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Tuesday, December 15th, 2015 | Author:

I remember being in college, and learning that one of my old junior high students from the youth group I helped with had had his mother die. On Christmas day. Their dad was already out of the picture and life was already hard.

For a story I wrote earlier this year (which will be published at a later date), I sat in an interview with a man who told me his mom and his dad sat them down to tell him and his brother that his mother was having an affair with their friend’s dad. It was Christmas day when they told the boys this. “We took the tree down after that,” he said. “Christmas was over.”

Just this past week, a guy I know from my hometown had his dad unexpectedly pass away. And the week before that a gal I went to school with had her little four-month-old baby die in his sleep.

But here comes Christmas and while no one means it in a confrontational way, the messages all around us tell us that everything is, or should be “merry and bright.”

Ideally, our families would all get along and our Christmas days would be Merry and Bright — our tree would shine with the hundreds of starry lights, and our front lawns would be covered in snow, and our bellies would be full from good food and would laugh heartily, merrily, if you will, from all the joy of the day and the good news that Jesus is born and Santa came.

But sometimes Christmas — like many other days that have no name aside from “monday” or “today” — is a hard day to get through. Sometimes the whole Holiday Season is hard to get through. When everyone is bustling around looking joyful in their instagram pictures and you are hurting and aching inside and you feel like you just want to hide under a rock until January when it’s finally acceptable to be “hard and dull” again.

Sometimes, our worlds are quite dark despite — sometimes because of — Christmas time.

But this is what I know. Christmas is a symbol of light in darkness. The bright does not have to be merry, it is simply hopeful. It doesn’t even mean that things are going to be fixed now, better now — it just means that there is hope of brighter days ahead.

Whether you are religious or not, or whether you believe in God or not — that’s what Christmas is meant to be — that’s what Christmas is to me — a hopeful light in the dark sky that says, “You are real, your hard-life crap is real, and while it’s maybe really dark right now, and it feels like you’re alone, that everyone has forgotten you, that you just cannot catch a break, there is hope. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not the next day, or even the day after that, but this pain, this sadness, this aloneness gets better. There will be better days ahead. Please, know that you’re not alone. Please, know that there is hope.”

The story goes that 2,000-some-odd years ago, actually not in December, not with snow, or trees, or any brightness or merryness, a young girl completely shamed by a sex scandal, pregnant, married to a man who thought she was a liar for a time, and on the road for a last minute tax census started to go into labor. They couldn’t find a place to stay. They tried and tried, and could not catch a break. Until finally one generous (read: I think he was probably an asshole trying to do his minimum standard “good deed” for the year. Who doesn’t give up their bed to a pregnant lady in labor??) inn keeper says, “Alright fine. you can stay in the barn. Don’t mess with the animals.”

And she has a baby. Away from home. Young. Afraid (I’m certain, because who, when giving birth for the first time isn’t). Practically alone. Her mom isn’t there. The women of her village who she always had thought would be there when it came time weren’t there. And she probably had the sadness to realize that even if she was home they might not have been there, because, again, she was shamed by what everyone considered a sex scandal.

And yet there, there was this little baby. His formal name was Jesus. But they called him “Immanuel,” which means “God with us.”

That’s what Christmas is about. If you believe the story, know that it’s about God being with us. If you don’t believe in God, know that it’s about the fact that still, you are not alone. That there is hope. Hope, even in the midst of dark, dark, nights where you can’t catch a freaking break.

For those whose Christmas times are feeling Merry and Bright — please try to reach out, spread that brightness to those in the dark nights.

For you for whom Christmas is a hard time, I believe that God is with you. My prayer is that you will feel that to be true, even when it feels hard and dull.


 

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon        storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Tuesday, December 01st, 2015 | Author:

“Name ten people you met this week,” he said to us. We were sitting in a dining room in South Africa. We’d just come back from a couple weeks in Malawi, Africa, and we were debriefing in Johannesburg before returning home.

They’d sent us — 5 teenagers from North America — to Malawi to meet people, to see projects that were happening, to see the ways people were living and to see how things like fish ponds and irrigation systems could change their lives. Sometimes save their lives.

Malawi was in a severe state of drought. And statistically those people in the fourth poorest country in the world (2007) would run out of food half way through the dry season. Let alone running out of water.

