Much of Christmas' beauty is in its sameness. The same traditions. The same meals. The same songs. The same story.
Yet each Christmas is a little different. Sometimes the change is noticeable and unexpected, at other times a mere matter of flexibility. But each year's celebration somehow speaks its familiar message with a freshness that can only be heard by ears a year older.
You can use these devotional readings by yourself or with your whole family. If you have a little more time and want to make the experience even more significant, an additional Scripture passage has been included for you to look up each day, along with some related thoughts and questions to consider.
Advent Devotional Week One
"There was a man named John who was sent from God. He came as a witness to testify about the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but he came to testify about the light" (John 1:6-8).
Only a Man Named John
His name was John. He was born to be the forerunner of Christ, born to bear witness of the light.
In a way, John was like us. We, too, have been born to bear witness of that light. Each time we approach the Advent season, we become joyously occupied with celebrating what the light has done in our lives. While John the Baptist was the first person called to be a witness of that light, His calling has become ours. He was a light of witness, and so are we.
He knew people would always be hard on the light. The light has always had to shine in uncomprehending darkness. Still, though the darkness rejects it, the light of witness shines still. What does it mean to be a witness of the light? It simply means that we point to Jesus and say, "See, Jesus is the light of the world!" How did John the Baptist do this? Well, when he first saw Jesus coming up on the banks of the Jordan River, he pointed to Him and cried, "Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the One I told you about."
John's job was not to coerce those around him to accept his announcement as truth. Nor did Jesus expect him to make believers all by himself. Like John, we cannot make believers. Believers make themselves by voluntarily coming to faith, one at a time.
But like John, we can point to Christ and say with all of our hearts, "Here is the Lamb of God!"
Now it's our turn to bear witness to the light.
What if they do not believe us? No matter. We have done our best to tell them of God's grace. God will never hold us accountable for being ineffective in pointing the way. But He will hold us accountable for our cowardly silences. Like John, we must call attention to all we have seen and leave the results to Him. Anything else --anything less -- is failing the expectations of God.
We are those who know the truth. We must bear witness!
Read: Acts 1:6-11
Christmas is a door thrown open, a season like few others. Christ is the first part of the word Christmas -- a syllable of joy on everyone's tongue. Are your eyes open wide? Is your heart alive with the hope of pointing someone to a gift like none other? Promise you'll be watching, listening, sharing. This Christmas, keep your light turned on.
Lord, I want people around me to know that I believe You are the light of the world. I want to love You so much that people can see in my life -- even if they never listen to my words -- that I believe You are the light of the world. I know that making my witness visible, in and of itself, is not enough. I must have courage in the presence of my friends to point to You and say clearly, "Behold, the Lamb of God! Behold, the light of the world." If I continue to walk silently while others are walking in darkness, it is my own fault, for You, Jesus, are the light of my life-of all life.
Advent Devotional Week Two
"The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).
The Glory We Beheld
The glory we behold in Christ is the light of grace and truth. Consider this great trinity of words: glory, grace, and truth.
Glory! It is that state of being that transcends our poor, dull, ordinary lives. It implies a dazzling illumination, a splendor in seeing, a heightened euphoria, a state of elevated reality. Glory is that moment of elation when truth and reward come together to kneel before the grand approval of God.
Have you never felt His exhilarating glory? Then you have never confessed your sin and turned your face toward the wonderful face of your Redeemer. Glory is the glistening garment of God -- a garment that He is all too eager to throw around us, to welcome us into His everlasting light. Glory is the food of the believer. Eat it once, and a kind of joyous addiction is born in your life. One taste and you must eat it forever.
Grace! It is the unmerited smile of God. If glory is our dance with God, grace is the ballroom -- wide and free. But grace is not a tiny little dance with thin music and stingy steps. This dance never constricts. It is set to the open steps of elation. Grace saves with celestial music and redeems us, with Christ as our life partner.
Truth! This is the mortar that binds grace and glory together.
Truth is Jesus; He never told a lie. He never sinned. He is never out of love with those for whom He died. Truth says that when you take any action, needing God to be there, He will be there. Truth says that what- ever you believe, if it has come from God, it has already been sanctified. If Jesus has said it, it is settled; you may count on it.
Jesus was revealed to us in glory. That glory is full of grace and truth. The moment you received Christ, all three—glory, grace, and truth—were united as a trinity of lovers to rule from the throne of all your dreams.
Read: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
We have grown so accustomed to this particular coming of Christ -- this baby-in-a-manger coming, this wise-men-and-shepherds coming—that we sometimes forget to be watching for His next coming. What keeps His next coming from being a more real part of your life? What is here now that won't be so much better then?
