Advent Devotional 2018

​Spend some quiet time with God during the busy Christmas season and learn how Jesus came into this world to give us one of God’s greatest gifts, the gift of forgiveness.

The Advent Devotional provides daily scripture readings and devotions written by our congregants focused on their experience with forgiveness.

Bookmark this page and come back every day to read a new devotional, as well as Advent wreath liturgies on Sundays!

Other Versions:
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These Advent Devotionals have been prepared by people of Virginia Beach United Methodist Church. Jesus came into this world to give us one of God’s greatest gifts, the gift of forgiveness. The Christmas season is often filled with special times with friends and family. These gatherings can be an opportunity for old hurts to resurface. As we receive the forgiveness God has offered us through Jesus, we are able to extend that forgiveness to others. Our prayer for you is that the scriptures and reflections in this devotional along with the time you spend with God in prayer will invigorate your spiritual growth, inspire deeper levels of forgiveness, and help you celebrate this Christmas season in a freeing, new and impactful way.

The Christian calendar starts with Advent. The season of Advent consists of the four weeks preceding Christmas. The word Advent literally means coming. It refers to the coming of Christ as foretold by the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures. Advent is a rich word and is to be understood not only that Jesus the Messiah is coming, but that the Messiah has come and will come again.

The nature of God was revealed to us through His Son, Jesus the Christ. Jesus was born as a child in a manger but came to bring reconciliation through his sacrificial death. Through the gift of Jesus Christ and his death on the cross we can have forgiveness of sins and be in relationship with God. Accepting this forgiveness and living into the reality of God’s love and a life free of bitterness makes possible deeper relationships with others by extending this forgiveness. Advent is a time to celebrate Jesus’ birth but also to more fully realize the gift of forgiveness Jesus offers to us.

During Advent, we have times for special stories, decorating, quiet times with God and preparing for Christmas. One Advent tradition is the Advent wreath. Members of a Lutheran church in Germany first used it. Its circle represents God’s love, never beginning and never ending – the Alpha and Omega. The evergreens symbolize the hope of eternal life. One candle is lit each of the four Sundays in Advent, with the center white candle being lit on Christmas Day. As each fresh candle is lit, the ones from the previous weeks are relit. Each week we are reminded of the candles’ symbolism, preparing our hearts and minds for the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ and the gift of forgiveness he offers to each of us.

Gather the following:
Round Cake Pan (foil ones from the grocery store work great)
Floral Oasis rectangle to fill your cake pan (available at floral suppliers and craft stores)
3 Purple Taper Candles
1 Pink Taper Candle
1 White Taper Candle
Greenery (evergreens)
Clippers

Directions
1. Cut oasis so it is the height of your cake pan and fits down into the pan.
2. Soak the oasis in water for approximately 30 minutes to 1 hour.
3. Place the oasis into the cake pan.
4. Press the candles down into the oasis—White candle in the center. Three purple candles and one pink candle on the outside. Press straight down. You only have one shot. The oasis will form around the candle but you can’t pull it out and try again. If you try, the candle will be unstable.
5. Stick evergreen stems down into the Oasis to form a circle and fill out the wreath.

Advent Wreath Liturgy

The First Sunday of Advent
Hope

Light the First Purple Candle
as everyone says together:
“Jesus said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” John 8:12

Someone Asks: Why do we light this candle?

Someone Responds: The first candle reminds us of the gift of Hope. The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light. They that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them has light shined. Be of good courage, all ye that hope in the Lord, and He will strengthen your heart.

Read Aloud the Scripture and Devotion for today found below.

Time for Sharing: We learned through today’s scripture passage that Jesus was a gift. He gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering. Through Christ, God has forgiven us. Therefore, God asks us to be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another. Think about this holiday season. How might you be kind, tenderhearted and forgiving? Share with each other how you specifically plan to do this in the next few weeks before Christmas.

Sing Together: “O Come, All Ye Faithful”
O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him, Born the King of angels.
Refrain:
O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him
O come let us adore him, Christ, the Lord!

Yea, Lord we greet Thee, Born this happy morning,
Jesus, to Thee be all glory giv’n
Word of the Father, Now in flesh appearing

Pray: Dear God, thank you for the season of Advent and the gift of hope. Help us prepare our hearts for your coming and to remember the true meaning of Christmas. Amen.


Devotional Reading

What is Forgiveness?

Ephesians 4:29-5:2

In Ephesians 4:29, Paul distinguishes between sinful words and encouraging words. This negates the common plea of “I couldn’t help but say it”. As Christians, we know that we are held responsible for the words that we use, and we also know the impact that our words can have on others. So, instead of using “corrupting words”, we should use encouraging and meaningful words.
In Ephesians 5:2, Paul reminds us that we should always remember what God has done for us, and practice selfless love.
During this holiday season, try to remember how we act, speak, portray ourselves, has a bigger impact than we may think. I’m sure we all can remember a time when someone was mean or rude to us. Think about how you reacted? Was it pleasant? Would you, if you could, “redo” that situation? I think that God is always finding new ways to “test” us and help us grow stronger in our faith.

