christmas Eve services. We talked about the Christmas story. It had always been a part of our tradition, but it had often been pushed aside in the interest of making plans and spending time with friends. The nativity scene, a part of our décor, took on new meaning as we talked about the courage of Mary and of Joseph, the birth of a baby in a stable, and the immediate danger the new family found themselves facing.
If you are reading this, we know that you are likely a member of The Nor’kirk or a friend. We know that you know the Christmas story. But is the birth of the Christ Child a part of your celebration? Is there room in the inn and in your lives for the baby born so long ago? What can you change to truly put Christ into your Christmas celebration?
Prayer: O God, Christmas is about the birth of your Son! Help me to realize that, to celebrate it, and to make Jesus a part of my Christmas tradition. Amen.
Read: John 15:12-13
Clarity at Christmas reminds us of the love we should have for others. I love giving gifts, but there’s much more to the season. The best gift is our time spent with another.
God’s love teaches us how to treat one another. Nothing could be clearer in the Gospels. However, at times God’s love makes us uncomfortable because the more we love, the more we reveal ourselves. And like a picture coming into focus, we watch with joy and anticipation, especially when the right images come to life – imagines of friendship, commitment, and unconditional love.
To see the real meaning of Christ, we first must experience and reciprocate Christ’s love for us. But it doesn’t stop there. That love pushes us to love another. As Jesus instructs, the second points to the first, and they become equally important. Today, tell someone you love them.
Prayer: Gracious God, give me clarity of heart and spirit that I might see the power of Your love for us through Jesus Christ. Amen.
Read: Luke 2:1-3
Ours is a family of many traditions. Christmas is a key time for those traditions. From using just the right Christmas tin to serving gravy in Uncle Dub’s bowl to making a wish on the last bite of Christmas pie, we enjoy doing things the same way each year. One of our traditions is the appearance every year of “Mrs. Smith’s boxes.” Mrs. Smith was a favorite neighbor and in our early elementary years she gave Becky and me each a Christmas gift in matching red and gold cardboard boxes. My mother saved those special boxes and beginning the next year, Becky and I could count on matching Christmas gifts inside those matching Christmas boxes. As you can imagine, the cardboard is now rather fragile and the boxes are quite worn. We open them first each year so that we can carefully set them aside where they won’t be damaged or crushed.
But tradition can’t be forced. Several years ago Becky decided to place three identical boxes under the Christmas tree containing special identical gifts for her three boys. I believe the “tradition” lasted into the second year. After that one of the boxes was misplaced, one was stepped upon, and when the family moved all of the Christmas boxes and wrapping went into storage! Becky’s family has a lot of traditions, but “Mrs. Smith’s boxes” is not one of them. What are your family traditions for Christmas?
Prayer: O God, help us to remember the fun and the tradition of Christmas time, and help us to realize that belief in your Son is more than just a tradition, it is a way of life. Amen.
Read: Matthew 6:33
Priorities. It’s a simple word. So why does it seem to cause trouble for so many people? Throughout my ministry, I’ve shared many final moments with people. During their last minutes on earth, never did anyone say, “Man, I wish I had finished that project.” No, the common refrain was about family and friends – priorities.
Perhaps more than any other season of the Christian year, Advent is about priorities. It is a time to prepare, get in order, and be ready. We don’t need to wait until the end of our lives to learn the lesson of priorities. Quite simply, it is too late by then. But now is a different story. One more dollar can’t buy the kind of peace that good priorities offer.
Today, prepare your heart for God’s great gift by getting your focus clear. It will make all the difference – both for today and for tomorrow.
Prayer: Gracious God, help me seek You first so my priorities for this life will follow. Amen.
Read: Luke 1:35, 38
Mary was a young girl of only 12 or 13 when she learned she would have a son who would be Christ the King. All of us are overwhelmed from time to time with burdens and things to do, but just imagine how Mary felt. How do you raise a King? How do you prepare a baby to be the savior? For that matter, how does a 13 year-old parent a child in the first place? We know she had overwhelming odds to face just in letting people know that she was to have a baby. God’s plan provided Joseph, who accepted the pregnancy and the child, and who protected his family and guided and taught Jesus as a young boy.
And I would guess that the way to raise a King and prepare your child to be the Savior is to love that child, to pray daily for that child, and to accept God’s will for that child. These are things parents do – even for the child who does not have such a destiny. Be thankful for your parents and the way they loved you and guided you and protected you. Be thankful for the children God has given you to teach and to guide and to love.
Prayer: O God, bless all of your children at Christmas time. May we all feel loved, accepted, and protected in your loving arms. Amen.
