Preparing to Prepare Our Hearts

Scientists are saying that putting your Christmas decorations up early can make you feel happier.

The lights and decorations take us back to a simpler time. Even if that time wasn’t so simple, we remember the warmth of a season of celebration rather than the challenges of those times.

In dark days, through lack of sun or dimmed hope, thinking of Christmas lightens our spirits.

The lights encourage us. But God’s Word challenges us to find true light in the darkness.

Jessica Brodie’s Preparing Our Hears: An Advent Devotional to Draw Closer to God at Christmas is a devotional that leads us toward the light of Christ.

A passage for every day encourages us to see God’s touch in our trials as well as our triumphs. Every day begins with scripture and ends with ample space for reader reflection.

Jessica’s anecdotes remind me of my own past Christmas seasons. Her “Have you ever … questions bring to mind common experiences that help us answer spiritual questions designed to help us grow in our faith.

Hope, peace, joy, love, the four weeks of Advent, preparing hearts to let our celebrations move beyond decorations to better understanding of, and better connection to, our sovereign Lord.

“This is the point of Advent; the full message of Christ: God loves us so much that he sent his son, Jesus, to pay our sin debt and help us follow him so we too can live in God’s kingdom for eternity.”

Get ready to get ready. Jessica’s work is a great start.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14, ESV

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Advent, Week Three: Joy

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13, NASB).

In Romans 15:13, Paul references joy, peace, and hope in the reverse order of the Advent calendar. He states that joy and peace come from God and make possible His provision of hope. Advent begins with hope and progresses to peace, then joy.

We cannot produce our own joy, the exultation within us that does not depend upon our circumstances. Sam Storms says, “Joy is not necessarily the absence of suffering, it is the presence of God.”

With Him, we have joy. With Him, we have peace.

Like joy, peace also comes from God. The peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7) comes to us in our worst, not our best times. Peace remains only when we keep our eyes on Him and don’t focus on our circumstances.

When we look back to see His provision and care for us, we can look ahead with faith and trust that He will continue to be good even if times become harder. That’s hope.

Advent is a time to draw near to God. We ponder the hope of His coming at Christmas as we look toward His coming again. We find peace and joy even in the turmoil of a world darkened because it has turned from Him.

The world is dark now. It was dark then too.

Christ is the light shining through the darkness.

The darkness will not overcome His light.

In that knowledge, we find joy and peace and hope.

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Nancy E. Head’s Restoring the Shattered is out in paperback! Get your copy here!

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. Restoring the Shattered is published through Morgan James Publishing with whom I do share a material connection. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Advent, Week Two, Peace

“For a Child will be born to us, a Son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace,” Isaiah 9:6
.

“He, Who had made humanity, became man. He, Who created His mother, was born to her. He formed the hands that carried Him. He filled the breasts that fed Him. The Word, without eloquence[,] is rendered mute–an infant, wordless, in a manger.” Augustine, trans. S. Watts, from God Above All.

Two or three weeks before Christmas is often not a time of peace for many who celebrate a modern Christmas, especially in America.

Peace sometimes comes through pleasant circumstances when we feel like we’re in control and things are going our way.

Yet the promise of Christmas does not come from us being in control, quite the opposite. And it doesn’t come from things going our way.

The wordless infant in the manger had crafted the world He came to. Those He made would care for Him and later look to Him for help and healing. Some would seek His death; they would watch Him die.

Old and new followers would marvel at His resurrection.

Many would follow so closely as to give their lives for the One who made them and died on their behalf.

He brought inner peace to people living in outward turmoil. He still brings that peace today.

If we can be still enough to find it.

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Nancy E. Head’s Restoring the Shattered is out in paperback! Get your copy here!

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. Restoring the Shattered is published through Morgan James Publishing with whom I do share a material connection. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The First Week of Advent: Hope and Time

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it,” John 1:1-5.

“He, through Whom time was made, loved us so much He was made in time for us.” Augustine, qtd. in God Above All.

Christ came from outside time to experience its limitations–days that were too short–nights, too long. He suffered in time without relief or reprieve.

It’s hard for us to imagine being outside time. How often every day do we check the clock or wonder how to get to the next task or place on time? We vacillate between wishing for more time and hoping minutes would pass more quickly.

We understand that He placed us in time but did not intend for us to remain in it always.

“. . . He has also set eternity in the human heart . . .” Ecclesiastes 3:11.

Since eternity is in our hearts, we squirm under the pressures of time–too much or not enough during our earthly lives.

Even so, Christ calls us contemplate the true meaning of His birth, life, and death. He invites us to respond to His call and so find hope.