Mike Hart

God’s Gift of Forgiveness through Jesus

Acts 10:39-43

As the people of God, we are forgiven.  We have accepted by faith in God’s grace what Jesus Christ did on the cross of Calvary for all of mankind.   Just think, nobody deserves forgiveness but God promises to grant it to everyone who truly seeks it.  The death of Jesus was a combination of his sacrificial, voluntary act and murder by those responsible for his death.   As the people of God, we have the privilege and responsibility of proclaiming the Good News — Forgiveness based on the merit of Jesus.  Let’s live in freedom and grow the influence of God’s grace.

Blessed by the acts of our Triune God,

Scott Wallace

God’s Gift of Grace to Set Us Free by the Forgiveness of Sins

Ephesians 1:6-8

Has there been a time when someone you know and love made a mistake…and they knew it…and you could see “guilt” all over their face?  The kind of guilt we recognize so easily in the family dog caught chewing on a new pair of shoes or a snack snitched from the kitchen counter.  Drooped ears, sad eyes, wrong and caught at it.  Even worse, is there a time when the guilty party was you, and you felt it with such regret?  And you hoped for forgiveness.

There is a deeper and more serious human condition, our Christian understanding of sin.  During Advent we take time to remember God’s gift of grace to set us free by the forgiveness of sins.  Grace!  Unearned, freely given.  A gift of goodness toward those who have no claim or reason to expect Divine favor. We may think, “I am unworthy, surely I must do something to earn this favor; grace must require something of me before I can benefit by it!”  Writer, Dr. Jerry Bridges, wrote: “There is nothing you can do to make you unworthy of God’s grace.  God’s grace – greater than our deepest, darkest sin.”  Jesus came to give us one of God’s greatest gifts, forgiveness, for all.

Oral Lambert

His Life…for Our Forgiveness

Matthew 26:26-28

As we celebrate Advent we naturally tend to focus our attention and thoughts on the coming of the Messiah – Jesus.  We can almost recite from memory the entire story of his birth from Caesar Augustus’ decree that a census should be taken to the shepherds returning to their fields after having visited the baby in the manger.  That’s the ‘who, when, where, and what’ part of the story, but if we’re not careful, we might skip over the ‘why’ part.  The ‘why’ part is of critical importance.  The ‘why’ of Jesus’ ministry was fulfilled on Calvary’s hill and his subsequent glorious resurrection.

A covenant is not a contract – it’s an agreement worked out between two parties.  It is a binding pact between God and God’s people.  God initiates and establishes the provisions.  We – you and I – have the choice of accepting or rejecting it, but not altering or amending it.  As far back as Noah, God had established covenants with His people.  In Exodus 24, Moses took the blood of young bulls and sprinkled it on the people, declaring, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words” (the Ten Commandments and their accompanying stipulations which the Lord gave to Moses).  Sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it?  Jesus: “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

Blood represented life, and was considered sacred.  It epitomized the life of the sacrificial victim.  The blood of Jesus obtained for all believers forgiveness and eternal redemption.  Fear and hatred put Jesus on the cross that day, but love kept him there.  That love epitomized the length that God will go to forgive.

A paradox of Christianity is that in surrendering, we gain freedom, and a central part of that freedom is that we are forgiven.  We no longer have to carry that ball and chain behind us.  Christ’s atoning blood has swept those sins away.  As Paul said in Romans 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”

The new covenant Jesus spoke of was prophesied by Jeremiah.  “The time is coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel…I will put my law in their minds, and write it on their hearts…For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, never harbored resentments and forgave freely.  When a friend once recalled to her a cruel thing that had happened to her some years previously, she did not seem to remember it.  “Don’t you remember the wrong that was done to you?” asked her friend.  Barton replied “No, I distinctly remember forgetting that.”

In Isaiah, the Lord says “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”  That’s the power of God’s forgiveness, offered to us through the blood of Jesus.

So as we celebrate the approach of our dear Savior’s birth, and we see all the displays and hear the story representing the ‘who, what, where, & when’ – pause for just a moment and remember the ‘why.’

Steve Burich

Forgiveness Brings New Insight and New Feeling

Psalm 103:8-12

“Merciful and gracious is the Lord, slow to anger and abounding in kindness.” – Psalm 103:8

One day my youngest of four sons, at about age seven, stepped on my last nerve. For whatever the reason, that day I had run out of energy to deal with his behavior in a rational manner. I raised my voice and let go of some angry words before sending him to his room.  When I had a few moments to calm down, I realized I was overly harsh and went to him.  “I am sorry,” I told him.  “I was way out of line.”  He looked at me through his tears and said, “Out of line—I thought you were out of your mind!”

We laughed and hugged and were able to discuss the matter.  And forty years later we still laugh over the incident.  Parenting is the hardest job in the world.  We want our children to grow up with a solid foundation of what is right and what is wrong. We want to meet their needs and teach them about our love for them and how God loves them.  There are many good books about parenting, but none covers every situation and every child.  Our careers and finances often add additional stress to our parenting.

If we can recall daily how the Lord is merciful and gracious to us, perhaps we, too, can be slow to anger and abound in kindness to those we love.

Rosemarie Scotti Hughes

Forgiving Is Not Forgetting

Jeremiah 31:33-34

In this season of Advent take a moment to consider someone who has wronged you.  Have you been able to forgive them?  Have you been able to forget?  Does true forgiveness include forgetting? We are fortunate that God’s forgiveness also includes forgetting.

