Advent Week 4 – Day 1

Love: Week Four – Day One

O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. – Isaiah 64:8 (NRSV)

Pottery was such an indispensable part of life during the time of the Bible. Nearly everything you ate, sold, wore or enjoyed was stored in or served on pottery. Each piece of pottery was entirely unique and handmade. That’s not the case today; but back then every plate, bowl, jug, and cup was formed by a skilled artisan working with clay.

If you have any experience working with clay, you’ll know there are a few things you need to go from a lump of dirt to a lovely work of craftsmanship. The first thing you need is water to make the clay malleable. Dried out clay cannot be formed and will crumble into dust. A proud and difficult heart is like dry clay in the hands of God. It will break apart and never become the beautiful creation God has planned. If God is the potter of our lives, that means we must present ourselves to God as well watered clay. We must be willing to be lovingly molded by God, to let God lead us and shape us and make us something wonderful.

The other thing you need to make pottery is time. If God is shaping our lives it means we must be patient. God wants us to be perfect before the end, and perfection takes time. We are called to be humble and hopeful while God is working within us.

The final stage of making pottery is the kiln, where the clay is heated and hardens. What’s interesting about pottery is that it can be both beautiful and useful. We use plates to serve bread and cups to drink water. When the master potter is finished with us, we will be beautiful and valuable. We will be equipped to love our neighbor who is hungry or thirsty through humble service. We can serve as tools for the kingdom of God.

Think about your own faith journey today. Have you offered yourself to God as a malleable piece of clay? Are you letting God shape and mold you with humility and love? If not, how can you soften your spirit to better accommodate God’s work in your life? Where do you need to yield to God and stop trying to have your own way? And where can you serve as a faithful piece of God’s handmade pottery?

Best Christmas Ever Parent Cue

REMEMBER THIS

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Luke 2:14, NIV

THINK ABOUT THIS

Best Christmas Ever is a series designed to help students recognize that the best things about Christmas aren’t the things we typically tend to remember first during the season. They’re the things God did for us thousands of years ago. Though encouraging students to embrace abstract concepts like the fact that God is with them and wants to know them may be difficult for some middle schoolers to grasp, it’s important to help them recognize these key elements of what Christmas is all about. These are things they can celebrate and understand as they grow in maturity and relationship with God. 

Daily Cues

Morning Time

Take time to celebrate the person who spends a lot of their time with your middle schooler: their Small Group Leader! Write them a card, shoot them a text, give them a call, or put together a little Christmas gift for them to show your appreciation for how they invest in and care about your kid. 

Drive Time

Let each member of your family share what activity would make their Christmas the best Christmas ever! Maybe it’s a Christmas movie marathon, a drive to see holiday lights, a special treat made at home, or a chance to serve someone else. Whatever it is, let each person choose their best Christmas ever activity and then, make an effort to do each one this holiday season. 

Meal Time

Make an effort to bless others this holiday season. Choose a day to make Christmas cookies, cards, candy, or another holiday treat together as a family. Then, deliver them to your neighbors to spread a little Christmas cheer to those around you this week.

Bed Time

Read the Christmas story together as a family this week (Luke 2:2-20). After you read, discuss some of what you read as a family. Talk together about what this story means for you today and how you can remember it during the holiday season.

Advent Week 3 – Day 5

Joy: Week Three – Day Five

Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth. Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel. – Isaiah 12:5-6 (NRSV)

Let’s think for a minute: how many Christmas songs talk about joy or being joyful? Well, there’s “Joy to the World,” that one is pretty obvious. There’s also “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” “O Holy Night,” “God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” and “Angels We Have Heard on High” just to name a few.

Joy is pretty a churchy word, but we use it because we are talking about something more than happiness or pleasure. We are talking about a heavenly feeling which has somehow made its way deep into our souls. Often, in Scripture and in worship, we are so overwhelmed by its presence we cannot help but sing. That’s why we have so many Christmas songs about joy.

