Love: Week Four – Day Five
Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? – Isaiah 43:18-19 (NRSV)
We are so close to Christmas Day! In just a few dozen hours we will all be gathered together ready to celebrate the birth of our Lord. What’s more, we will finally be able to open all the gifts underneath the Christmas tree.
When theologian and Pastor Samuel Wells was a young man, his mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Before she passed away, she managed to muster up enough energy to go out and buy him a special gift. She wrapped it in beautiful paper and tied it with a bow, but instead of giving him the gift she placed it in the closet for safekeeping. She told Samuel that his father would give him the gift on his eighteenth birthday, a birthday she would not live to see. For years, he dreamed of what might be in the box in the closet.
Sometime after her death, but before his birthday, their home was robbed. Someone broke in through a window and stole several items of value, but there was nothing more valuable than the beautifully wrapped box tucked away in the closet. Samuel never opened his mother’s gift.
Samuel was never able to enjoy his mother’s gift, but the gift of Christ is at our fingertips. We must not let it slip away. It is such a powerful gift that it transforms both our past and our future. As to our past, Jesus offers forgiveness and turns our grief into joy. As to our future, we receive the wonderful blessing of the Kingdom of God and eternal life.
The gift of Jesus is the most valuable gift of all. As we approach Christmas morning, I want to encourage you to be present for the present of Jesus. Do not allow this moment to pass you by. Isaiah reminds us to pay attention to the moment at hand and to notice the new gift God is offering us in Christ. Savor the celebration. Reflect on God’s love for you. Let your eyes be opened to the glory of God. That God would give us such a gift is truly a reason to rejoice.
Love: Week Four – Day Four
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. – Isaiah 43:2 (NRSV)
Lately, it seems as if everyone is obsessed with superheroes. There are new superhero movies out several times a year, and every streaming platform has their own show following the antics of a superhuman crusader. Maybe you follow Agents of Shield, The Boys, or The Umbrella Academy.
This verse from Isaiah reminds me of superheroes. It comes to us as a promise from God. It’s written as a bit of poetry and says that God will be with us in times of trial to prevent us from getting hurt. The way it is written, it sounds like whenever we are confronted by a challenge, God will allow us to breeze right through it like Wonder Woman or Superman. This verse reminds me of the age-old saying that God won’t give you more than you can handle. By the way, that saying isn’t actually in the Bible, and I have to disagree.
The focus of today’s passage is not God’s protection from harm. Rather, we are supposed to pay attention to the five little words, “I will be with you.” Here’s the thing: there will definitely be times in life when you feel like you’ve got more than you can handle. In the Bible, God gave people more than they could handle all the time, and, this year, everyone feels like they’ve got way more than they can handle. Instead, God promises that He will be with us when challenges come our way. He promised to walk through raging rivers and fierce flames by our side. With God we will survive. More than that, with God we will have salvation.
Despite what we see in TV and movies, there has only ever been one super human to walk the earth. That Hero’s origin story includes being born in a barn and sleeping in a manger. He was a lowly peasant who suffered just like us. But the whole world knows and celebrates His story more than any hero in history. Take time today and reflect on how Jesus has been a hero in your life.
If you knew you could do anything or be anything without the possibility of failure, what would you want to do or be?
Gifts What are some talents, skills, or abilities that you have? What talents, skills, or abilities do you wish you had?
On a scale of 1 to 10, How important is it to you to:
Describe yourself as a part of the body. (An eye, hand, foot, etc.) Why did you select that part? How connected are you to your local church body? What can you do to help the “body” function better?
READ Colossians 3:17
The drummer boy wanted to use his best ability for the King, so he played a drum. How does the TRUTH in Colossians 3:17 help you think about your gifts and talents? What are you involved in, right now, that you can use for God’s glory? How can our family pray for your gifts, talents, and abilities this week?
Love: Week Four – Day Three
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you, I have summoned you by name; you are mine. – Isaiah 43:1 (NRSV)
In 2012, an independent film called Beast of the Southern Wild was released. The movie was about a little girl named Hushpuppy trying to survive, in the bayou of Louisiana. The young actress who played Hushpuppy auditioned for the role at just five years old. In 2013, at age nine, she became the youngest nominee for Best Actress, the first African-American child actor to earn an Oscar nomination, and the only person born in the 21st century to be nominated for an Academy Award. Her name is Quvenzhané [Kwa-Vin-Je-Nay] Wallis.
That’s probably not a name you hear a lot. In the middle of her success, Hollywood was having a difficult time making sense of her, and especially, her name. TV Personalities decided to bypass the issue by giving her the nickname “Little Q,” a nickname she did not request.
It may seem harmless, but the message was clear. Despite her enormous success and talent, her name was not worth knowing. She’s not the only actor who’s had a hard time because of their name. Actors James Rodriguez and Ramón Estévez changed their names to sound less Hispanic and be taken more seriously. You may know them by their stage names James Roday and Martin Sheen.
In Isaiah 43:1, God calls out to his people with words of tender love saying, “Don’t be afraid because I have made everything alright. I am calling you by name, your real name. You are my child and you are worth knowing. The real you, not the mask you put on to make others feel comfortable. I love you as you are.” To call someone by their name seems so ordinary. We do it all the time without thinking. However, when the God of creation stoops down to our level, He takes great care to refer to us by name. Jesus wants us to know that we matter and that we are loved for who we are.
As Christmas draws even closer, you might find your name written on the tags of gifts or in the address line of a greeting card. Whenever you see your name written this week take time to reflect on God’s personal call on your life. You matter. You are loved. You are the recipient of the most wonderful gift, and it’s addressed specifically to you – the gift of salvation wrapped in human skin.
Love: Week Four – Day Two
Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son and shall name him Immanuel. – Isaiah 7:14 (NRSV)
Have you ever been to a baby shower? Or maybe you have younger siblings and can remember the anticipation of the coming baby? It’s such an exciting time waiting for a new addition to the family. Perhaps this season you will receive a Christmas card with a new face in the group. I guarantee wherever you see a new baby, everyone is smiling a bit bigger. There’s a tad more joy when we add someone new.
This verse from Isaiah is a piece of prophecy pointing to Jesus. The young woman is, of course, Mary. But there’s something peculiar about this verse. It says that the new baby will be named Immanuel. Now, Jesus’ name isn’t Immanuel; it’s, well, Jesus. But we even have hymns that seem to refer to Jesus as “Immanuel.” So, what’s the deal?
The name Immanuel in Hebrew translates to “God with us.” This verse should read something like: the child will be God-right-next-to-us. This means Immanuel is more of a title than a person’s name. In Matthew 1:23, this verse from Isaiah is referenced when the angel announces Jesus’ birth to Joseph.
God-with-us is exactly who Jesus is. He is the incarnation of the living God. He is heaven come to Earth. He has made his home among us mortals because of His love for us. He’s not social distancing but right up in our business. The overarching message of the Bible is just that: Immanuel – God is with us. God says, “I will be with you,” to Abraham when he is asked to leave home. God said, “I will be with you,” to Jacob when he fled from his brother to the wilderness. God said, “I will be with you,” to Moses when he brought the Israelites from slavery in Egypt into the Promised Land. And God said, “I will be with you,” to Mary when she finds out she will have a baby.
So, if Immanuel is a title or more of a description, how have you seen God with you this Advent season? Does it feel like God has been with you lately? Maybe it has felt like God was so far away He was on another planet. Take some time today to reflect on what it means that God is with us no matter what happens.
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?
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.