The Greatest Story Ever Told: 2023 Advent Devotional
When was the last time you heard a really good story? Not just any story—one that left you laughing on the floor or wiping away tears—but the kind of story that stuck with you long after it was over.
Our world is shaped through stories. Stories shape how we make sense of the world, our views on love, hate, relationships, and everything in between. They inspire us. They can bring us together. Or in the wrong hands, tear us apart. Stories are powerful. It should come as no surprise then, that when God wanted to communicate the greatest truth in human history, God gave us the greatest story ever told.
This Advent, we’re embarking on a journey through the Scriptures, going back thousands of years to uncover the deep roots of the Christmas story. As we explore how the promise of Jesus unfolds through the Old Testament, our hope is that we will experience the light of Christmas in a new and profound way this year. The story of Jesus truly is the greatest story ever told.
How to follow along
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You can pick up a free copy of this year's Advent Devotional at our Mockingbird campus on Sunday morning or anytime during the week, starting on Sunday, November 26.
Daily Readings & Reflections:
Day 1 | Sunday, Dec. 3
Reflection: This is the story of creation.
It’s not a story of how things were made; it’s a story about who made things and for what purpose. The narrator never intended to spark (or settle) a debate about whether species evolved or God set up shop for six literal days.
The point is God created. And everything else was created by Him.
Here’s why that’s important: in ancient times, people worshiped the sun, moon, and stars. What does it do to your deity when you discover it was made on the fourth day?
We don’t worship the sun anymore. We’ve chosen more sophisticated idols like money, sex, and power. The narrator of Genesis reminds us that these are flimsy places to put our strength, hope, and affection—in other words, our worship—and only God is worthy of this.
Centuries later, John, a close friend of Jesus while he walked around our dusty planet, dared to suggest that Jesus is God, uncreated, before the beginning. He is God in skin, showing us who created us and for what purpose.
He is the light that cannot be extinguished.
Draw near, and be warmed.
- Look at your calendar for the month of December. What or who is your Advent season organized around? Is it stuff? How can you reorder your December around the creator of all this stuff?
- What darkness surrounds you? In prayer, can you invite Jesus into that dark space to offer light? Contemplate this image. Allow his light to expose, reveal, and comfort you.
Day 2 | Monday, Dec. 4
Reading: Genesis 3:8-15
Reflection: God walks through the garden in the cool of the day, desiring to be close with those He created, to spend time with them as He often did. But instead of joy and closeness, Adam and Eve greet God with distance and fear. Something had gone terribly wrong.
An enemy slithered into God’s good garden, convincing the first humans that God was holding out on them, that God can’t be trusted. And so Eve eats the forbidden fruit, and gives some to her husband, and then they hide from God. Where there once was intimacy and relationship, there is now shame and brokenness.
God addresses the snake, cursing this dark influence that corrupted His people. From this day forward there will be two lineages at constant war with one another; those born of the snake–who give into darkness and temptation–and those born of the woman–who trust God and follow the light. God promises one day an offspring of the woman would come to make all things right again, crushing the serpent’s head and destroying evil at its source. But at the very same moment this snake-crusher is victorious, he will also be bitten.
So it is we have our first glimpse at God’s ultimate plan to restore humanity. For thousands of years, God’s people waited for a seed of a woman, one who would allow himself to be destroyed by evil, so he could simultaneously defeat evil and death once and for all.
- Are there parts of your life you’d rather keep hidden from God? Where do you find yourself shying away from God’s presence?
- Where do you see hope in this story, both for yourself and for humanity as a whole?
Day 3 | Tuesday, Dec. 5
Reading: Genesis 12:1-5
Generations after the Fall, God tells a 75-year-old man to leave everything behind and go somewhere new. God promises to make this childless man the father of an entire nation, and not just any nation, but the very nation God will use to bless all the people of the world. Abram and his family will be blessed and their name made great not just for their own benefit, but for the benefit of others. Somehow, God will work through the offspring of this one family to bring blessing to all families.