Lord, I have beheld Your glory, full of grace and truth. What a life is now mine -- glory, grace, and truth bulging in the same small space I once gave to dullness, stinginess, and deceit. And what a life now awaits me -- glory, grace, and truth in greater measure than I have ever imagined. I love You for filling my heart with Your presence, for being just what my dull heart needed.
Advent Devotional Week Three
"Salmon fathered Boaz by Rahab, Boaz fathered Obed by Ruth, Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered King David … Jacob fathered Joseph the husband of Mary, who gave birth to Jesus who is called Messiah" (Matthew 1:5-6 and 1:16).
One Man's Family
So these begat passages seem dull to you? Read them again and think of how God elevated the idea of family by choosing to work with one man's family to redeem the earth. These begat passages are not just names. They are the footprints of a timeless God walking through the generations, until His tread is reduced to the bare foot of the little baby whom Mary held in her arms.
All international and civil struggles could be cleared up if we could agree on this one-man’s-family view of the human race. God has always held this view. He created Adam and Eve, and from them came the human family. But God's bright hopes for His family were spoiled. Adam and Eve lost Eden. Their quarreling children Cain and Abel marked the earth with ruin. Their grandchildren fostered quarreling nations who brought death and dying in a never-ending reign ofbloodshed.
But God never gave up His plan that this one family united in love and eternal life would redeem the world. So in time the genealogies would spiral down from generation to generation until at last came the family of Jesse, from whose lineage came a line of kings. Then one day Mary held an infant in her arms. From this child would come the completed dream of God:
"When the completion of the time came, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying 'Abba, Father!' So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God (Galatians 4:4-7).
So the begat passages remind us that God is the Father of all who will call Jesus Lord. Once we call Him Lord, we begin to love the God who sent His Son as the final name in a long line of begats. In Him is our hope. He is God’s finally begotten Son, God’s only begotten Son. Because of Him, we call God "Abba, Father."
Read: John 14:23-26
Jesus' words to His followers sound for all the world like a family in conversation. His words are reminders of how much He loves them. They exist as instructions on what to do in certain situations, news about a friend who’s coming to live close by. Our homes and families can sometimes be sources of struggle. But His reality is for every family a source of constant care. Doesn’t that feel good at Christmas?
Lord, the family of God is my family now. How different they sometimes look: different colors, different languages, different customs and values. Thank You so much for making me a part of Your worldwide dream of calling Your entire human family back to the adoration of Your only begotten Son.
Advent Devotional Week Four
"The angel came to her and said, 'Rejoice, favored woman! The Lord is with you.' But she was deeply troubled by this statement, wondering what kind of greeting this could be. Then the angel told her: 'Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God'" (Luke 1:28–30).
Out of the Ordinary
Do not God’s visitations unnerve us? But why? Because He never comes to us without asking us to do something. We never know what He will ask of us, but we know that we will be overwhelmed by our feelings of inadequacy.
When God came to Moses, Moses said, “Ask Aaron!” When He came to Gideon, Gideon suggested, “Let’s put out the fleece, God.” When God asks us for anything, we are prone to say, “Lord, even though this is a great honor, would You mind honoring someone else?”
So God came to Mary of Nazareth. As is always the case, God was the very last person she was expecting.
“Rejoice, favored woman! The Lord is with you.” God generally promises us His steadfast presence before He asks of us some task we feel is beyond us, something that without Him would be too heavy.
“Do not be afraid!” God often says this -- just before He terrifies us with His demand.
Something fearful always accompanies the request of God. For although He calls us to do something significant, we generally feel we cannot do it.
“Mary, you have found favor with God!” This promise of grace is a statement of special notice. Mary, above all the women of Nazareth, had been singled out by God. Did she not find God’s special notice a little disturbing? Of course! Every time God says, “I want you!” -- (as He did to Mary) -- our next question is, “Why are You talking to me? There must be fifteen million people who can do this job better than I can.”
There is no answer to this issue of grace. “You are the chosen one, Mary,” God replied. This is all! Discussion over! Once a person is selected, the next words to be said are, “Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.”
Read: Luke 10:38-42
“Jesus, don’t come in yet! The floor’s not done! Your room’s not ready!” We modern-day Marthas are sure that Jesus wouldn’t want to stay with us until we’d vacuumed and dusted. How much we need to be like her sister Mary, who simply left her dirty dishes on the table. After all, Jesus would know best how to put them away.
Lord, may I quit trying to figure out the mathematics of grace. You have chosen me because it is Your nature to use the bewildered. And that is enough for me. What would You have me to do?
Excerpted from The Christ of Christmas by Calvin Miller. Copyright 2006 B&H Publishing Group.