Read: Matthew 1:20
I have often wondered about Joseph’s personal expectations for Jesus. Sure, we know the story of Jesus’ birth and of His divine lineage. But, given this, I wonder if Joseph carried the same emotions as other fathers – wanting a son who would make him proud, live faithfully, maybe even go into the family business.
Before Jesus became the Christ of Calvary, He was a son from Nazareth. We know a great deal about His ministry, but for the better part of His life we know very little. However, we surmise from His life that Jesus understood what it meant to be a dutiful son, to please his parents and obey their wishes.
Christmas testifies to the importance of an earthly relationship, mirroring God’s parental love for us. Yes, Jesus understood the importance of being a good son, of loving his parents and following their ways. If your parents are still earth bound, call them today. If they have joined our Lord, say a prayer of thanksgiving for all they mean to you.
Prayer: Gracious God, help me see the value of my earthly relationships by watching Your love for each of us. Amen.
Read: Psalm 100
My sister and brother-in-law were married in early January. A special party given for them before they married was an “ornament shower” and everyone who came brought a significant, meaningful Christmas tree ornament for them to pack away and use the following year during their first Christmas together. They still have those ornaments on their tree and they still remember each giver and each ornament’s symbolism. Through the years, three “first Christmas” baby ornaments were added to the collection, along with three boys’ worth of Christmas ornament art projects and ornaments reflecting the boys’ interests as they grew. Next year, some of those ornaments will depart the family tree when the oldest son and his wife are given his ornaments for their own tree.
Christmas ornaments bring back wonderful memories of children growing up, of vacations and schools and art classes and hobbies. What does your tree reflect about your family and your life together?
Prayer: O God, we pray that our home and our lives reflect your love and the joy that you provide us. May all that we do bear witness to our faith in you. Amen.
Read: John 1:29
Men love “Wow” moments. After all, we don’t watch sports to see the mundane. We love the excitement and challenge. But what about the birth of your children, fishing with your grandfather, or watching your first baseball game?
The reading from John is a “wow” moment. John preached passionately and diligently about the coming of this Messiah. Then Jesus arrived to be baptized. John’s reaction says it all: “Everyone, Here He Is!” The promise has come true; faith was not in vain.
“Wow” moments remind us about God’s promise to redeem and restore. However, I am often too busy to recognize the wow moments because I’m so busy trying to get the tasks done and the schedule right. God has wired us to be wowed, to crave wonder and experience awe. Today, watch for the “wow” moments in your life, and you will see how God announces, changes, and transforms the mundane into miracles.
Prayer: Gracious God, thank You for creating me to experience and crave “wow” moments. Help me recognize the amazing ways You are at work in our world. Amen.
Read: 2 Peter 3:8-15a
I well remember the preparations for Christmas Day when I was a child. My grandparents travelled each year to our home in Dallas from their home in the Rio Grande Valley, 500 miles away. In preparation, we’d clean the house, bake at least four different kinds of cookies and make at least four different kinds of candy, all stored in special Christmas tins (the black tin always held the fudge!), and then we’d stand at my parents’ bedroom window, looking out onto Marsh Lane to discover who would be the first to see Grandma and Grandpa’s car turning onto our street. They would arrive with a trunk filled with oranges and grapefruit and tangerines, all harvested just before their departure from the Valley. We’d laugh and play games and visit each evening, and since they usually arrived about a week before Christmas, they would help wrap gifts and prepare Christmas dinner.
Advent is a time of preparing – for visitors, for gift-giving, for feasts of special foods. During this time of preparation, I hope that you will share your childhood stories of preparation with your family, and that you will prepare room in your heart for a renewed relationship with our Lord.
Prayer: O God, thank you for time to prepare for the upcoming holiday. Help me to remember that each day is a special gift. Amen.
Read: Psalm 139:13-14
Angi and I are part of what is called a “Blended Family.” I brought one son, and she brought a daughter and two sons to our marriage. Will the oldest is self assured and a wonderful “people person.” Natalie the next in line is beautiful, a true “earth mother” like her mother. Jacob is an amazing young man who has always had his share of “self doubt.” Clint, the youngest, is the quiet one. We have four wonderful but very different children who have given us seven wonderful, but different grandchildren. I see a common thread in each of them: I can’t think of our children without being in awe of the wonderfully complex bond we have with the Creator. Even the vastness of the universe cannot surpass this truth. It is deeper than mere emotion – it is wonder!
During this time of preparation, I encourage each of us to think of the wonder in our lives as we prepare for the God who continues to amaze us in complex and simple ways. Happy Advent!
Prayer: Gracious God, help me slow down and enjoy the wonder of Your creation. Don’t let me miss Your awesome presence this day. Amen.