In today’s passage, we find the prophet Jeremiah writing from a besieged Jerusalem during the Babylonian captivity.  The historical backdrop is that the people of Israel have violated their covenant with God and continued to worship idols.  Jeremiah for years has foretold of the coming retribution that now befall God’s people.  Unlike other parts of Jeremiah, today’s portion is positive in nature, foreshadowing the coming forgiveness through Christ and the new covenant.  Jeremiah writes of the day when man and God are again in harmony.  Every man knows God and God says, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

With God’s model of forgiveness in mind, consider our own.  We outwardly profess forgiveness while inwardly we maintain records of each offense.  We seek to protect ourselves from repeat harm or worse we seek vengeance.  I will leave it to the reader to determine whether man can ever truly forget, but I challenge us to consider that the baggage of past harms may be holding us back from present happiness.

Jamison Rasberry

Re-Established Relationship

Genesis 33:1-10

When the story of Esau and Jacob is shared with children, we focus on the story of Esau trading his birthright for a bowl of stew without thinking through the consequences of his actions.  Our focus is often on the importance of making good choices. But studying this story as an adult is like an episode straight out of a scandalous reality show. Rebekkah’s favoring one child over another, she and Jacob deceiving Isaac, Esau’s unbridled anger and threats of murder, Jacob’s flight from his angry brother, his engagement to the beautiful Rachel, only to be tricked into marrying her homely sister, Leah, by a cagey father-in-law, and then more deceit as Laban demands fourteen years of servitude from Jacob, all the while Jacob is fathering children with his two wives and their servants.

It sounds like sin ran amok throughout the story, and if ever there was a reason for God to turn his back on humans this was it.  But like so many other situations when people make a mess of life with bad choices, God takes our brokenness and turns it into something beautiful.  When we look at these verses from Genesis, we see a repentant Jacob returning home after many years to face the brother he deceived.  Esau has every right to despise Jacob, yet he welcomes him with open arms.  His embrace of his brother reminds us that we can choose to forgive, even though Esau’s forgiveness did not lessen the hurt done to him, nor did it condone Jacob’s choices.  But Jacob had already spent years dealing with the consequences of his actions, and more than anything, forgiving Jacob freed Esau from his rage and hatred. This episode of forgiveness was only the beginning of a new life for Jacob as God fulfilled his promise and gave him descendants as numerous as the stars that eventually became the twelve tribes of Israel.

This Christmas season, may we find the grace to forgive those who have wronged us, may we ask forgiveness of those we have wronged, and may we rejoice in the birth of God’s son, who took sin’s crimson stain and washed us white as snow.

Karen Millman

Advent Wreath Liturgy

The Second Sunday of Advent
Love

Light Two Purple Candles 
as everyone says together:
“Jesus said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” John 8:12

Someone Asks:  Why do we light two candles?

Someone Responds:  The first candle reminds us of the gift of Hope. The second candle reminds us of the gift of Love.  The Lord your God, who is in the midst of you, is the Mighty One.  He will save you and rejoice over you with gladness and singing.  He will open the eyes of the blind and love the righteous.  Yea, He will quiet you with His love.

Read Aloud the Scripture and Devotion for today found in the next item.

Time for Reflection:  Jesus is asking us to put ourselves in the place of the servant.  Like the servant, our master, Jesus, has forgiven us much.  Through the gift of Jesus and his death on the cross, our sins have been forgiven.  The Master cancelled the servant’s debt of 10,000 denari (The denarius was the usual day’s wage for a laborer).  Think for a moment, what has God forgiven you?  Jesus asks us to not be like this servant but instead offer forgiveness to others.  We can forgive others because the Spirit of God is within us.  Think for a moment, who has wronged you? Who can you forgive and therefore lift a burden off you and the one you forgive?  Share with each other this circumstance and whom you will ask God to help you to forgive this Advent season.

Sing Together: “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”
Hark the herald angels sing.  Glory to the new born King.
Peace on earth and mercy mild.  God and sinners reconciled.
Joyful all ye nations rise.  Join the triumph of the skies.
With angelic host proclaim, Christ is born in Bethlehem.
Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the new-born King!”.

Pray: Dear God, thank you for the gift of love.  May we share this gift with others and learn how to love unconditionally.  Help us during this Christmas season to practice love and forgiveness with family, friends and strangers.  Amen.


Devotional Reading

Why Should I Forgive?

Matthew 18:21-35

In the parable of the unforgiving debtor, Peter asks Jesus how many times should he forgive his brother for his sins, up to seven times?  Jewish law of the day stated one should forgive no more than three times.  Peter must have thought the perfect number seven was more than enough.  Jesus responded with the story of the debtor who was forgiven by his master only to learn his debtor then sought repayment from one who owed him.

The master expected his debtor to forgive just as the master had done for him and because the debtor did not forgive, he was jailed.  Jesus warned Peter this is how the Father would treat Peter if he did not forgive his brother from the heart.  Just like the master in the parable, Jesus would go on to set the example of forgiveness many more times to include on the day of His death.  Could you imagine the strength of character Jesus possessed to forgive those who were in the act of killing Him?  Today, we forgive others because the Spirit of God is within us.  When we forgive, we lift a burden not only off of ourselves but off of those we forgive, setting a path of forgiveness that will never end.