The book of Genesis follows the adventures (and misadventures) of Abram’s family. Abram, who God renames Abraham, becomes the father of two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. Isaac then has two sons of his own, Jacob and Esau. Jacob will famously go on to have twelve sons, who later become the twelve tribes of Israel. It is through this lineage that Jesus will eventually come. An imperfect family who are often just as likely to give into temptation and follow the lineage of the snake as they are to bless those around them. But even when they mess up, God doesn’t abandon them. He promises to stick with them and to bear the consequences of their unfaithfulness Himself.
Thousands of years later, Jesus would indeed give himself up for the unfaithfulness of humanity. But through his death, he fulfills God’s original promise to Abraham to bring blessing to all people.
- Why do you think God chose to work through one family in order to bless the rest of the world?
- You are blessed to be a blessing. How can you go out of your way this week to bless those around you?
Day 4 | Wednesday, Dec. 6
Reading: Genesis 49:8-10
Have you ever heard Jesus referred to as the Lion of Judah? Jesus descends from Judah’s line, and it seems like an odd choice because, when you read through Genesis, Judah was messy. Judah had a broken family and complicated relationships, and it was Judah who came up with the idea to sell his own brother, Joseph, into slavery in Egypt simply because his father favored him more than the others. So, why did God choose Judah?
Several years after Joseph is sold into slavery, the tables have turned. Joseph has miraculously risen to a position of power in Egypt, and when his brothers show up in Egypt looking for help during a famine, he decides to test them and see whether they have changed. He sets them up to betray their youngest brother, Benjamin. But instead of betraying his brother once again, Judah steps in. In an act of tremendous self-sacrifice, he kneels in front of Joseph, begging him and saying, “Listen, you can’t take him prisoner. It will kill our father from grief. Take me instead.”
Instead of envying the favorite brother, Judah puts himself last, and he models the kind of selfless love that Jesus shows us. The kind of love that moves someone to give their own life as a substitute. He foreshadows a king who seeks to serve rather than be served, a king who would give up his life as a ransom and call that a victory. His story reveals the love of a father who cannot bear to be separated from his beloved child and a son who volunteers to take the place of the Father’s beloved so they will never be separated again–the same kind of love that Jesus has for you and for me.
- God looks at you and sees a beloved child. Who are the people in your life that are your beloved? How does it change your perspective when you consider that God cherishes you in a way incomprehensibly greater than even that love you feel?
- God loves to use messy people like Judah for his glory. What “messy” areas in your life have you seen God transform?
Day 5 | Thursday, Dec. 7
Reading: Exodus 12:21-28
Abraham’s descendants eventually find themselves in slavery in Egypt. They face harsh labor and brutal oppression at the whims of a tyrant king. But God raises up a mediator, named Moses, to speak on His behalf and act as God’s representative to His people and to Pharoah. Over and over, Moses demands that Pharoah let God’s people go. And over and over, Pharoah declines. Until the tenth such time, when God decides enough is enough.
Through Moses, God instructs the people to slaughter an innocent lamb, one that is spotless and without any imperfections. God tells them to wipe the blood of the lamb over their doorposts as a sign that those inside the home are faithful to God, marked as members of His family. That night, when the destroyer came, it passed by any house marked with the blood of the lamb.
Generation after generation, God’s people continued this tradition, eating the Passover meal together and remembering how God protected them and delivered them from slavery in Egypt. On one such occasion, Jesus gathered with his twelve disciples, only this time, there was no Passover lamb on the table. Instead, Jesus says it is his blood that will be poured out for them, not just to protect them from the darkness out in the world, but also from the darkness within their own hearts (Matt. 26:27-29).
Today, Christians around the world regularly remember Jesus’ sacrifice and the blood he shed for the forgiveness of our sins every time we receive Communion. Jesus is the blameless and perfect lamb who died for us, so we could escape the grip of sin and death as part of God’s treasured family.
- When you look back on your story thus far, what has God rescued you from? What are you hoping for God to rescue you from today?
- If you were to commemorate an act of God in your life with a meal, what would you be remembering, and what would the meal be?
