Advent Day 18: Salvation’s Joy

December 14

Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose. The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them, he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God – he and his whole family.
Acts 16: 26, 29, 34 (NIV)

After Paul commanding an evil spirit leave the body of a slave girl, her master became angry and presented Paul and Silas to the authorities, claiming they were “throwing the city into an uproar.” The men were stripped, beaten, and ordered to prison.

Scripture doesn’t detail how the jailer treated the men, but customs of the time tell us that he was probably brutal. His sole job was to keep the two in prison, so when an earthquake caused the prison doors to fly open, he was prepared to die.

Paul implored the jailer to spare his own life, and in a change of heart that can only come through conversion, the jailer took Paul and Silas to his home. He and every member of his family believed in Jesus as their Savior, and they were filled with joy.

The Lord can work in any situation, no matter how dire, to reach the lost. He will use the prayers and songs of his children – like he did with Paul and Silas – to touch the hardest of hearts. After witnessing the Lord’s presence in Paul and Silas’ lives, the jailer and his entire family were forever changed. They were filled with the light of Jesus, and filled with joy. That same joy fills our hearts today. It’s the evidence of Jesus in our lives, and it’s as unmistakable now as it was 2,000 years ago in that prison.

For Today: Did you or someone you know become a Jesus-follower in the midst of a dire situation? If so, how was God’s work during that difficult time an encouragement to you?

Advent Day 17: Songs of Joy

December 13

Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.
Psalm 100:2 (NIV)

Worshipping Jesus through music is a reoccurring theme in scripture. We do this every time we attend a church service and raise our voices in joyful song. Coming before the Lord with praise-filled songs is an act of worship. It’s the opportunity to set music to the cry of our hearts, a way for a congregation to sing joyfully the same worshipful prayer, at the same time. In unison our voices can rise to the heavens. Just as powerfully, the Lord hears the whispered music of a single person.

It has nothing to do with ability, and everything to do with worshipping Jesus with gladness and joy. We can easily do this at Christmastime when we sing songs that paint pictures of the Christ Child’s birth. O Holy Night says that when Christ appeared, “the soul felt its worth.” Waxing poetic, the third verse of Hark the Herald Angels Sing declares that Jesus was “born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth.”

Silent Night describes Jesus’ birth this way: “Silent night, holy night; Son of God, love’s pure light; radiant beams from thy holy face; with the dawn of redeeming grace. Jesus, Lord at the birth.”

Sing. Sing of the most joyous of occasions, with joy-filled abandon and reverence.

For Today: What is your favorite Christmas song? Why? If it evokes memories, what are those? Why were those times special for you?

 

Advent Day 16: Jesus Brings Joy

December 12

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
Luke 1:41 (NIV)

Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, were cousins. They were also pregnant with their sons at the same time. The two women were visiting each other when John leapt for joy in Elizabeth’s womb because he heard Mary’s voice, and recognized the presence of Jesus.

Before he was even born, John was moved by the Holy Spirit, and Christ’s human existence. Merely being in the Savior’s vicinity gave John great joy. John spent his life proclaiming Jesus as the Savior. In fact, the Bible says that he “paved the way for the Lord.” Eventually, John would be the one to baptize Jesus. He served the Lord until he was martyred, when, undoubtedly, he was ushered into God’s presence.

John was on the fringe of society. He was wild. He was outspoken. With John, there was no gray area – you either repented and believed in Christ, or you didn’t. The message hasn’t changed. You can’t live with one foot in the baptismal, and one foot in the world.

The start of John’s life was marked with great joy, his life ended in joy-filled service, and it all began from his mother’s womb when he recognized the Savior.

For Today: Does your relationship with Jesus fill you with joy? If not, what is preventing you from feeling joy-filled? Ask God in prayer to help you experience joy this Christmas season.

Advent Day 15: An Inexpressible and Glorious Joy

December 11

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.
1 Peter 1:8 (NIV)

None of us were present the night Jesus was born. We weren’t there, blinded by the Light that flooded every corner of the dark world. We didn’t hear heavenly hosts proclaim his holy name. But we’re here now, celebrating the Savior’s birth. It’s because we know he came to save us. We can look at our lives and recognize his protection and provision. The light that covered the world like a blanket warms the coldest places in our hearts.

We weren’t there when Christ was born, but through Christ, we’ve been reborn.

God gave us Jesus, then Jesus gave us his life. That kind of glory fills our souls to the brim. We flow over with joy that is nearly impossible to express. It transcends heartache and trials and rests squarely on the shoulders of an infant-Jesus. It’s a joy found in knowing that we are loved personally and individually by the God who created the universe.

For Today: How can knowing you are loved by God cause you to experience joy as you approach Christmas?

Advent Day 14: Love Inseparable

December 10

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:38-39 (NIV)

Nothing. Not one thing. There isn’t anything that we can do that will make God stop loving us. There isn’t anything in our past – done by us, or to us – that will diminish God’s love. We simply can’t be separated from the love of God.

He proved it on a census night more than 2,000 years ago when Jesus was born. An astounding, breathtaking, humbling, and awe-inspiring birth. The Savior of the world, tiny enough to be swaddled and rocked to sleep, was filled with enough love to cover all of humanity throughout all of history.