Tony Hunter

Jesus’ Example of Forgiving

Luke 23:32-43

In this passage, Jesus forgives his executioners and one of the two criminals crucified with him.  As he is being nailed to the cross he says, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  Later as they hang crucified, one of the criminals with him says, “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong…. Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Why would he do this?

Well, maybe in the law ignorance is no excuse, but Jesus is saying they have no idea what they are doing and therefore Jesus has chosen not to impose the rightful penalty for putting the Son of God to death.  And Jesus rewards the heartfelt repentance of the criminal with an eternity in paradise.

How much grace there is in this passage!  They don’t get what they deserve, certainly, just as we don’t get what we deserve.  We see here an example of judgment, maturity, and kindness, even as Jesus is in intense pain (and in the act of taking away the sin of the world and making our forgiveness possible).  When I forgive others in my own life, I am not just emulating Jesus’ example from on the cross, I am identifying with their brokenness, giving up my right to be angry with them, and loving them in a way that shadows Jesus’ example – and allows me to have a right relationship with Jesus.

Rich Lee

Forgiveness Can Lead to Great Love

Luke 7:36-50

When I was told by someone who I had affronted, though unintentionally, that I was forgiven, I felt a great load lifted from my shoulders.  My conscience was relieved.  And I felt a special affection toward that person – a “love.”

Do we love because we are forgiven?
Do we forgive those we love as much as we forgive those who love us?
Think about it.

Love always comes first.

Because we love, we can forgive.
Because we love, we are forgiven.

When we forgive we demonstrate love.
When we are forgiven, we experience love, a “great love”.”

God loved us so much that he sent us his Son.
In Luke 7, the woman who had led a sinful life experienced forgiveness through Jesus and in turn demonstrated great love for Jesus.

We can do the same.

Pat Richards

Forgiveness Provides the Possibility of Freedom from the Pain

John 8:34-36

When I look at my life and think about what God has done for me, freedom through forgiveness is the heart of it all. I grew up in a very abusive home. My mother, siblings and I all suffered at the hands of my very broken and angry father. When I escaped my father in 1995, I knew that my only chance of true freedom was to learn how to forgive him.

It has been a lifelong journey. I learned that forgiveness is a choice and we must choose to forgive over and over again. Forgiveness doesn’t change the outcome of something. I cannot change my dad’s choices. You cannot change what someone else does to you. But forgiveness completely and utterly changes us. It allows us to see what God can do and more importantly allows us to get to be a part of it. God wants us to forgive so that we don’t become something we were never meant to be.

I still see my dad when I look in the mirror. I still have nightmares. I can never escape what he took from us. But after years of choosing to forgive him I had the privilege of interceding on his behalf at the end of his life. To pray for someone that you have every reason to hate is true freedom. My dad and I never reconciled here on earth but I know my forgiving him has affected eternity. I thank Jesus for that.

My prayer is for you to realize that forgiving someone is a gift from God to YOU. Allow Him to show you how to release yourself.

Tonya Brown

Forgiveness Offers Freedom and Room in Your Life

Luke 6:37-38

My father grew up in a small town in rural Wisconsin.  He had a pair of uncles who were farmers.  Henrik and Egil were my grandmother’s brothers.  They inherited the family farm when their Norwegian immigrant parents died.  They spent their whole lives working together and living in the farm house.  But Henrik and Egil were not like the lovable Norwegian bachelor farmers that Garrison Keillor invented for his Lake Woebegone stories. Instead, they argued constantly.

I remember visiting my grandparents when I was a child, and hearing the sounds of angry voices coming from the kitchen.  Grandma’s brothers used to storm over to her house and complain about one another.  Grandma poured coffee, served homemade lefse, and made soothing remarks in the background while Grandpa tried to mediate between the combatants.  There was never a lasting resolution, because each brother was convinced that the problems with crops, livestock, and house maintenance were the fault of the other.  They tried to minimize their contact with one another by sleeping on separate floors.  But with only one kitchen and one bathroom, bitter encounters were inevitable.  Neither brother was willing to move out of the family homestead.  They remained locked in a life where every slight was remembered, and forgiveness was unimaginable.

Henrik and Egil became cautionary figures for my brother, my sister, and me.  Even as young children, we understood how right our parents were in warning us about the consequences of refusing to forgive one another.  We would occasionally fight as all siblings do.  But our parents helped us to learn forgiveness.  After all, we did not want our relationships to resemble the disastrous mess that we witnessed in the lives of two embattled Norwegian bachelor farmers!

Lisa Smith

Love’s Power to Forgive Is Stronger Than Hate’s Power to Get Even

Philippians 2:5-8

Most of us have at some point or another been faced with the seemingly impossible task of forgiving someone we feel has deeply wronged us. When we are at this point, we have a choice to make: to love or to hate. Our initial reaction is sometimes a desire to settle the score, “eye for an eye” style. However, as Christians, we aren’t called to get even. We are called through love to forgive.