Daily Readings & Reflections:
Day 6 | Friday, Dec. 8
Reading: Exodus 32:11-14, 30-32
Reflection: After rescuing Israel from slavery in Egypt, God leads them out into the desert to the foot of Mt. Sinai. God initiates a covenant between them, and Israel promises to obey God and remain faithful to him. This covenant is like a marriage between God and His chosen people, the ones who are meant to be the vehicles of the Abrahamic blessing to the world; Israel is called to stand in the gap between God and the nations, acting as an intermediary.
Just a few weeks after promising to stay faithful to God, Israel breaks the first two terms of the covenant–don’t worship other gods or make any idols–by making a golden calf and worshiping it, right at the foot of Mt. Sinai. Let that sink in for a moment. That is a betrayal, and it stings. God is understandably hurt, and his anger burns towards them.
But Moses intercedes for the people, asking God to have grace instead of allowing them to face the consequences they deserve. Moses goes so far as to offer himself in place of the Israelites, laying down his life if God will spare the people. Ironically, Moses is doing the very thing for his people that Israel was supposed to do for the rest of the world: standing in the gap between them and God.
God relents from his anger and stays faithful to the covenant, but the problem remains: humanity is meant to partner with God and walk in his ways, but we have trouble staying faithful. That’s why God had plans for a better Moses, the ultimate intercessor whose sacrifice would cover all of humanity. In this way, Jesus stands in the gap now for you and me, with grace and love in his eyes.
- We all make idols of worldly things at times–sometimes even out of good things. Is there an idol in your life right now that might be creating distance between you and God?
- Who in your life might God be calling you to stand in the gap on behalf of? In other words, who needs to hear about all that God has done for you so they can see what God might do for them?
Day 7 | Sunday, Dec. 10
Reading: Leviticus 4:1-7
Reflection: Back in the Garden, evil entered God’s good world. And in the time of the Israelites, evil is still prevalent—even within the hearts of God’s own people. This evil wreaks havoc on relationships and creates injustice in God’s community and the world around them. And so God gave His people a symbolic system that would remind them about the power of mercy and forgiveness–a way God can take care of evil that doesn’t spell the end for humanity.
God sets up the sacrificial system described in the Torah, particularly in Leviticus. Though it may seem bizarre and cruel to us, for God’s ancient peoples, sacrificing animals was a visceral reminder of the death they were being spared—a way of inviting them to participate in the story so they might recognize the gravity their actions have on the world and those around them. God wanted to show them how the debt created by their sin and the sins of their community were covered through the death of the sacrificial lamb.
It’s fitting, therefore, that as Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples, there was no lamb on the table as there traditionally would’ve been. Jesus wanted to make it clear–he is the new sacrificial lamb, and his death would cleanse God’s people from the ways they’ve contributed to sin and death in the world. Every time we receive Communion, we’re remembering the power of Jesus’ life, and how his death is actually an act of mercy for us from a God who loves us deeply.
- Reflect for a moment on how you may have contributed to bringing sin and death into the world. Spend a few moments in prayer thanking God for the mercy and grace He offers you through the death of Jesus.
- How does it change the way you view the Christmas story to consider the power behind the death of Jesus, even as we anticipate celebrating the birth of Christ?
Day 8 | Monday, Dec. 11
Reflection: Have you ever looked at the sun directly? Look too long and your eyes will water and close to protect you from harm. This is why we wear sunglasses or shield our eyes. The sun is too much to behold.
The same is true when people stand face-to-face with God. God is too much to behold. Something about how God showed up at Sinai, in power, with fire and thunder, made it impossible for the Israelites to stand unscathed in his presence. Except for Moses, called by God and recognized by the people as a prophet. He was the go-between for God and humans.
At the end of his life, on the crest of the Promised Land, Moses tells the Israelites another prophet will be raised up. Someone who could stand before God to represent the people, and live. Read Matthew’s story of Jesus’s birth and early ministry, and echoes of Moses ring out from the page. Moses was born under Pharaoh’s harsh rule, and Jesus, under Herod’s. Moses narrowly escaped infanticide; Jesus did too. Moses spent 40 days and nights on Mount Horeb, preparing to receive the Law at Sinai; Jesus spent 40 days and nights in the wilderness before preaching his famous “Sermon on the Mount.”
Moses delivered Israel from slavery to Pharoah. Jesus would deliver Israel from the taskmaster within. Jesus is the prophet Moses pointed to, and so much more.