“He came to this poor earth of ours to carry on an exchange; to say to us, as only the Good God could say: ‘you give me your humanity, and I will give you my Divinity; you give me your time, and I will give you My eternity; you give me your broken heart, and I will give you Love; you give me your nothingness, and I will give you My all,” Fulton J. Sheen

This exchange requires our time and devotion. In our humanity, in time, with broken hearts, and in our nothingness, we find hope in Him.

This first week of Advent when we ponder hope, hush your waiting heart. Hush your hurrying heart. His all awaits. Welcome, Christmas. Welcome Christ.

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Nancy E. Head’s Restoring the Shattered is out in paperback! Get your copy here!

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. Restoring the Shattered is published through Morgan James Publishing with whom I do share a material connection. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

HEADlines: Christ the King, the Light that Overcomes Darkness

Through Advent, every day gets darker until we arrive at the cusp of Christmas. Winter solstice—December 21st– is the longest night of the year. Light increases each day following.

Christmas comes during the time of year pagans marked the winter solstice, the shortest day–but the end of encroaching darkness. It’s a feast to celebrate light overcoming darkness.

Christmas comes near Hanukkah–the Jewish festival of lights—commemorating victory over an effort to eradicate Jewish civilization. It’s a feast to memorialize one day’s worth of sanctified oil fueling a lamp for eight days. Eight days to celebrate light overcoming darkness.

Twenty-twenty has been a year of darkness and separation. My husband and I stood in our kitchen a couple of weeks ago, both of us steeped in a COVID fog of fever and cough. The radio played “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” I pointed out the lyric—“Next year all our troubles will be far away,” commenting that this year’s troubles were unimagined last year.

I imagined people singing that song in 1944—the year Judy Garland first sang it in Meet Me in Saint Louis. The movie opened in November of that year.

Imagine going to the theater to see a light musical—and to watch newsreels. People got their information from newspapers, radio, and movie newsreels—the precursor to television news.

What you’d see in newsreels around then might have included a race riot among US military personnel at Guam. Bandleader Glenn Miller’s plane disappearing over the English Channel. A typhoon hitting Admiral Halsey’s fleet in the South Pacific, costing America almost 800 souls. And Axis forces surrounding US troops at Bastogne.

Much of the news was grim. But Allied forces were pushing back. General Anthony McAuliffe, the American commander at Bastogne, responded to a German demand for surrender with one word: “Nuts.”

In dark days, light emerged.

It’s hard to perceive the depth of darkness people felt when we know now how the story ended. Allied forces converged; McAuliffe’s rebuttal stands as a rebuke to defeat.

But it’s harder to see the light when we sit immersed in the darkness of our own days with little hint of light ahead.

Was it a dark and starless night before the angels came to the shepherds? They were shepherds who’d been waiting for the coming of Messiah. They didn’t expect a blast of light and music with angels singing news of His coming.

The shepherds outside Bethlehem that night were Levitical shepherds. Ironically, they were ritualistically unclean. They walked through feces. They touched dead things.

The angel told them to find a baby lying in a manger and wrapped in swaddling cloths. To shepherds raising sheep for Levitical sacrifice, swaddling cloths would be vastly significant. For a lamb to qualify for sacrifice it had to be perfect, without blemish.

The shepherds swaddled lambs intended for sacrifice–they wrapped them in cloths to protect them. The angel saying that they would find the infant wrapped in swaddling cloths indicated the baby would be a sacrifice. That baby was the Messiah.

Many would have expected a Jewish king to be born in Jerusalem–the city of the king–not Bethlehem. But Bethlehem was the City of David–a keeper of sheep.

God’s choice of a birthplace for his son wasn’t just a fulfillment of prophecy–which it was. It was also a symbol that Christ the King would be the fulfillment of sacrifice on our behalf.

Christ was the sinless Son of God, the perfect Lamb to be sacrificed for the shepherds’ sins–for our sins—for the things we walk through and touch that make us unclean.

God invited the unclean to see His Son. Those who reject Him today are yet among the invited.

People seek purpose and meaning today. But they cannot find it without Christ. He brings peace on earth–within our hearts. He is the perfect sacrifice for us.

Christmas proclaims the coming of a King who is the light who overcomes darkness.

“Jesus spoke to them again, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life,’” John 8:12.

There is a Christmas light to light the world–Christ Himself.

“And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth,” John 1:14.

Emmanuel—God with us. Let His light shine.

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Nancy E. Head’s Restoring the Shattered is out in paperback! Get your copy here!

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. Restoring the Shattered is published through Morgan James Publishing with whom I do share a material connection. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”