Philippians 2:5-8 puts into perspective the sacrifice Jesus made in coming to Earth. He made himself a servant; humbled himself to a criminals’ death out of love that our sins may be forgiven. This sacrifice couldn’t have happened if fueled by hate or by a desire to “get even.” The love God has for us kindles a fire that is everlasting and life-giving. The fire fueled by hate may burn brightly at first, but in the end consumes everything until it is extinguished.

According to Lewis Smedes, there are a few things that really define the act of forgiving: realism, confrontation, freedom, and the knowledge that forgiving is love’s ultimate power.

1. Realism — In order to forgive, you have to accept reality. If someone has hurt you and you make excuses for them or ignore that they hurt you, you’ll never begin to heal.
2. Confrontation — Confrontation and realism go hand in hand. Taking the step past acceptance of the hurt and confronting the person who hurt you and the damage they’ve done unlocks a sense of freedom in us.
3. Freedom — Speaking of freedom, forgiving is something only accomplished when you are truly free. When you drop the worries of uneven scores and future hurts, when you let go of an obligation to preserving someone’s feelings, you begin to experience the true power of forgiving.
4. Forgiving is Love’s Power — Forgiving, and therefore Love, make us at once incredibly weak and incredibly strong. Through love we gain respect for ourselves and others. This allows us to set boundaries on how we let people treat us, and lets others take responsibility for their actions toward us.

By sacrificing his divinity and assuming servanthood, the lamb led to slaughter became the lion who conquers death. Hate can’t fathom this sacrifice, only love can do that, and it is miraculous. In this season of miracles, open yourself up to the beautiful weakness and the awesome power of forgiving.

Katie Hatton

All of Us Need to Forgive and Be Forgiven

Matthew 6:12-15

Christmas is a busy season for everyone. In order for me to stay sane and organized, I’ve discovered that I need to 1) make daily lists, and 2) pray for patience. This season, I’m going to add 3) pray for forgiveness, and 4) forgive others.

This scripture is God’s simple word, saying that if we are to be forgiven, we must forgive others. And it goes so far as to say that, if we don’t forgive others, we ourselves won’t be forgiven for our sins. That’s pretty clear! The last thing we want during the Christmas season is to feel there’s a barrier between us and God.

Forgiveness certainly isn’t always easy. Whether it’s a long-held grievance with family member or friend, or just a passing, petty grudge with a stranger, this is the season to let it go. And how about forgiving yourself? It’s easy to be hard on yourself and feel inadequate in the world’s eyes.

Pray for that forgiveness to come; make the choice to offer the gift of forgiveness to family, friends, strangers, and yourself. And do it every day, so God will return the gift to you.

Jennifer Lundgren

Advent Wreath Liturgy

The Third Sunday of Advent
Joy

Light Two Purple Candles and
One Pink Candle  

as everyone says together:
“Jesus said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” John 8:12

Someone Asks:  Why do we light three candles?

Someone Responds: The first candle reminds us of the gift of Hope.  The second candle reminds us of the gift of Love.  The third candle reminds us of the gift of Joy.  My soul rejoices in God.  He has robed me in the garments of salvation, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments and a bride adorns herself with jewels.  My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.

Read Aloud the Scripture and Devotion for today found in the next item.

Time for Sharing:  We are encouraged through today’s scripture and devotion to be thankful.  Share with one another what you are thankful for this Christmas season.  We are also encouraged to “clothe” ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and love, to offer forgiveness and to let peace rule in our hearts.  Talk about what each of these words means and what they would look like to live out in your life.  Think about the week that is ahead of you.  Share with one another which of these you will intentionally “clothe” yourself with this week.  Picture yourself taking it out of “God’s wardrobe” and asking Jesus to help clothe you with it every day this week.

Sing Together:  “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here, Until the Son of God appears.
Rejoice!  Rejoice!  Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

Pray:  Dear God, thank you for the gift of joy and for the way it brightens our days.  Help us give joy to others through what we say and do.  Show us how to make this Christmas a true season of joy.  Amen.


Devotional Reading

How Do I Forgive?

Colossians 3:12-16

Christmas gift, Christmas gift!  These were my mother’s first words every Christmas morning as long as I can remember.  I know the phrase was part of her childhood, but I never asked her why it was special.  What I found in a Google search was, the person who said Christmas gift first received the first gift, but this was never the case with my mom.  She was deeply unselfish and loved the simple joys of Christmas. My siblings and I will share those words on Christmas morning.  Most importantly is the memory of my mom as I try to live my life as she did, and our heavenly father asks us to – clothing ourselves with kindness and patience.

Why is forgiveness so difficult?  My mother forgave me countless times.  I try to forgive any transgressions daily, but some days it is difficult.   Today’s scripture simplifies the true meaning of Christmas and God’s gift to us, forgiveness.  He tells us that the way we forgive is to be thankful.

I am so deeply grateful for the gift of having my mother for over 40 years.  On Christmas day when God gave us his greatest gift, I will try to keep the peace of Christ in my heart.   I will ask for the gift of forgiveness just as my mother did for me and God does for us.  Be Thankful; Christmas Gift.