This verse from Isaiah encourages the people of God to let loose with shouting and praise. There are hundreds of other passages in the Bible which encourage the same thing, yet we often find ourselves quiet and self-conscious when it comes to worship. When was the last time you found yourself singing? Maybe it was in the shower or in the car. Maybe at a friend’s birthday or in the school choir. There is so much emotion bound up with the act of singing. When we sing we are forced to really feel the words deep within us.

Theologian St. Augustine used to say, “To sing is to pray twice.” In a sense, anything we sing to God reflects the depths of our soul. Isaiah encourages the people of God to sing in celebration and joy at what the Lord has done for them. But he also told them to sing for another reason. He said that they should sing because “…in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” They should sing, not just because of what God has done, but also because God is present with them.

During the season of Advent, we are called to celebrate because the God of all creation has decided to make His home among us. God is not far off in heaven. The Holy One is found here in our midst in the person of Jesus Christ. This season, do not be afraid to celebrate boldly and with singing the arrival of our Lord.

Advent Week 3 – Day 4

Joy: Week Three – Day Four

You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy, they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest. – Isaiah 9:3 (NRSV)

What’s your favorite Christmas food? Take a moment to really think about it. Close your eyes and picture the family table covered in casseroles and carbohydrates. There’s got to be one you put on your plate first. Without its savory goodness, Christmas would be incomplete. Or maybe you have a sweet tooth ready to devour some cookies, cakes, or pies. They don’t call it holiday weight for nothing.

This verse from Isaiah talks about the joy of Israel. He says that God’s people are rejoicing like it is harvest time, and there’s more food than they can imagine. They are gathered together as a community as they delight in the good things God has given them. As we celebrate in our homes and with our loved ones, it can be easy to let the focus of our joy be on the food or the presents. Our eyes will drift to the harvest on the table and under the tree, and we will forget the God who has made all our blessings possible.

This verse reminds me of the final scene in How the Grinch Stole Christmas. If you remember the story, all the Whos in Whoville were being quite obnoxious with their joyfulness, so the Grinch decided he would steal Christmas. On Christmas Eve, he went house to house and stole all the food and decorations and gifts, then waited until morning to hear them cry “boo-hoo.” But of course, they didn’t. They arose Christmas morning and gathered together to sing. Somehow or other Christmas came just the same.

James 1:17 reminds us that “…every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.” (NRSV) Nothing we have comes from our own hand, but only through the grace of God. We must not find joy in the gifts without first finding joy in the Giver. And, during Advent, we are awaiting the most important gift of all in Jesus Christ, from whom we reap a harvest of salvation.

Advent Week 3 – Day 3

Joy: Week Three – Day Three

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined. – Isaiah 9:2 (NRSV)

This time of year, the world is full of lights. There are twinkling lights on the Christmas tree and flickering flames in the Advent wreath. There are great big light extravaganzas down the street and dainty icicle lights on the house next door. There are candles in the windows and headlights on cars. As the song goes, “City street lights, even stop lights dressed in holiday style.” We need light this time of year because the days are short, and the nights are long.

This year might have felt pretty dark to you. We have been engulfed by the uncertainty of COVID-19, and it has amplified our preexisting fears. Maybe you once feared not making the team, and now you’re afraid there won’t be a team. Maybe you once feared not being able to get into the right college. Now, you’re not sure how well college and coronavirus mix. We have been walking in the dark for most of the year – never knowing what the next day would bring. For most of us, darkness is terrifying, but we’re even more afraid that any light in our life will be destroyed by the darkness.

Author Brené Brown says this about the darkness: “The dark does not destroy the light; it defines it. It’s our fear of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows.” Think about it this way, there is no way a shadow can ever overcome the light. The smallest amount of light – the tiniest good thing – shines even brighter and becomes even more noticeable in the depths of the dark. If we spend time worrying about the dark, worrying about the bad things, we are letting go of our own joy.

For those of us who call themselves the people of God, our great light this Christmas is the boy child Jesus. He is the Light of the World, and if you are following Jesus you will never have to worry about the dark.

As you go about your day today, keep your eyes peeled for Christmas lights and candles. Maybe even find a bright spot around your house. Ask yourself, what does it mean for Jesus to be the Light of the World, and what does it mean for Jesus to be my light in the darkness?