Dave, our leader, had told us again and again — “You are the eyes and ears of 10,000 youth. Take it all in. Don’t miss it.” We were to return to the states and speak to 10,000 of our peers at a conference, trying to relay the need that existed in the world and the ways we all could help.

He said it to me as I was about to leave alone to follow a woman named Monica down a dirt path to her village. What I saw and heard for the 10,000 was that Monica doesn’t have clean water. She has a mud puddle to provide for her family, which sometimes makes them sick, and which then dries up and leaves them with nothing. I saw the trees under which her children that have died from the water-born illnesses are buried. I saw a young boy being buried there presently as I walked by. The red dirt they dug up for his grave stained my shoes and my memory.

“Name 1o people you met,” he said. So we did. The five of us went around in a circle and named 10 people we’d met and connected with in Malawi. Names like Monica, Mwabi, Immaculate and Gloria.

I went last. And when I’d finished, with tears in his eyes, he spat, “pick one that dies.”

We looked at him with hatred and confusion.

“Pick one that dies. Every one of you. Pick one that dies.”

Silence.

“Pick one that dies, because if they don’t get this help, the statistic is that one in ten won’t last this dry season. So one of your people will die. Remember that when you speak. This is not about people buying fish ponds and feeling nice. This is about people who will die if nothing changes.”

Those four words have always haunted me. Pick. one. that. dies.

It’s easy, when things are out of our face, out of our minds, out of our lives to ignore the need in the world. But when I look into their faces. When I know their names. That changes everything.

One of the men whose name I listed in that room actually did die. He died two days before I said his name. I didn’t find out for a couple of months. He had AIDS — we’d met him at an AIDS support group and he’d taught us a song about God’s goodness. It was enough to make me want to believe in God’s goodness in the face of sadness, too.

Today is giving Tuesday. If you want to give, if you want to help be the change in the world, here are some ideas how to do it.

 

DONATE:

  • Charity Water — This one is awesome. Clean water is probably the thing that is nearest and dearest to my heart. AND, I found this guy in san diego that you can follow on instagram (@thepancakedad) who is raising money for charity water. If you donate through his link HERE, 100% goes to Charity water, PLUS he’ll make you whatever customized pancake art you want (you only get a picture though, the actual pancakes go to feed his own children). It’s pretty awesome and fun.
  • World Vision has a sponsor who is matching any donations made today. You can donate a general gift that they will use where it’s most needed. You can Sponsor a child. You can help the refugee funds. Or you can purchase something from their gift catalog — as big as a well or a fish pond, or as small as a chicken. All these gifts help people in communities like the ones I’ve been to in Malawi. Donate HERE
  • World Relief — $40 provides winter wear for refugees entering the United States. “Many refugees come to the U.S. from countries with hot climates. Prepare a refugee for their first cold winter with warm coats, gloves and scarves. In light of #GivingTuesday our goal is to provide 250+ refugees with warm winter gear. Your help in giving warmth to the most vulnerable is appreciated.” DONATE HERE
  • Salvation Army — at this time of year most of your local salvation army locations do a coat drive. Donate new or gently used coats to your local store.
  • Donate/Help/Love on people around who have recently lost loved ones. The first holidays after someone passes away are incredibly tough anyway — especially if they’ve passed during this season. If you don’t know of anyone to help in this category but feel that tug on your heart, a girl that I went to middle school and high school just lost her couple month old baby who passed away in his sleep earlier this week. You can donate to her gofundme account for their funeral expenses here.

DONATE YOUR TIME AND TALENTS:

  • Hand out socks and blankets to those you see who have to sleep on the streets. This is a cold time of year and socks are some of the least donated, yet most needed items while on the streets. Other items that homeless individuals have told me they often need and don’t get — clean underwear, a towel, something healthy to eat that lasts (like a protein bar), and feminine hygiene supplies like pads and tampons.
  • Invite a struggling family (struggling with life, finances, grief, whatever) to join your family for different events and activities throughout the season. Inviting people in is a huge gift this time of year.
  • Look into your town’s local services for the homeless and what volunteer opportunities they have during this season (and beyond). Maybe you can be a greeter as people come in for a meal. Or maybe you can be the one who chops all the onions for the soup beforehand. There are lots of options with varying degrees of personal interaction so you can still be helpful without being too far out of your comfort zone if you’re wary.
  • Go buy a coffee for someone whose super busy this time of year. Seriously. Get them their cup of coffee of choice and bring it to them midday. The caffeine and your kind generosity are sure to be a help.