Sarah Payne

Forgive Slowly

Luke 17:3-4

A few years ago, I managed a supervisor who treated his employees poorly and had several complaints filed against him.  As his direct supervisor, I was required to take action, counsel him, and hold him accountable for improving his behavior.   I tried extremely hard for months to help him through this difficult time but instead of improving, he made false accusations against me that were devastating.   Eventually, he was removed from his supervisory position and placed in an entirely different department in another section of the building.  I found myself irritated and frustrated every time I ran into him from there on out.

Although he never admitted his wrongdoings or asked for my forgiveness, I decided to forgive him anyway and tried to move on.  But time and time again, I’d catch myself thinking unkind thoughts about him and becoming agitated all over again.  Today’s verse really put things in perspective for me.  Although I had forgiven him, I realized that I had to continue to forgive him, sometimes seven times in one day, to help me get over my anger towards him.  It took a while, but I slowly began to pray for his wellbeing and tried to have empathy for the challenges he faced.  I felt myself becoming less irritated when I ran into him and actually started greeting him in the hallway instead of avoiding him, a true testimony to the power of forgiveness.

Lynn Miller

Forgive with a Little Understanding

2 Corinthians 2:5-7

Release the Beach Balls

I once heard a psychology professor say something like this, “holding on to bitterness and unforgiveness is like trying to hold down multiple beach balls in the ocean.”  They want to pop up and float.  They want to be set free.  It takes a lot of energy to hold them down.  But when we stop pushing and let them float, it frees us to do other things.  That’s how it is with unforgiveness.  When we hold on to it we dwell in the hurt and pain and have a hard time focusing on positive thoughts and healthy relationships.  We are trapped and we can’t move forward.

I have two friends in the same family where there is a lot of pain and unforgiveness.  I mainly know one side of the story but it is upsetting to watch as these two replay old hurts and disappointments and then also dwell on current tensions.  They can’t seem to get past the pain they have caused each other and this robs them of a healthy relationship.  It also affects others who care about them both.

Each year my family visits our almost two hundred year old home in the Georgia mountains.  On the kitchen wall there is a saying that has probably been there since the 1950s.  It says:  “Great Spirit, Grant that I may not criticize my neighbor until I have walked a mile in his moccasins.”  I remember memorizing this as a child and reflecting on this saying many times over the years.

Let us also be reminded of the One who forgives the sins of the world, our precious Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  The Bible teaches us that, “We love because God first loved us.”  With a loving relationship also comes compassion, understanding, give and take and forgiveness.  Forgiveness is a process.  If there is someone you need to forgive, even if the person is yourself, ask God to guide you and lead you.  He will show you the way!  When we decide to stop pushing the beach balls under the water and let them float on top, we have the energy to focus on a brighter future!

Lisa Anthony Miller

Forgive with Anger Left Over

Psalm 13

The psalmist offers us a roadmap for letting go of the griefs and sorrows in our life.  “How long, O Lord?” is often part of our prayers when we are feeling the weight of carrying burdens. The key to relief from problems according to v. 6 is to rejoice in our salvation and sing of the Lord, remembering His goodness.

Unforgiveness is a burden that brings grief and sorrow. A relationship has been broken.  Wrongs, either real or perceived, are held up as the new definition of the relationship. Both parties feel residual anger that is hard to shake.  Anger can intensify over the years or apathy can set in, until the relationship dissolves. There are no winners in this situation, only losers.

What if both parties were to have reconciliation as a goal rather than continuing to argue over who is right and who is not? What if each decided to forgive, without exception, and start over? What if both parties rejoiced in the salvation and goodness of our Lord?

The burden of grief and sorrow would be lifted. A new kind of relationship could be formed, one without continual pain.  Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu, in “The Book of Forgiving,” tell stories of people who courageously forgave after a loss or a heinous crime, and were on the pathway to healing.

Not all relationships can be reconciled, and then those must be released, but relief of the burden still comes to the one who forgives because of the goodness of the Lord.

Rosemarie Scotti Hughes

Forgive a Little at a Time

Matthew 18:21-22

I don’t think I began to think seriously about forgiveness until I became an older adult. By that time there were instances in my life where folks in some way had hurt or disappointed me. As the years passed by I began to lose some resentment, but never completely. As I studied scripture more I started to learn what God’s Grace meant. Armed with the idea of the undeserved forgiveness of God, which is freely given to all of us who are sinful and fall short, I was finally able to really, honestly forgive others and reestablish relationships. When we rely on God through Christ in our daily lives, His Grace is part of the deal! God’s forgiveness of me and my forgiveness of others has given me great joy. In Matthew 18:22 Peter asks Jesus if he should forgive up to seven times. Jesus answered not seven times but seventy seven times.

Betty Moore

Forgive Freely or Not at All

Galatians 5:13-15

God loves us so much, he gives us the free will to choose as we live our daily lives.  It is easy to lose focus from what is important, because of all of the negativity around us.  Most of my life, I have had a difficult relationship with my sister.  We have different goals, beliefs, and our outlook on life is very much the opposite.  On several occasions, she has said or done hurtful things in the past that have ruined family relationships.  She is very self-serving and not appreciative of all that our parents and others have done for her and her family.  I allowed her feelings and behavior to develop a hatred inside of me for everything she had done.  I wanted nothing more than to fight back with revenge and hateful words.  It was constantly on my mind and devouring my life, with every encounter.  Fortunately, through some struggles of my own, I became closer to God, developing a personal relationship with him and began understanding how he wants us to love and live our life through him.  I prayed many times asking God for guidance on how to deal with my relationship with my sister.