- What would it be like to stand in the presence of God, without anything between us? Why do you think we need a “go-between?”
- If Jesus is the new Moses, what happens when we develop a relationship with him?
Day 9 | Tuesday, Dec. 12
Reading: 1 Chronicles 17:10-14
Reflection: Things were looking up for King David. Wars had ceased. The dust has settled on the construction of David’s palace. Convicted that he lived in a mansion while the Ark of the Covenant stayed in a tent, David decided to build God a house of his own. But God was not interested in a permanent structure. In fact, God pushed back and insisted He will make a “house” for David, a throne that will be filled forever by the ultimate king. And this king will build God’s house.
Who is this king?
That’s the question on everyone’s mind just over one thousand years later, as Israel ached and agitated for deliverance from King Herod and the Roman occupation. So when Matthew opens his eyewitness account by naming Jesus as “the son of David,” he’s turned on the flashing lights of a billboard that shouts, “THIS is the guy we’ve been waiting for!”
Jesus is “the one who will build a house for [God],” a place where God will dwell. And do you know what kind of house he builds? It’s not made of brick and mortar. It is made of people.
God will not (and cannot) be pinned down to a building. Because Jesus, his son, the eternal king, has built - and is still building - a community of people in, with, and through whom God is pleased to dwell. King Jesus will lead on.
- What makes a great king? What does a great king do for his people?
- What does it mean for you that Jesus is king (and by extension, you are not)?
Day 10 | Wednesday, Dec. 13
Reading: 1 Kings 6:11-18, 29-30
Reflection: Decades after his father first got the idea to build a house for God, Solomon begins construction. He pulls together the finest architects and artisans in all of Israel to craft the massive building, filling it with all kinds of imagery–flowers, trees, and gold–meant to remind God’s people of how good life was in the Garden of Eden. The Temple takes seven years to build, and when it’s finished, the glory of the Lord fills the magnificent structure (1 Kings 8:10-11). It’s a joyous and hopeful moment for God’s people, a sign that God is with them in their midst, once again dwelling among them.
Their hopes would be dashed when, generations later, a Babylonian king invaded Jerusalem and destroyed Solomon’s Temple, carting God’s people away as slaves to a foreign power. The destruction of the Temple was a direct result of the people’s unfaithfulness, their worship of other Gods, and their lack of justice for the vulnerable among them. It was a fate prophets like Isaiah, Micah, and Jeremiah tried to warn the people about, but to no avail.
By the time of Jesus, a new Temple had been built by King Herod, but instead of being a place of hope for God’s people, it was filled with corruption. And so Jesus points to the coming of a new kind of Temple, the Temple of his body as the means through which all people can experience God (John 2:21). Jesus is the place where heaven and earth come together, where people can know God’s love and grace, and where they can be with God.
But it doesn’t end there. The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3:16, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” As followers of Jesus, we carry God’s Spirit within us, and thus, we are like mini temples ourselves. We are meant to carry God’s light and love to the far corners of the world, to help people experience God’s life-giving presence through the way we live as followers of Jesus together.
- How does viewing yourself as God’s mini-temple, His representative to the rest of the world, change the way you think about your identity and purpose? Think about this idea as it relates to your family, your work, your hobbies, etc.
- Do your current habits, rhythms, and relationships help people experience the love and mercy of God? If not, how might God be calling you to grow in those areas?
Day 11 | Thursday, Dec. 14
Reading: Daniel 7:9-14
Reflection: When was the last time you had a strange dream? One you couldn’t shake, that stuck with you? God’s people were carted off to a foreign nation, far away from everything they knew and held dear, wondering whether their God was still with them and still cared for them. And in this strange land, as he struggles to stay faithful in a culture that is anything but, Daniel receives a vision from God. He sees God, the Ancient of Days, sitting on a throne, and another with him, a son of man who was given power and authority over all nations and people. This son of man is given a kingdom that could never be conquered or destroyed.