 

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon        storyofjoblog@gmail.com

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Tuesday, December 13th, 2011 | Author:

simply Christmas coverTUESDAY

DAILY PSALM
God has ascended amid shouts of joy, the LORD amid the sounding of trumpets. Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises.
Psalm 47:5-6


CONNECTION

JOY PROJECTS
Are you ready to show the joy of Christ to your community?
This should be fun! Get your family together and talk over the ideas below for spreading the joy of our God to your neighbors, or create your own ideas.

HELP THE AXIOM
– Make a financial contribution to help sustain The Axiom’s efforts to help the youth of Oroville start to reach their potential and to have hope for a better future, and a better present. Make checks payable to “OroNaz Church” with “Axiom” written on the memo line. Put your donation into one of the envelopes in the back of the chairs at the worship service next sunday and then drop it into the offering.

– Donate new recreation and game items for students at The Axiom

– Begin to volunteer once a week at The Axiom.

For more information on The Axiom please contact Krysi Chastain at 530-693-8712 or Krysi@theaxiom.org

CHRISTMAS CAROLING
If caroling is already a family tradition or church tradition for you, then continue it. If not, then consider caroling to your neighbors this year.1

HANDMADE GIFTS
As gifts can be expensive, we are often selective in who we give to at Christmastime.  This year, choose a person, or several people who your family doesn’t normally give to, and make presents by hand for them.

FAMILY DEVOTIONS
Light the Advent Candles    Gospel Reading: Matt. 24:32-44

THE JOY OF PREPARING

Jesus makes it clear that no one except our heavenly Father knows the day or the hour in which Jesus will make his return. But this shouldn’t produce fear in us, it should keep us from unnecessary worry.  What a burden it would be to know when Jesus was going to return — we’d feel so much rush and urgency to make sure people knew about Jesus, that we might miss sitting in His presence.  Or perhaps it would cause panic for some people if they were worried about enjoying our earthly experience before Jesus was to come back.  Instead, we can find freedom in simply living as He’s taught us to live, and we can find joy in trusting His timing.

Jesus has given us commands about how to live in the meantime before his return, and in the gospel passage today He assures us that His words will never fade away.  He’s not just talking about His warnings about what the end of time as we know it will look like — He’s talking about His teachings and commands about how to love God and how to love others.  Those aren’t just things we need to know how to do here and now — the kingdom of heaven will require that love just as much as our lives now.

In a way, though, this gives us a joy that what we’re doing now isn’t just meaningless “meantime” work.  If Jesus’ words will never pass away, then the things He’s taught us to do, are truly important to start doing now.  If we waited until right before His return to learn how to love Him and love others, we won’t have been preparing ourselves for the kingdom of heaven, and we won’t have been partaking in Jesus’ heavenly practices for all the time that we could’ve been doing so.

We are to watch for Jesus’ return, not in fear, but in anticipation of finally getting the full experience of being in His presence and in His creation exactly as He intended it to be — without the scars of sin and pain. It’s a joy to prepare for His coming when the very preparation includes loving Him and loving others.


PRAYER

Christ, whose glory fills the skies; Christ, the true, the only Light — Sun of Righteousness, arise and triumph over the shades of night. Dayspring from on high, come near. Day-star, in my heart appear. 3

AMEN

Notes:

1)Adapted from Paul Sheneman, Illuminate: an Advent Experience. Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill of Kansas City, 2011. Print.

3)Adapted from Charles Wesley, “Christ, Whose Glory Fills the Skies” (1740), Cyber Hymnal, http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/c/w/cwgfthes.htm.

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Tuesday, December 13th, 2011 | Author:

simply Christmas coverMONDAY

DAILY PSALM
We have heard with ours ears, O God; our fathers have told us what you did in their days, in days long ago. With your hand you drove out the nations and planted our fathers; you crushed the peoples and made our fathers flourish. It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory. It was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them.
Psalm 44:1-3

CONNECTION
JOY
Three candles are now lit on our Advent wreaths, and they symbolize the fact that our hope in God, and the love He shows us are accompanied by the great joy of knowing and walking with Him. It’s a joyful thing to celebrate any birth, but we look forward to the coming celebration of the birth of our Savior — the very one who makes it possible to experience the joy of knowing God at all.