Advent Week 3 – Day 2

Joy: Week Three – Day Two

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” – Isaiah 52:7 (NRSV)

This is the third week of Advent, and churches all over the world are talking about joy. You cannot read today’s verse without hearing joy. We’ve all experienced the joy that comes from getting some long-awaited good news. Maybe you’ve anxiously refreshed a webpage looking for a grade, or you’ve waited outside while a team of judges decided if you passed the audition, or you got that thrilling text with those four joyous words: “You made the team.”

Back before smartphones and fax machines, the only way to receive a message from a long way off was to send a hand-delivered letter. There was not a postal service or a Pony Express. Most of the time, these messages were carried by people on foot. Today’s verse describes someone traveling on foot to deliver a message of peace and salvation. Picture a soldier dispatched from the front lines and told to run back to the city. The soldier is to announce that the war is over. Peace has come, and God has brought about salvation. The beautiful feet in this story are not just bringing good news, they are bringing a message of life in the face of death.

Though we have all received good news, we have not received many messages of life in the face of death. That kind of news sounds more like hearing “His cancer is finally in remission,” or “She survived the accident,” or “We will be together again someday.”

However, we have all received the same good news in Jesus Christ. In fact, that’s exactly what the word “gospel” means: good news! And How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the gospel, who proclaim peace with God, who announce our salvation and the Kingdom of God.

This season, we should remember that Jesus’s birth is the ultimate good news. More than that, it is a message of life in the face of death. Take joy and give thanks for God’s message of life in the face of death.

Advent Week 3 – Day 1

Joy: Week Three – Day One

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. – Isaiah 35:5-6 (NRSV)

The ministry of Jesus Christ is full of the miraculous. He healed those who could not walk and gave sight to the blind. We know that He walked on water and calmed a raging storm. He fed thousands of people with a few pieces of bread, and once He made a coin appear from the mouth of a fish. John writes in his Gospel that Jesus did so many miracles that they couldn’t begin to have written them all down. But I have to say, of all the miracles, the coin-in-the-fish thing seems the most like a magic trick.

Let me ask you this: just for fun, what would you say was Jesus’ most extraordinary miracle? You might think it’s one of the fancier miracles like walking on water or calming the storm. Or, you might jump straight to the resurrection as His most impressive feat. However, what if it’s something else? What if it’s something that literally every person alive today has done?

Every human being who is alive has gone through the process of birth. There are different ways of being born, of course, and we don’t need to get into that here. Yet, every human alive was formed in the belly of a woman and brought into this world to undergo the human experience. Even though Adam and Eve weren’t ‘born’ in the typical sense, they still lived the human experience. However, Jesus isn’t just human.

Now, the idea of Jesus actually having a definitive “Most Extraordinary Miracle” is not real. This is just a thought experiment. However, since it is the season of Advent, maybe we should consider the birth of Jesus as fully human and fully divine as His most extraordinary miracle. We call this event the Incarnation, and without it none of the other miracles are possible. This is the moment that heaven touches Earth and they mix together. This is the moment that Love came down and took on human skin. What would it mean for us to think of Jesus’ birth as His most extraordinary miracle?

What does the Bible Say About Santa Claus?

Click HERE for the full HOW TO TURN HOLIDAYS INTO HOLY DAYS ARTICLE

Is Santa Claus real?

By Dr. Jim Denison

There’s reality behind the story and history of Santa Claus. 

There actually was a man known as Nicholas who was born in AD 280 in Asia Minor, which is modern-day Turkey. He was bishop of the church in Myra, participated in the First Council of Nicaea, and helped the church find the best language to describe the Incarnation of Jesus.  

St. Nicholas was beloved because he spent his life helping the poor and underprivileged. He was the first to initiate programs for mentally challenged children. His love for children led him to visit their homes at night disguised in a red-and-white hooded robe to leave gifts of money, clothing, and food in their windows or around their fireplaces. 