In the days of Jesus, God’s people were once again under the thumb of a foreign power. They hoped for the day a Messiah would come to overthrow their oppressors. They longed to be part of the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom that would never end and couldn’t be shaken. Little did they know the one who would usher in this Kingdom was in their midst. Only Jesus didn’t plan on overthrowing the Roman empire by force. Instead of raising an army of soldiers, Jesus raised an army of disciples.
Jesus’ Kingdom was characterized by generosity and love, hospitality and hope. You and I get to be part of that kingdom–one that will last forever and include people from all walks of life, races, and ethnicities. This doesn’t mean our world is perfect; there are still aspects of the Kingdom that are yet to come. But as we follow Jesus and become more like him, we get to be part of bringing more and more of God’s kingdom to earth.
- Where do you see evidence of Jesus’ everlasting Kingdom at work in the world today?
- How might God be inviting you to participate in bringing more of God’s kingdom to earth as you continue to follow Jesus?
Daily Readings & Reflections:
Day 12 | Friday, Dec. 15
Reading: Psalm 1:1-6
Reflection: There are two paths we can take as we navigate the world around us, but both paths are not equal. On the one hand, we can do whatever we wish, live by our own set of rules and values and see how that works out for us, or we can choose another route. Picture yourself as a tree planted by a stream whose waters feed your roots beneath the soil. What is your stream? What are you allowing to nourish you, to give you life? If it’s anything other than the Word of God, the psalmist warns you’re eventually going to find yourself so dry that a mere gust of wind could blow you away.
In reality, only one man in history has ever gotten this perfectly right. Where we tend to go our own way, Jesus dug his roots in deep, soaking up the wisdom of God and teaching his followers how to produce fruit that lasts, no matter what their circumstances were. It’s for this reason Jesus says in John 15, “I am the vine; you are the branches.” Only when we are connected to Jesus, the true vine, or tree, can we be the kind of people whose lives produce fruit. Apart from Jesus, we can do nothing. He is our source of living water, the one who nourishes us when our rebellious hearts have left us dry and parched.
- Of the two paths described in Psalm 1, which do you find yourself on currently? How do you know?
- What is one step you can take this week to reorient yourself in Jesus as the one who gives you life and direction?
Day 13 | Sunday, Dec. 17
Reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34
Reflection: Something wasn’t working. God’s people had the Law, a roadmap for what it meant to love God and love others, but it wasn’t enough to keep them from turning to other things as their source of life. If God’s people were going to learn how to be truly faithful, God needed to act in a new way. The prophets knew this. God told them a time was coming when He would write the law on their hearts and minds. In this way, God would be with us in a new way.
Many years later, Jesus sat with his disciples around a table. He took bread and broke it, and he took a cup of wine and offered it to each of his disciples, telling them to eat and drink, saying, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” No longer was forgiven of sins mediated by the Temple, but by the broken body and blood of Jesus. It would be these elements, his body and blood, that marked God’s new covenant with His people. Through Jesus, not only do we encounter God’s forgiveness and mercy, we find a model for how to truly live as followers of Christ. It is through Jesus we experience God. And because of Jesus, all our mistakes and missteps are no more because God is truly with us.
- Just like the Old Covenant, God’s people are set free before they are called to walk in God’s statutes. How has your relationship with God led to freedom for you? Are there areas where you’re still hoping for God to move in this way?
- How have you felt God’s presence with you through your relationship with Jesus?
Day 14 | Monday, Dec. 18
Reading: Ezekiel 36:24-28
Reflection: What do you long for? What hopes and dreams do you live towards through your actions?
We have been following the story of a God who longs for the hearts of His people and a nation that chases after their other desires instead. Ezekiel is speaking to the Israelites in exile, living through the consequences of their stumbling and sin. They have behaved like rebellious kids determined to disobey their parents; for generations, they have been worshiping idols, breaking God’s laws, and keeping Him at a distance. And what is the fruit of their actions? Spiraling. Harm to themselves and others. Hearts that are hard like stone.
Here, as the Old Testament draws near to its close, it is clear that no great leader, no set of rules, and no fresh wave of determination to obey can heal their heart problem. Nothing short of a transplant will do, and Ezekiel prophecies into the darkness that one is coming.