It is Christ’s presence in our lives throughout the good and the bad, the ordinary and extraordinary circumstances, that gives us a joy that the world could never offer. The world tries to give us happiness in the form of shiny gizmos and gadgets, or success or wealth.  The advertisements all around us are all trying to sell us their little piece of what they believe to be joy.  But the riches will fade, the success will not last, and the treasures that people store up on earth will be of no use to them once they are dead.

The true joy that Christ offers us can be seen in countless memories and stories that have happened since the beginning of time through today. Money given from a stranger or friend, survival from illness or accident, or simply the right words or a hug in a time of despair — all of these are examples of God’s presence in life’s most desperate places. We have a God who loved us so much, He wanted to come suffer with us in this fallen world. We have a compassionate God who didn’t come just to die, but to walk with us through life. So when everything is going well, or when your world is falling apart, it is a joyful thing to have a God who is willing to walk with you through it all. And it is a joy to know that when He returns again, he will make everything right and good.  Let’s joyfully prepare for the celebration of this wonderful, compassionate God, Immanuel, who has come and is coming again.1

FAMILY DEVOTIONS
Light the Advent Candles    Gospel Reading: Matt. 24:15-31

WE CAN’T MISS THE JOY

Have you ever been anxious about missing something? When we were children, many of us wanted to wait up until the wee hours of the morning on Christmas Eve, trying to hear Santa coming into our homes.  Probably because of the tales of Santa’s lists of good children and bad children, I often had a worry of “what if Santa doesn’t come?”

Or maybe you can relate more to being anxious about missing something like your alarm clock on a morning where it’s very important that you wake up on time.  Whenever I’m leaving for a trip and need to make sure I catch my flight, you can be sure I have four to five alarms set, just to be sure I don’t miss it.  On those nights before the trip, I often have a restless sleep, tossing and turning, often checking the clock to make sure I haven’t missed my awaking time.

The gospel passage for today is full of Jesus words telling about what it will be like when He returns for His second coming.  He is talking to people who have known Him and walked with Him, who have learned from Him, and who are going to have to carry on His Father’s work without Him — they just don’t know it yet.  And He’s trying to warn them — and us — about His second coming.  He tells us plainly that Christians and non-Christians will begin to worry about if they have missed Him.  But Jesus tells us one very comforting piece of information that we can take hope in and remember — when He comes, everyone in all the Earth will know it.

As joyful as Jesus’ first coming as a Christmas baby was, it will be even more joyous and even more triumphant when he comes again.  Unlike the Shepherds, we won’t have to go to Bethlehem searching through all the stables for a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths. Unlike the wise men we won’t have to travel for years, following a star with blind faith, stopping into a murderous king’s palace asking for directions.  When Jesus comes again, it will be as plain to see as the lightening in the sky.

We can joyfully prepare for the second advent, when Jesus will come again, knowing that it’s not something we can miss.

PRAYER
You come, the wide world’s King. You come, the true heart’s Friend. New gladness to begin, and ancient wrong to end. You come, to fill with light the weary waiting eye. We lift our heads and rejoice – redemption is nearby.2

AMEN

Notes:

1) Adapted from Paul Sheneman, Illuminate: an Advent Experience. Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill of Kansas City, 2011. Print.
2) Adapted from Thomas T. Lynch, “Lift Up Your Heads, Rejoice” (1865), Cyber Hymnal, http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/l/u/lupyhrej.htm.

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Sunday, December 11th, 2011 | Author:

simply Christmas coverSUNDAY

ADVENT SEASON   WEEK THREE

THE POWER OF A VOICE
A Devotional Reflection on John 1:6-8, 19-28

A few years ago, I received this incredible opportunity to go on what they were calling a “cultural immersion trip” to Malawi, Africa — the fourth poorest country in the world at the time. The purpose of the trip was to go to several different villages throughout northern Malawi, and to simply take it all in, and be immersed — in the culture, in the situation, in the life (and death) of the people there — and to come back to the U.S. to speak about it. The hope was that our words might ignite a fire within the hearts of Christians to do something to help the people of Malawi.