After his death, he was made the patron saint of sailors since his church was located in a port city and had an extensive ministry to those who traveled the sea. He was later named the patron saint of Russia. Nicholas was one of history’s most venerated saints, with more than five hundred songs and hymns written in his honor. Christopher Columbus arrived in Haiti in 1492 and named the port after him. By the year 1500, more than seven hundred churches in Britain were dedicated to him. 

The Dutch especially appreciated his life. They spelled his name Sint Nikolass, which, in America, became Sinterklass, or Santa Claus. 

His popularity grew through a poem written by Dr. Clement Clark Moore, a theology and classics professor at Union Seminary in New York. In 1822, he penned the classic, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” better known today as “The Night Before Christmas.” Artist Thomas Nast illustrated the book, creating the figure we now know as the jolly Santa Claus. 

That’s the reality behind the story of Santa Claus. St. Nicholas’ selfless lifestyle was based on his love for God and people.

Now, let’s look at the actual Christmas story and why it should matter so much to our lives. 

Christmas nativity scenes all over the Christian world will once again be unpacked and displayed to relate the story of that glorious first Christmas: a beautiful young woman protected by her equally attractive young husband, adoring shepherds with their sheep, and three majestic kings from the Orient bearing their magnificent gifts for the baby lying in a manger.

But very little that blessed night happened the way our decorations depict it. Let’s discover why.

Why do we celebrate Christmas on December 25? 

According to our traditions, Santa Claus visits our homes on December 24, Christmas Eve. And we celebrate Jesus’ birth on December 25. But, do we know why we observe Christmas on that day? 

The night Jesus was born, the Bible tells us that the shepherds were in the fields tending their sheep (Luke 2:8), something they did not do in the winter. The Roman census, which brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, would not have been possible in winter either.  

It is most likely Jesus was born in the springtime. Early scholars estimate the time around March 25 or sometime in April. But Christmas was not celebrated as a holiday for nearly four centuries.  

For many years, the Romans had celebrated the “birthday” of the sun each year on December 25 since that date is near the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s the beginning of the winter season. Pagan festivals marked the occasion for centuries before Christians began using the “birthday” of the sun as the birthday of the Son. 

By 1038, the Mass of Christ was called Cristes Maesse, from which we get the word “Christmas.” In 1223, St. Francis of Assisi assembled the first nativity scene.  

And so Jesus’ birthday is celebrated on December 25, and St. Nicholas is the “patron saint” of the holiday. 

And we give gifts to celebrate the greatest Gift.

Read The Full Article Here

Advent Week 2 – Day 5

Peace: Week Two – Day Five

His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.

– Isaiah 11:3-4 (NRSV)

If someone asked you for a definition of “peace,” what would you say? Perhaps you would talk about the inner calm you get from prayer. Maybe you would use words like “tranquility” or “harmony.” You might talk about meditation or circles of hippies singing “Kumbayah” and everyone getting along. This verse from Isaiah does not talk about peace in that way.

Isaiah describes the ministry of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, as one of judgment. This passage throws around words like righteousness, equity, and “meek of the earth.” This is the sort of turn-the-world-upside-down peace in which the winners become losers and the losers become winners. As Jesus put it in His own words, “The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.” Moreover, Jesus isn’t the sort of judge who hears testimony or can be corrupted. It says He doesn’t need His ears or His eyes to know what’s right. Jesus already knows how to righteously judge.

There certainly hasn’t been a lot of peace this year. There have been protests and counterprotests, riots and prayer walks. More than wearing their emotions on their sleeves, people have started printing up t-shirts broadcasting their frustrations everywhere they go. Maybe you’ve even posted or protested too, possibly using some mantra like Back the Blue, Black Lives Matter, Pro-Life, or Love Wins. In our world, everyone has got a slogan, and no one is at peace.

We live in a broken, mixed-up world, and on the other side of Christmas that will still be true. We are all sinful people trying our best to do what we think is best. During Advent, we are awaiting the arrival of Jesus the Righteous King. When He sits down to judge the people of this world, He will do so with perfect justice. Until that day, we are called to seek justice and equity the best we can.

Today, take time to consider someone else’s point of view. How can you lovingly pray for those who are not at peace?