God is on a mission to heal and save humanity, and since no earthly person could manage that task of healing their own hearts, the Son of God came to be the heart surgeon himself. He repairs the selfishness and waywardness of the heart, and he gives us his spirit instead. He longs for us, and through this transformation, he gives us soft hearts to long for him, too. Soft hearts that hope and dream for the things of God.
- The deepest desires of our hearts are often what we live towards through our actions. What do your actions say about what you long for? What are your greatest hopes and dreams?
- Are there parts of your heart that are hardened? Where do you need God to soften you so you can long for him and his ways?
Day 15 | Tuesday, Dec. 19
Reflection: In Eden, God creates Adam and Eve in His image. They are created to be like priests and kings over creation, ruling and representing His divine presence, power, and purpose on Earth. After they abandon this calling and are cast out of the garden, humanity is left waiting for deliverance. They wait for God to restore this world and bring them back to life as He intended.
Hope for this restoration is foreshadowed by an enigmatic figure named Melchizedek. Abraham meets Melchizedek in Genesis 14, and he exemplifies what it looks like to be a leader who blesses people and participates in God’s work in the world. He is both a priest and the king over a city called Salem, the city that would later be called Jerusalem. This minor character creates an expectation for readers that there is hope for the roles of priest and king to be joined in a person once more, like they were in Eden.
Yet, throughout the generations, neither Israel’s priesthood nor its kings ever fulfilled this ideal, and centuries later, Israel is still waiting when the prophet Zechariah foretells that the Messiah will “be a priest on his throne.” Zechariah joins in on this conversation about the coming priest-king and declares to Israel that God is sending someone! A Messiah who will take them back to the garden.
These prophecies weave together through the Old Testament like a complex, beautiful tapestry. The author of Hebrews brings all of these threads together and recognizes that Jesus is this priest-king, the one who is like Melchizedek. He is the perfect expression of both roles, creating both an eternal kingdom and an eternal priesthood. Jesus is our hope that, one day, this world will be restored to life as God intended it in the beginning.
- What places and spaces do you walk into daily that could use restoration?
- Not only is Jesus our priest-king, but he is making us all into a royal priesthood. How can you partner with God to bring that restoration and life to your world?
Day 16 | Wednesday, Dec. 20
Reflection: When Jesus steps into the synagogue and speaks the words of Isaiah, he’s waving a flag that says, “It’s me! I’m here. Let’s roll.”
And so his ministry begins.
As we follow Jesus through the four gospels, we see the way he liberates those who are oppressed by spirits, sickness, and sin. He recovers sight to the blind, literally, and spiritually, by making things clear about God, people, and the world that had once been shrouded in darkness. He brings good news to the poor, and comforts those who mourn. In other words, he does what he says he came to do.
Imagine what it would have been like to see this prophecy fulfilled in your own community.
The word “gospel” means good news. For whom is the coming of the Messiah good news? How is the coming of Jesus “good news” for you this Christmas?
- If a stranger asked you why Jesus came, how would you answer?
- Compare your answer to the list offered in Isaiah 61. What’s different?
- Why is the coming of Jesus “good news” for you this Christmas?
Day 17 | Thursday, Dec. 21
Reading: Isaiah 53
Reflection: This prophecy was written seven centuries before Jesus was born. 700 years.
Knowing Jesus, how and why he suffered, it seems impossible that this could not be about Him! And still, it’s astounding. Could God really have had all of this in mind ages before it came to pass?
- In the text, underline anything that reminds you of Jesus. How is your faith affected, knowing this prophecy was written 700 years before Jesus was born?
- Why would God offer a Messiah who had no “beauty or majesty to attract us to him?”
- “We all like sheep have gone astray; each of us has turned to our own way.” Take a moment to reflect on how you have been turning your own way. In prayer, ask God to lead you back to Him.
Daily Readings & Reflections:
Day 18 | Friday, Dec. 22
Reflection: Have you ever asked for a sign? It’s sort of taboo, which is why it would be easy to extend sympathy to Ahaz. But Ahaz was not a good dude. Among other things, he burned his own son as an offering. (Read 2 Kings 16:2-4 for details.) Ahaz demurring God’s offer for a sign is not a sign of piety. It’s safer to assume Ahaz does not want to know what God has to say.
