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

The First Sunday of Advent
A Symbol–Light

Liturgy: 

Light the First Purple Candle

as everyone says together:

“Jesus said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will nver 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 a symbol, light.  The gift of Jesus brought light to everyone.  The light shines in the darkness and the darkness can never extinguish it.

Read Aloud the Scripture and Devotion for today found on the next page.

Time for Sharing:  Can you identify places that “darkness” has crept into your life unnoticed?  Share areas of your life into which trouble and darkness have snuck.  The scripture reminds us that the light of Jesus shines into our darkness and the darkness can never extinguish it.  How can you allow Jesus to shine into those dark areas of your life?  Share how you will allow Jesus to be the center of your focus and allow His light to shine this season.

Sing Together:  “Silent Night”

Silent night, Holy night, all is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child.
Holy Infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace, Sleep in heavenly peace.
Silent night, Holy night, Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth, Jesus, Lord at Thy birth.

Pray:  Dear God, thank you for sending Jesus to be the Light for all of us.  Help us to allow the light of Jesus to shine into our lives.Amen

Devotional:

“Light Shines in the Darkness”

Hailey, age three, likes to take a walk around the block with her grandmother.  One summer day when they were part of the way around the block she announced, “Mimi, I need to sit down and cool off!”  She selected a spot in direct sunlight.  Momentarily a cloud drifted across the face of the sun casting its shadow of “darkness” all around. Hailey exclaimed, “Mimi, where did the sun go?”  She noticed the change right away!

We live in a transitory world in which shades of darkness play in our circumstances to the point of becoming near second nature for us.  There are times when we “notice” right away. At other times the influence on our life comes gradually, going unnoticed until a moment of regret.  

The Christmas celebration approaches!  Let us focus on God and His gift.  He makes it clear to us that He is life and “the light of all mankind”.  “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5) By allowing Jesus to be the center of our focus He will overcome the darkness and reflect His light off of us.   Joy!

Oral Lambert 

Discussion/Reflection Questions:

Pastor Mark Miller has prepared Discussion/Reflection Questions to go along with the sermon: A Classic Christmas — A Symbol.

You can access the Discussion/Reflection Questions in these two places:

  1. VA Beach UMC app – Download the VA Beach UMC app at the App Store
  2. www.vbumc.org/sermons

From the app touch the three dots at the bottom right of the screen … (More) there you will find Sermon Weekly Guide. Click the arrow next to the date and sermon title for the week.

On the webpage, click on the sermon series graphic A Classic Christmas. There you will find the Discussion/Reflection Questions for each Sunday in this series.

You can also listen to the sermon from the website or app which will be posted by Sunday afternoon after the sermon is preached that morning. To listen to the sermon:

  • from VA Beach UMC app click on the headphones at the bottom of the screen.
  • from vbumc.org hover over worship and click on sermons.

Devotional:

John 1:9-14 

“Light and Word”

“That was the true light, which lights every man that cometh into the world.  He was in the world and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.  But as many as received him to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.  He came unto his own and his own received him not.  Which were born not of blood nor of the will of flesh nor of the will of man but of God and the word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the father, full of grace and truth.”

My Father, Julio M. Fuentes, sacrificed many years and hours to give me the best education any child could have.  He paid for a private Catholic education administered by Irish Immaculate Conception nuns, then 4 years by Marisi brothers.  I loved the Lord and felt that he loved me.  Upon graduation the United States Government stepped in and took control of my life.  I remembered “that shalt not kill”.  For 14 years I lived it.  Vietnam changed all of that. When I returned, America threw eggs, tomatoes, and other things at my uniform.  No one would hire me and the beginnings of a very lonely dark part of my life began.  At first it was just a resentment. It grew into anger then hate.  It was not toward the government where it should have been, but it was towards God.

I could not sleep more than 2 hours without waking up in Vietnam. I heard the voices of soldiers calling out, sweating, the ammunition going off.   It did not stop.  I started to drink, smoke marijuana and cocaine just to get some sleep.  I had cut off the light by hating what loved me.  I came home in 1972.  For years I lived without his light.  It wasn’t until 1996 that someone told me that God did not send me to Vietnam but “he brought me home.”

I fell to my knees that day. I asked him for forgiveness.

That day I found myself in a V.A. hospital in the Bronx.  Don’t know how I got there, but I do know I said a prayer for the first time in 24 years. I asked him to forgive me.  I asked him to teach me how to sleep and to introduce me to the strongest people on this planet that could teach me more about him.

I live in Virginia Beach now and he has led me to the most amazing family of love on earth.  Not only have I seen his light but I am fed by “his word” by the wonderful army of teacher angels that have accepted me.  The new birth I have received has been nightmare flashbacks, voice – free – sleep – filled nights. He not only forgave me, he gave me a whole church full of teachers.