But I don’t think I can adequately relate the agony of simply being a voice when you’re in the midst of people who need help that you can’t give. When I was standing at the edge of a water hole that looked more like a polluted mud puddle, I felt empty-handed as Monica, a mother of many, spoke of the children she had lost because this water had made them sick. When she pointed to the trees beneath which their little bodies were burried, it didn’t feel adequate to tell her that I would tell her story at home and hope that help would eventually make its way to her and her family.  But that’s what I was there for — to learn her story, and that’s what I came home for — to tell her story. But in the moment, I had no help to offer.

In this way, I relate to John the baptist as we read today’s passage. He is there to be a voice, not a savior. He has the Holy Spirit living within him, which is a miracle in itself at that time, because before Jesus’ ressurection and assent to heaven, the Holy Spirit was not something that just anyone could have. So John, having the Holy Spirit, has communion with God in a way that only a few prophets throughout history had experienced. Had he not been listening to God about his life’s purpose, he could’ve easily gotten distracted, trying to do the “saving” work himself.

John plainly sees that these people around him need a savior, but he’s listening to God enough to know that he’s simply supposed to be a voice, and to prepare the way for Jesus. He is quick to admit that he is not the Messiah, that he’s not the one who will save them, but that he’s simply there to tell them about the coming Messiah.

As John is among these people who keep listening to his message, giving their lives over to this Messiah who still hasn’t shown Himself, and being baptized with water, I think he becomes more and more anxious for the time of Jesus’ ministry to start. He becomes anxious for help for these people to arrive, and he knows Jesus is the only one who can provide that help.

As I was standing beside Monica, I was desperately wishing I had something to offer her that would save her from more heartache and save her children’s lives. Similarly, John stands there, with his heart going out to the people who are willing to receive the coming Messiah, and he’s anxious for Jesus to make his entrance. When John is asked about it, he tells the religious leaders that “among you stands one you do not know,” (v. 26) and that this “one”  is the person that John is talking about and waiting for — the person that he believes will save them.

That is where our joy comes from — the fact that then, and now, Christ is already among us. When John was speaking, Christ was physically among them. For us, He has sent the Holy Spirit so that He is here now in spirit, living among us.  If you read the gospels, it is easy to see that Jesus sympathizes with the broken, with the downtrodden, with those who are not high up in society’s ranks. He is with the people who believe in Him. He is with the people that need Him. He is already among us.

If you peek ahead one verse, you see the kind of joy that John has when he sees Jesus and realizes that He is the Messiah, the Savior.  When you know that you’re not the one who can bring the help people need, it’s an overwhelmingly joyous occasion when you see the One who CAN bring that help. And Jesus is that One.  He is the One who can save.

During Advent, it is a time for us to live in the tension between being a voice that lets people know to repent and prepare for  a Savior who will come again and redeem everything, and celebrating in the fact that our Messiah, Jesus, is already among us, and that He is mighty to save. It’s the tension of allowing yourself to be brokenhearted for humanity who needs a Savior, and being overjoyed at seeing Him come!  Let us learn from this godly messenger, John, and make sure that we are both being a voice proclaiming Christ, and being the hands and feet of the Holy Spirit, preparing the way for our coming Lord.

ADVENT THEME – THE SHEPHERDS’ CANDLE
Third Sunday of Advent

The third candle of Advent is the Shepherds’ candle, which symbolizes joy. The shepherds were the first of God’s people to receive the news of Jesus’ birth, and it filled them with over-flowing joy. They ran around praising God for what they saw and heard. Our anticipation for what is to come turns to great joy because we know God will come again to judge the darkness and spread the light of joy throughout the whole world. Today we are called to experience and share joy for the Light.1

Notes:

1) Adapted from Thomas T. Lynch, “Lift Up Your Heads, Rejoice” (1865), Cyber Hymnal, http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/l/u/lupyhrej.htm.

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Saturday, December 10th, 2011 | Author:

simply Christmas coverSATURDAY

DAILY PSALM
Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell.
Psalm 43:3

CONNECTION
REFLECT ON THE WEEK TOGETHER1

  • Where did you see God at work this week?
  • What did you learn about love this week?
  • How did you practice being God’s loving hands and feet to others this week?
  • Is there a time when you experienced God’s love this week?

