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!
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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
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
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.
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.
What is Forgiveness?
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.
God’s Gift of Forgiveness through Jesus
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,
God’s Gift of Grace to Set Us Free by the Forgiveness of Sins
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.
His Life…for Our Forgiveness
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.’
Forgiveness Brings New Insight and New Feeling
“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
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.
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.
Advent Wreath Liturgy
The Second Sunday of Advent
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.
Why Should I Forgive?
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.
Jesus’ Example of Forgiving
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.
Forgiveness Can Lead to Great Love
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.
Forgiveness Provides the Possibility of Freedom from the Pain
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.
Forgiveness Offers Freedom and Room in Your Life
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!
Love’s Power to Forgive Is Stronger Than Hate’s Power to Get Even
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.