Even though she was causing such turmoil in my life, God led me to forgive her personally.  He answered my prayers, while both of our families were attending a Christmas Cantata at my mom’s church.  In a split second, I took the opportunity and asked to talk to her for a moment.  I told her that I did not want to argue with her anymore and I apologized for anything I had said that may have hurt her.  I told her I wanted us to get along as a family and wanted us to respect each other, no matter what our differences were.  She didn’t say many words and never apologized for any of her words or actions during our talk, but I was ok with that.

God led me to this conversation and allowed me to forgive my sister.  Since then, I have felt God’s love more than ever.  Our relationship is not perfect, but we do spend time together and are able to get along.  Forgiving freely and allowing others to determine what they do with your forgiveness is not easy. But God gave his only son to forgive us for our sins; he gave this freely for the love of all.  Love your neighbor, and use God’s love and grace for forgiveness as we know we should.

Love and Peace from the Felts family, Merry Christmas!

Mike Felts

Accepting God’s Forgiveness Enables Me to Forgive

1 John 1:8-10

This verse has often been referred to as “God’s Bar of Soap”. Only He can wash us clean. Instead of giving us the punishment we deserve,  Jesus Christ paid for all our sins and all our wrongs.   Ephesians 4:30 says “To forgive as God did is the starting point for genuine forgiveness.” What is the alternative to not showing forgiveness?  It is bitterness coupled with resentment.  But you ask,  “How could I ever forgive that person who hurt me so deeply?”  You’re right. Alone, you can’t. You need God’s help. The more forgiven you feel by God, the more forgiving you’ll be toward others.  Just ask Him!  He won’t let you down.

We all have EGR people (Extra Grace Required) in our lives. These irritable EGRs are like “heavenly sandpaper” sent to smooth our rough edges so we can be more like Him.  The more grace you accept from God, the more gracious you will be toward others. Consider those EGRs as opportunities rather than obstacles in your life.  You have the ability to show them grace because God gave you His gift of forgiveness.  Accept it, embrace it, and “Pass It On.”  Then, His Peace and Love will flow through you.

Ron & Jean Dyer

Advent Wreath Liturgy

The Fourth Sunday of Advent
Peace

Light Three Purple Candles and
One Pink Candle

as everyone says together:
“Jesus said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” John 8:12

Someone Asks:  Why do we light four candles?

Someone Responds:  The first candle reminds us of the gift of Hope.  The second candle reminds us of the gift of Love.  The third candle reminds us of the gift of Joy.  The fourth candle reminds us of the gift of Peace.  The wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the kid.  The calf and young lion will play together, and a little child will lead them.  In His days there will be abundant peace until the moon is no more.

Read Aloud the Scripture and Devotion for today found in the next item.

Time for Sharing:  In today’s scripture, the Apostle Paul reminds us that through Christ we are a new creation, the old is gone and everything has become new.  Through Jesus, God brought us back to God’s self and has given us the task of bringing others back to God.  We are invited to be ambassadors for Christ, Jesus’ official messengers.  Chip Wittmann is Christ’s ambassador by serving in the Virginia Beach Correctional Center, giving an opportunity for these men to share how they are experiencing the power of God’s forgiveness.  Share with each other how you are serving as Christ’s ambassador or where God might be calling you to serve as Christ’s ambassador.

Sing Together:  “Away in a Manger”
Away in a manger, no crib for His bed,
The little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head.
The stars in the sky looked down where He lay,
The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.

Be near me Lord Jesus, I ask thee to stay
Close by me forever and love me I pray.
Bless all the dear children in thy tender care
And fit us for heaven to live with thee there.

Pray:  Dear God, thank you for the gift of peace. Help us put peace into practice in our lives and show others the path to true peace.  Remind us to serve as peacemakers and to share the love of God with those in need.  Amen.


Devotional Reading

Reconciled Through Christ and Given Ministry of Reconciliation

2 Corinthians 5:16-21

If you drive south from the church along General Booth, down Nimmo Parkway to the Virginia Beach Correctional Center, walk through the metal detector, through two iron gates and up the elevator you can get to C wing. Here inmates are housed in “pods” of roughly 50 men that have a common area with a seating area surrounded by two floors of cells.  To communicate you talk and exchange books through what looks like an oversized mailbox about waist high.  Tonight we’re running the book cart with Don.  Don must be about 70 from Trinity Church.  He’s one of those Christians who has been bringing the Word to this dark place for years.  Why he does it so consistently defies rational explanation.

After serving about 15 folks, handing out books and Bibles we meet our last two men.  They’re bending down at the opening telling us how they’re trying to change their lives running a prayer group amongst themselves.  “We’re trying to become better people when we go home to our community, wives, and children.”  They’re a little scared.  “We’re working on trying not to swear.”  There’s a pause.  Where do we go from here?  My partner Don says “get a pen and write this down.  I want you to read this over and over, and internalize it, and believe it.”   It was 2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:  The old has gone, the new is here!”