But God will not stay silent. So he will go ahead and offer the sign anyway: a virgin will have a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means “God with us.” Sound familiar?
This is how far God is willing to go for his people to know Him: the cosmic author will write himself into the play so the rest of us on stage can hear his voice.
- Over the course of your life, how has God shown up to you? Either in writing or with spoken words, take a moment to thank God for showing up. Try to be specific.
- Have you ever made choices (conscious or unconscious) to avoid hearing God’s voice?
- How are you experiencing “God with us” this Advent season? If you aren’t, take a moment to ask God to show you a glimpse of himself. He wants to be known by you.
Day 19 | Sunday, Dec. 24
Reading: Isaiah 9:2-9
Reflection: For thousands of years, Israel waited for the one who would save them, who would once and for all defeat the darkness of this world, both within them and around them. Christmas marks the culmination of the story that began with Adam and Eve in the garden.
As we sing “Silent Night,” we celebrate how God’s light entered the world through the surprising promise of a newborn child–the salvation of the world wrapped in the loving arms of his mother and father, surrounded by animals in a lowly manger. To anyone else, it wouldn’t seem like a holy night. What could this child born to humble circumstances do against a world bathed in violence, greed, and darkness?
Jesus wasn’t born in a palace; He didn’t grow up to become a wealthy businessman, military leader, or sly politician. Jesus created a new kingdom, not by bloodshed but by the shedding of his own blood, not by exercising authority over others but through using his power to serve others, not through power, but through love.
It is for this reason on Christmas Eve, we lift high our candles as a reminder that the light has come. As our light illuminates the darkness, we remember that, in the end, darkness cannot win. The light of Jesus comes to break the chains of oppression, to loosen the shackles of darkness, and to guide us in the light of love, justice, and faithfulness. The story of Christmas is the story of you and me and millions of others around the world who rejoice because God is with us. And no matter how deep the darkness, the light of Christ cannot be extinguished.
- Take a moment today to thank God for the gift that is the light of Christ. Spend time reflecting on what this gift means to you personally, to your family, and to the body of believers we call the Church. Is there anything God is teaching you or revealing to you this Christmas that is unique?
Day 20 | Monday, Dec. 25
Reading: Romans 5:6-11, 18-21
Reflection: Today, the weary world rejoices because the long-foretold Messiah has come!
The human heart was broken, and all nations were trapped. Until Jesus.
He has come. The better Adam, who sets right what went wrong in the garden. The better Abraham, Moses, and David. He is the perfect sacrifice, the perfect prophet, priest, and king. This Son of God, whose birth we celebrate today, not only put on flesh but even gave up his own life so that we can have a new birth, too.
“Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Some of us might be bursting with joy today. Some of us might just be distracted from our reality. And some of us might feel like Christmas only serves to multiply the weight of our reality. Our world is not yet fully restored, and God is not yet finished. But no matter where you find yourself today, may you be reminded that, though our world is still weary, it rejoices because of the triumph of this incomprehensible sacrificial love.
In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “God is so free and so marvelous that he does wonders where people despair, that he takes what is little and lowly and makes it marvelous. And that is the wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly…. God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in.”
God marched right in and became what you are so that you could become what he is. We have a new life, a new family, and a new future in him.
- God doesn’t always come the way we expect him to, but nevertheless he comes. Do you have expectations of how or where God should come to you in your life?
- What does a new life and a new future in Jesus look like for you? Where can you rejoice about what God has done, and where can you hope for renewal in the future?
Day 21 | Tuesday, Dec. 26
Reading: Hebrews 4:14-16
Reflection: So, Jesus was born. Now what?
It’s not enough to celebrate his birth, strip the lights off the tree, and pack up the decorations. That’s like receiving the gift, but keeping it unwrapped.
The joy and delight of Jesus’s birth lies in understanding how he lived and why he died.
The writer of Hebrews highlights something important about Jesus: he was just like us, tempted in every way. While he lived, Jesus was not self-righteous or immune from struggle. He wasn’t a Marvel superhero. He wasn’t Hercules. He was human. He gets us.
And still, he managed to keep temptation from evolving into sin. How do you think he did that?