We’re covered by that same love now. It’s with us when our hands are raised in worship or if we cry out to God in our heartache. When we’re rejoicing, and when we’re suffering. Vows spoken by Christ over his bride, the Church; our Savior will love us in good times and in bad, forever.

For Today: This season, ask God in prayer to help you recognize all the ways – big and small – that he shows his love to you. Thank him for sending Jesus, the greatest example of his love.

Advent Day 13: A Love That Opens Doors

December 9

He led his people through the desert, His love endures forever.
Psalm 136:16 (NIV)

Desert in this passage can also be translated, wilderness, and at some point in our Christian lives, we’ve all probably felt like we were wandering in the wilderness. Through Moses, God led the Jewish people on a 40-year trek through the desert. While it’s possible to experience a decades-long wilderness, the Jews were experiencing the result of blatant disobedience.

As Christ-followers we can experience periods of wilderness-wandering for many different reasons; it’s how we respond that matters. Jesus spent forty days in the desert, and the devil repeatedly tried to tempt him. He was unsuccessful because Jesus used truths found in scripture as a sword to cut through the devil’s lies.

That’s how we know Jesus leads us through the desert-times. He’s given us the Holy Spirit, and scripture. His presence in our lives — and our reliance on him – marks the difference between wandering and being led. If we let him, he will lead us, forever, because that’s how much he loves us.

For Today: Do you feel like you’re in a season of wandering right now, or a season of being led? Why?

Advent Day 12: Love Through the Wilderness

December 8

He led his people through the desert, His love endures forever.
Psalm 136:16 (NIV)

Desert in this passage can also be translated, wilderness, and at some point in our Christian lives, we’ve all probably felt like we were wandering in the wilderness. Through Moses, God led the Jewish people on a 40-year trek through the desert. While it’s possible to experience a decades-long wilderness, the Jews were experiencing the result of blatant disobedience.

As Christ-followers we can experience periods of wilderness-wandering for many different reasons; it’s how we respond that matters. Jesus spent forty days in the desert, and the devil repeatedly tried to tempt him. He was unsuccessful because Jesus used truths found in scripture as a sword to cut through the devil’s lies.

That’s how we know Jesus leads us through the desert-times. He’s given us the Holy Spirit, and scripture. His presence in our lives — and our reliance on him – marks the difference between wandering and being led. If we let him, he will lead us, forever, because that’s how much he loves us.

For Today: Do you feel like you’re in a season of wandering right now, or a season of being led? Why?

Advent Day 11: Love the Unlovable

December 7

But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
Matthew 5:44 (NIV)

Matthew 5:44 is a “red letter” scripture. That means it came directly from Jesus’ mouth. Later, during his crucifixion, Jesus would model this directive to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us when he proclaimed, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Jesus was praying to his father on behalf of the people who, literally and figuratively, put him on the cross.

What better example than that of Jesus to pray for those who persecute us? As we celebrate the Savior’s birth, we can take cues from his actions upon his death. We can look beyond their negative behaviors, and lift up in prayer those who have been unkind to us, lied about us, and treated us unfairly.

Over time, as we continually pray for those who persecute us, as we love our enemies, our hearts will soften. We will begin to love the seemingly unlovable.

For Today: The holidays are often difficult because of past hurts, maybe even pain we’ve experienced during past Christmas seasons. Or perhaps you’re hurting over something that happened recently. If you pray for the person who hurt you, it will lessen the pain. Who do you need to forgive for hurting you? Who do you need to pray for today?

Advent Day 10: Love is a Spotlight

December 6

No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
1 John 4:12 (NIV)

Following a God we can’t see may be hard at times; there’s no shame in that. His work in our lives is undeniable. His love for us is immeasurable. His forgiveness is unceasing. Yet, we can’t see him. We know, without a doubt, that he is our Savior, but we occasionally think, “This might be easier if he was in human form.”

He was, once. Jesus toddled to his first human steps, then walked out his purpose among society, proclaiming his Father’s message and asking people to follow him. People could look at Jesus, they could reach out and touch him, they could dine with him and serve alongside of him, but still, many didn’t believe.

What does that mean for us, now that Jesus no longer walks the earth? It means that we should show God to others by loving them. We can be the instruments that Jesus uses to play love into the world. When we set out to love others the way Jesus did, we reveal him to those around us. We may not be able to see the Lord, but he lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

Loving others points a spotlight right at Jesus.

For Today: Yesterday you considered who in your life you could show more love. Today, think of one or two ways to show that love.

Advent Day 9: Love One Another

December 5

Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.
1 Peter 4:8 (NIV) 

In the middle of all the holiday rush, we have to stop and fervently love the people around us. We have to, because Jesus was born — love personified — and we have to because showing love to others is a reflection of Jesus in our lives. Most importantly, we’re instructed to love “above all.”

Fervent in this scripture means “to be stretched” or “to be strained,” like the muscles of an athlete working at full capacity. That’s how deeply we’re called to love those around us. A love strong enough to forgive, and start anew.

December arrives, and everyone seems to operate on double time. Moving lightning-quick through our to-do lists can cause short fuses and high levels of frustration. We can snap at our kids, or someone in a check-out line, or a driver who nabs the parking spot we were eyeing. Or, we can choose love instead.

We can, above all, choose love.

For Today: Who can you show more love to this week?