FAMILY DEVOTIONS
Light the Advent Candles    Gospel Reading: Matt. 24:1-14

SHARING THE GOOD NEWS OF LOVE
It’s an incredible idea to think about the whole world hearing the good news of Jesus.  Sometimes, living in our society, it’s easy to believe that everyone around us has heard about the good news of Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection, and that they’ve simply chosen not to accept that good news.  But I am confronted by how many people, who are now following God, tell the story about how someone finally told them about Jesus, and about how excited they were to meet the Savior their heart had always longed for.

The gospel passage today says that our God, who has been pursuing us out of love for thousands of years, longs for the whole world to hear the good news before Jesus’ return.

In our preparation for Advent, we recognize that we are called to preach the good news to the whole world.  But Jesus’ commands to us — to love God and to love others — suggests that we, unlike the Pharisees, should preach the good news, with our mouths, embody the good news of love and hope with our actions, and believe the good news in our hearts. Let us participate in this wonderful opportunity by sharing the good news with those around us today.
PRAYER
Lord Jesus, the Advent candle burns with love. Its flame is warm and inviting, unlike the little town of Bethlehem, where your love first came shining. We long for the day your light with vanquish the darkness.1
AMEN

Notes:

1) Adapted from Paul Sheneman, Illuminate: an Advent Experience. Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill of Kansas City, 2011. Print.

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Saturday, December 10th, 2011 | Author:

simply Christmas coverFRIDAY

DAILY PSALM
Let your face shine upon your servant;
save me in your unfailing love.
Psalm 31:16


CONNECTION

SYMBOLS OF THE SEASON – EVERGREEN TREE
The evergreen tree is a popular symbol of Christmas both inside and outside the church. The evergreen tree is rich and diverse in symbolism. The evergreen is a symbol of the eternal life of God and the continual renewal he brings to us. To some the tree represents the cross, with branches stretching from the middle and the top pointing to the heavens. The decorations and lights on the evergreen symbolize the celebration of the long-anticipated coming of the chosen one of God, Jesus. Whatever symbolic meaning you choose to embrace, allow it to be a connection to your preparation for the coming of the Light of the World. 1


FAMILY DEVOTIONS
Light the Advent Candles    Gospel Reading: Matt. 23:27-39

LOVE IS PATIENT

The gospel reading today continues on with Jesus’ words to the religious leaders of his day.  His words are saying “woe to you,” meaning it is them who are missing out, them who are to be pitied because they have been so arrogant and blind that they are missing what God is trying to do with them and for them.  But the amazing thing in this passage is not the words Jesus uses, but the meaning behind it all.  While he is saying “woe to you,” we begin to see that he is not just angry or frusterated with them, Jesus is also lamenting the fact that they will not accept the God who so desperately loves them.

God’s people, Israel, throughout history had gone through these cycles of serving God, and walking away from God — of loving God, and abandoning him for other false gods. And the religious leaders of Jesus’ day were no different, though they thought they were. The conversation Jesus is having with them here doesn’t just mention how messed up these leaders are — it also tells of God’s patient pursuit of the people He loves. Though Israel continually turned away from God, He has so often “longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but [they] were not willing” (v. 37).

Aren’t you glad God is more patient than us? He longs to gather us under his wings. If you’ve been living like a white-washed tomb, all cleaned and perfect on the outside, but dead and rotting inside, it’s not too late; God still wants to turn you into something living and beautiful. Will you let Him finally bring you close to Him?

PRAYER

Soon I shall see you as you are, the Light that came to me; I’ll behold the brightness of your face, throughout eternity.7
AMEN

Notes:

1)Adapted from Paul Sheneman, Illuminate: an Advent Experience. Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill of Kansas City, 2011. Print.

7)Adapted from Judson W. Van DeVenter, “I Wandered in the Shades of Night” (1897), Cyber Hymnal, http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/i/w/iwanderd.htm.

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Thursday, December 08th, 2011 | Author:

simply Christmas coverTHURSDAY

DAILY PSALM
Delight yourself in the LORD and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in Him and He will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for Him.
Psalm 37:4-7


CONNECTION


FAMILY STORIES OF LOVE1

Today, connect your family stories to this week’s Advent theme of love. Think about how you can begin sharing your family stories of loving God and loving others.

ENGAGE
Have everyone in your family find a possession that helps him or her feel loved. Invite each person to share their item and tell why it is a reminder of love.