Sometimes the toughest person to forgive is ourselves.  For these guys the wonder and challenge is making this forgiveness and new start real.  When you’re literally brought to your knees wanting to change in the cellblock, it can and does happen. Christ is the bridge to forgive the past and start a new and powerful life forward.  Two “pods” down through the same mailbox opening my dreadlocked, tattooed conversation partner shares how Christ’s forgiveness has empowered him to lead his wife in prayer over the phone from VBCC now that he has been changed by Christ.  Here the power of His forgiveness is real.

God’s gift of forgiveness empowers us to move beyond the mistakes of the past and become the children of God that He intended and a blessing to others.  The guys in the orange jumpsuits are wearing their mistakes, outside VBCC they can be buried.  Christ doesn’t care.  My testimony is that He enters gently to provide forgiveness as it says in Isaiah 42:3 “A bruised reed he will not break, a smoldering wick He will not extinguish.”  Jesus’ power of forgiveness is real to me, is it to you?

Chip Wittmann

Birth of Jesus

Luke 2:1-7

Whoever came up with the phrase “necessity is the mother of invention” must have known MY mom!  Some of my best Christmas memories are of the trees that Mom decorated.  Mom often accused Dad of buying a tree “because he felt sorry for it!”

One year he brought home a nice-sized cedar tree, but it was so dry that it was already turning brown.  So Mom bought some gold spray paint, and we had a gold Christmas tree that year.  It really showed off our ornaments!  (…although it did remind us of Moses’ burning bush!)

Then there was the year that Dad bought a fir tree, which was nice and tall, but had very sparse branches.  So Mom got the cotton from the first aid kit, and stretched and fluffed it until she had enough to look like snow on the branches.

But the most creative solution was the pine tree that had several big “holes” between the branches.  She made HUGE red crepe paper poinsettias, which covered the holes quite nicely.

Watching my mom “redeem” our less-than-perfect Christmas trees gave us a hint of the miracle that awaits us on Christmas morning when we celebrate the birth of our Redeemer!

Bev Boyer

Advent Wreath Liturgy

Christmas

Light all Five Candles
as everyone says together:
“Jesus said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” John 8:12

Someone Asks:  Why do we light five candles?

Someone Responds:  The first candle reminds us of the gift of Hope.  The second candle reminds us of the gift of Love.  The third candle reminds us of the gift of Joy.  The fourth candle reminds us of the gift of Peace.  This fifth white candle shows us that the waiting is over.  Jesus Christ, the Messiah has been born!

Read Aloud the Scripture and Devotion for today found in the next item.

Time for Sharing:  The shepherds witnessed the power and the presence of God when they found Mary and Joseph and saw the baby lying in the manger.  They saw and believed what the angels had told them:  he is the Christ, the savior for all people.  God longs for us to see and believe.  His power was not simply present at this one moment in time.  Jesus is alive and present today.  God is demonstrating his power and presence to you every day.  How have you experienced the power and presence of God this Christmas season?  What is your reaction to these encounters with God?  What verbs will you use?  Share your experiences, responses and reactions with each other.  

Sing Together:  “Joy to the World”
Joy to the world!  The Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing.
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the World, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

Sing Together:  “Go, Tell It on the Mountain”
Refrain:  Go; tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere,
Go; tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born.
1.  While shepherd kept their watching o’er silent flocks by night,
   Behold throughout the heavens there shone a holy light.
2.  Down in a lowly manger the humble Christ was born,
   And God sent us salvation that blessed Christmas morn.

Pray:  Lord, we praise you for the gift of your Son, Jesus.  Help us to recognize Your presence and love in our lives each day.  Fill us with your Holy Spirit so that we, like the shepherds may go out glorifying and praising you for all the things we have heard and seen.  Amen.


Devotional Reading

Shepherds and the Angels at Jesus’ Birth

Luke 2:8-20

What is your reaction after encountering the Christ Child?  Today’s scripture passage has many reactions from a cast of characters two thousand years ago. Let’s take a closer look.  The shepherds, after experiencing the angels’ announcement, hurried to find the baby in Bethlehem.  After seeing the baby, the shepherds told all present of their angel encounter in the field.  Then, they went away singing praises.  A different translation says they left glorifying God.

And what of the group at the stable?  In comes a band of shepherds babbling on about angels, a baby, and a Savior.  Their reaction? “All who heard this were amazed” (v. 18). Another translation uses the word “wondered at what the shepherds said.” And then there’s Mary: “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.”

Such a variety of responses to the news that the baby in the manger is to be their Savior. Things haven’t changed much in the reaction department over two thousand years.  There are those with an urgency to tell others about Jesus, even folks they don’t usually associate with, just like the shepherds.  Many hearers of the news of a Savior are amazed and wonder at what they hear, but then they don’t take the next step of weaving that amazement into the fabric of their lives by taking the Christ Child into their hearts.  And then there are the Marys among us, the ones who need to ponder, to chew on a concept for a while in order for it to take hold of the heart.  The ‘speedy tellers’ need to be patient with the ‘Mary-thinkers’ of today.  The Lord God made us all.

So, what is your reaction to the Christ Child?  You have plenty of verbs to choose from.

Amy T. Simpson