One of the great lies we’re prone to when we’re stuck in a habit we can’t shake, or a lie we can’t re-write, is the message that we are alone. It can sound like this: “I’m the only one who struggles with…” or “Nobody else has…” or “Nobody would understand this…”
What does that voice sound like in your life?
As we move beyond Christmas, take a moment to consider that when God became flesh, he shed every heavenly privilege. He didn’t wear protective armor. He needed his diapers changed, skinned his knees, and became vulnerable to the same things we are as grown-ups. And still, he showed us what it looks like to overcome.
- How would you describe the difference between “temptation” and “sin” to a seventeen-year-old? What tools would you offer her to keep temptation from becoming sin?
- Knowing that Jesus struggled similarly to us, how do you imagine he looks on you in moments of struggle or weakness?
- In what ways are you prone to be tempted? Either in writing or in spoken words, ask Jesus to help you resist temptation before it wreaks havoc as sin.
Day 22 | Wednesday, December 27
Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:16-20
Reflection: Every New Year’s Eve, there are things I hope to leave behind in last year’s calendar. And every New Year’s Day, there are things I hope I will become or do differently in the calendar pages ahead. Old and new. That’s what Paul is writing about in his letter to the Christians in Corinth: In Jesus we are made new. The old stuff is continually being sloughed off to make room for God’s goodness in us. And at the top of the list of what’s “new” is that we are reconciled to God.
To be reconciled is to have what is broken or fragmented made whole again. Our connection with God has been broken by sin, and in Jesus that relationship has been made whole again, reconciled. As we follow him, our assignment is to re-weave the broken pieces of the world: broken hearts, broken relationships, broken creation. We have been reconciled with God, and now we get to help others do the same!
- How has your connection with God been broken in the past?
- Is there anything now that needs to be reconciled so that you can reconnect with God?
- As you examine your life at the end of this year, what relationships might be in need of repair?
Day 23 | Thursday, Dec. 28
Reading: John 15:5-14
Reflection: Throughout the Old Testament, God’s people were often referred to as a vine. God hoped they would produce good fruit, fruit that brought peace, justice, love, and righteousness to a hurting world. But on their own, they struggled, and their fruit turned sour. Jesus called himself the true vine; He thought of himself as the fulfillment of Israel’s story, the one rooted in the life-giving presence and power of God who was, therefore, able to produce good fruit, and lead God’s people to produce good fruit of their own in return.
We like to think we can do everything by ourselves. But Jesus reminds us that if we are not connected to him, we will eventually whither away into nothing. It is only when we abide in Jesus that we are able to draw upon his life-giving nutrients to sustain us. The picture is of a close, intimate relationship with Christ that impacts every aspect of how we live, from our habits, practices, thoughts, decisions, and more. Our connection with Jesus is what produces in us the kind of good fruit Galatians 5 speaks about—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
- What are some alternate vines that the world calls us to “abide” in? What kind of fruit do those vines produce in us?
- How are we called as Christians to “abide” in Jesus? What kind of fruit does that produce in us?
Day 24 | Friday, Dec. 29
Reading: Revelation 21:1-4, 22-27
Reflection: We live in the midst of the now and not yet. Jesus has come, and God’s kingdom is alive and active in the world today. Yet we know things are not entirely as they should be: There is still darkness all around us and within us, and therefore, none of us are immune to trouble or difficulty, sickness or grief. But we stand hopeful despite our circumstances, because we know darkness and evil are only temporary.
God promises a day is coming when all wrongs will be made right, and there will be no more death nor mourning. Jesus comes again to make all things new, including us! In the meantime, we wait with hopeful anticipation, knowing God is with us. But we do not wait idly; we follow Jesus’ example of bringing more and more of God’s kingdom to earth now by doing justice, and loving God and others as ourselves. Until the light of Christ fills every crevice of the earth, we lift high the light that comes from within each of us through our love for Christ. And together we cry out, echoing all creation, saying, “Come, Lord Jesus!”
- What are you hoping will be made new for you in the year to come?
- How can you partner with Jesus and the Holy Spirit in bringing more of heaven to earth now, even as we wait for Jesus to return?