DISCUSS

  • What does love feel like?
  • When have you felt loved by family and friends?
  • When have you experienced God’s love in a tangible way?

FAMILY DEVOTIONS
Light the Advent Candles    Gospel Reading: Matt. 23:13-26
ACTS OF LOVE

It seems that this time of year, though thrilling and celebratory, typically is one of the busiest seasons we have. It seems that everyone is trying to get something finished before the holidays set-in, and then there are all the additional holiday activities that just add to the mix.

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus is again reminding us to make sure our priorities are straight. If our Advent season simply becomes a checklist making sure we’re doing devotions, going to church services, decorating, going to Christmas play rehearsals, and whatever else we think we need to do, but we fail to seek God and to live out the things he has commanded of us, we will have missed it. Like the scripture says, it’ll be like we “strain[ed] out a gnat but swallow[ed] a camel.”

God is passionate about love, justice, mercy, and faithfulness.  It’s why He’s kept at it, seeking us out, trying to reconcile humanity back to Himself ever since sin first happened. It’s why he came to earth as baby Jesus. It’s why He’s going to come back as a reigning King. If we remember God’s story at Christmastime, but we forget the big things He cares about, the very reasons He came, we’ll have totally missed the big picture. As you prepare your hearts for our coming King, don’t just remember that God loves “justice, mercy, and faithfulness” — instead, start practicing those things in your family, in your community, and in your world, and begin to get to know God better as you start to partner with Him in those things He cares so much about.

PRAYER
Come, O long expected Jesus, born to set your people free. From our fears and sins release us, and let us find our rest in you.6
AMEN

Notes:

1)Adapted from Paul Sheneman, Illuminate: an Advent Experience. Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill of Kansas City, 2011. Print.

6)Adapted from Charles Wesley, “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” (1745), Cyber Hymnal, http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/c/o/m/comtlong.htm.

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Wednesday, December 07th, 2011 | Author:

simply Christmas coverWEDNESDAY LOVE
DAILY PSALM
I have chosen the way of truth; I have set my heart on your laws. I hold fast to your statutes, O LORD; do not let me be put to shame. I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.
Psalm 119:30-32

CONNECTION
THE SYMBOLISM OF THE ADVENT WREATH1
The green of the Advent wreath is a symbol of life and renewal. The first sign of renewal we discover in God’s story is with Abraham. God made a covenant or promise that He would bless Abraham with land, descendants, and the calling to bless the world.

Another sign of life and renewal experienced by God’s promised people was in the Exodus. The people of God had been enslaved in Egypt for hundreds of years. They cried out to God for help, and he heard their cry. God sent Moses to tell Pharaoh to let God’s people go so they could worship him. When Pharaoh refused, God miraculously freed his people and led them out of Egypt to new life.

God continued to lead his people toward renewal and life by providing them with a way of life. God gave the Ten Commandments to Israel so they could be blessed and be a blessing to the world. God also gave Israel the land promised to their forefather Abraham. But Israel started a dangerous pattern of living and would not follow God’s way of life. So they would experience destruction and cry out to God to rescue them.

God was faithful to his promise and lovingly rescued Israel over and over again. God’s patience and love taught Israel to put hope in God.

We are called to embrace that same lesson Israel learned so long ago. As we wait for the coming of the Light of the World, we’re invited to embrace the God of love as our hope.

FAMILY DEVOTIONS
Light the Advent Candles    Gospel Reading: Matt. 23:1-12

WHAT DO WE LOVE?

In this time of year there’s a lot of emphasis on things to do. We decorate. We sing songs. We eat special foods.  We give gifts.

In the gospel reading for today, Jesus warns against doing things with wrong motives, though. He is talking about religious practices, but many of those practices find their place in our Christmas traditions. Jesus is calling out the religious leaders as hypocrites because their hearts are not in the right place as they carry out those practices. Jesus is livid with the teachers of the law and religion because they know what God wants them to do, and why He wants them to do it, but they carry out the practices in ways that they receive honor, not God.

As we go through this week and the next two weeks until Christmas, and as we practice loving others, remember what Jesus has to say about motives. We should not be doing kind things for others so that we get the credit, but so that the receiver may be blessed. We should not give with a big show — after all, the God of the universe gave us His son as a poor baby who was born in a feeding trough. Grand gestures don’t always come with grand motives.  Don’t be afraid to give big if your heart is right, but don’t over-give to compensate for a lack of love in your heart.

We are to love others simply because Christ first loved us. Remember this as you love others this season.

PRAYER
Prepare my heart, Lord Jesus, don’t leave my side, and grant that I receive you this blessed Adventide.5
AMEN

Notes:

1) Adapted from Paul Sheneman, Illuminate: an Advent Experience. Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill of Kansas City, 2011. Print.

5) Adapted from Valentin Thilo, “Ye Sons of Men, Oh, Hearken” (1642), trans. Arthur T. Russell (1851), Cyber Hymnal, http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/y/s/ysmheark.htm.

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Tuesday, December 06th, 2011 | Author:

simply Christmas coverTUESDAY

DAILY PSALM
Your love, O LORD, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the great deep. O LORD, you preserve both man and beast. How priceless is your unfailing love! Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings.
Psalm 36:5-7


CONNECTION

LOVE PROJECTS
Are you ready to dive in and start embodying love in our community?  Get your family together and talk over the suggestions below, or create your own ideas of how you can be Jesus’ loving hands and feet to those around you this week.

DONATE TO “RUSH”
Make a financial
contribution to
help create supply
bags for each
classroom at Helen
Wilcox Elementary
School.  Make
checks payable to
“OroNaz Church”
with “RUSH”
written on the memo line.
Put your donation into one of the envelopes in the back of the chairs at the worship service next sunday and then drop it into the offering.
($90 supplies everything for one whole classroom, but give as you feel led.)

LOVE NOTES
Nothing says love like a regular-old hand-written note.  Brainstorm together who you know (in your church, school, neighborhood, extended family) who could use a note affirming them and encouraging them. Write a message or draw a picture letting them know you appreciate them and are thinking of them.1

SECRET MANGER
This is a fun activity to help you embody loving acts of service to each other as a family. Get something you can use as a “manger” — a shoebox or something similar will work. Then have a bowl or bucket of something like hay or tinsel or pieces of yarn available next to the manger. Now everyone in the family begins doing things secretly for one another.  Do one another’s chores, leave nice notes, or tiny gifts, etc. for other members of the family. Every time you do a secret deed, you get to add one piece of straw to the manger. Try to fill the whole manger before Christmas day to get it ready for baby Jesus’ arrival.

FAMILY DEVOTIONS

Light the Advent Candles    Gospel Reading: Matt. 22:34-46

FREE TO LOVE

The gospel message yesterday led us to a place where we can find freedom in the simple acceptance of God’s love. It is a truly humbling and joyful thing to realize just how much the Creator of everything in earth and heaven loves us. Our response is two-fold. We are called to love Him, first and foremost.  He is worthy and deserving of our love, but He is a kind God who does not demand it — He wants us to give it freely if we’re going to give it.

The second way we respond to God’s love is a clear command from Him, though. We see Jesus say it very plainly, without a parable or metaphor. We can be sure that He wanted there to be no gray-room here. Jesus’ words about the need to love our neighbors as ourselves is a clear picture of who God is and what He cares about.  He’s essentially saying to us, “So, you love me? Then love the people I love, the people I created, whether you get along with them or not.”

There is a very love-giving cycle that Jesus invites us to enter in. When we truly love God and seek Him, it is impossible to ignore what He asks us to do by loving others. And as we love others, the people that God has called us to love, we begin to see something different in them. We begin to see them with the eyes of their creator, God, and it spurs us back to loving the God in whom we put our hope.

How tragic would it be to be like the Saducees and the Pharisees, waiting forever for a Savior, being in His very presence, and not just failing to accept His love, but missing the incredible opportunity to be able to share that love and hope with others. Let us continue through Advent, determined not to miss the opportunities Christ gives us to bring hope and love to those in our broken and hopeless community.

PRAYER
Redeemer, come, with us abide. Our hearts to you we open wide. Let us your inner presence feel; your grace and love in us reveal.4

AMEN

Notes:

1) Adapted from Paul Sheneman, Illuminate: an Advent Experience. Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill of Kansas City, 2011. Print.

4)Adapted from George Weissel, “Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates” (1642), trans. Catherine Winkworth (1855), Cyber Hymnal, http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/l/u/lupyhymg.htm.

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