His light is his son who is his word.

Danny Fuentes

Devotional:

“Let There Be Light”

Genesis 1:1-5

“Gran Martha, I saw Jesus,” my four-year-old brother exclaimed from his hospital bed. “What did he look like,” she asked. Cret responded something like this, “He has brown hair, a long white robe and there was a bright light!”

It was the mid-1970s when my younger brother, Cret, had a nearly fatal accident in the yard. In the hospital our respected Dr. John Clarke explained to my parents that Cret had flat lined briefly. As a four year old my brother stood face – to – face with The Light of The World, our loving savior, Jesus Christ, who gently guided him back to this life. Forty years later my brother continues to carry out the great plans that our Lord has in store for him!

In the Bible we learn that light signifies God’s presence and favor. As Christians we have the responsibility to share and reflect God’s light. When we let ourselves grow in faith and let the Lord fill us with his light and goodness and we share this light with others, we have the amazing ability to aid in advancing the kingdom of God!

In the Gospel of John Chapter 8 Verse 12 we read that Jesus spoke to the people once more and said,” I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”

God extends his love, light, blessings and grace to us! What an amazing gift he offers to us. We probably come in contact everyday with people who have not experienced God’s transforming love and grace. During this Advent season I pray that we will be able to reflect God’s light to others!

Lisa Anthony Miller

Devotional:

“Where is God Leading Me?”

Exodus 13:17-22

As a child, I knew how difficult it was for my mother to balance taking classes towards her master’s degree in the evenings, working nights as a nurse, and spending time with me and my sister during the day. However, she did it beautifully with grace and determination.

As an adult, I followed the path that I felt chosen for and became a teacher. Having my mother’s strong work ethic, I worked late into the evenings and on the weekends to be the best teacher I could possibly be. After my mother’s death in 2006, I delved into my work even more so, grateful that I had my job and my students to lift me up and take my mind off of missing my mother.

However, after having my own 2 daughters, I struggled to balance being the best teacher possible and also the mother that I wanted to be. I came to a point in my career when I sincerely considered quitting the profession, one that I felt called to since I was a child, in order to be able to be a better, more present and active Mom. I prayed about it and truly felt that my place was at home with my family.

At about the same time, I was approached by the Reading Specialist at my school and asked if I’d be interested in being a member of a cohort in a UVA Master’s Program. My immediate response was, “Heck NO! How in the world would I possibly fit that in, especially considering how busy I am already?” But, again, I prayed on it. I prayed, “Dear Lord. I am the clay. You are the potter. I am the work in your hand. I trust in you. Amen.”

God led the Israelites on a more difficult route, the road less traveled, that didn’t make conventional sense then and still doesn’t. But sometimes, God saves us from ourselves.

Against all the inner voices in my head that were discouraging me, telling me there was no way I could ever make time to do what’s necessary for a master’s program while also being a wife, a mother, and a teacher, I followed God’s will and I began the UVA Master’s Program in the fall of 2015. And after 3 long and difficult years, I graduate this May. I could never have done it without the Lord’s continuous support and encouragement, day and night.

God encourages us by giving us signs of His presence in the day and in the night. He wants us to know we’re not alone.

By next September I will be a Reading Specialist, a position that will not only provide me with the work/life balance that I was looking for when I considered taking the easier path, but it will also still provide me the opportunity to continue the work that God intended me to do all along; to teach. And although I took the longer, more difficult path to get there, I know I’ve made myself, my Mother, and our Father, proud!

Life has meaning only in the struggle. Taking the more difficult path as we are led by God is difficult. And possibly, only a few trusted friends or family may know just how much you had to struggle in order to follow God. But have faith that God will take care of you and provide for you. He will walk alongside you each step of the way as a pillar of strength. Hold on to the hope that if you can just make it through, you will grow because you have endured. You will have a testimony!

So, please ask yourself, “Where is God leading me?”

Lisa Austin

Devotional:

“Light in the Darkness”

John 8:12

My Life Group brother, Rich, and I were making our way down the hallway of the Virginia Beach Correctional Center as part of Virginia Beach UMC’s prison ministry. The facility has that institutional disinfectant smell, guards walk by in their dark blue uniforms from their corner monitoring stations and food trays with half eaten corn bread remain on push carts outside the cell blocks. It was toward the end of our evening shift when the guard opened the last door that looked like a meat locker and we entered to a small area in front of a row of bars with about 20 men inside. We could barely see because the lighting was so poor and we were suddenly taken aback as out of the darkness a man yelled “well, what do you think is the greatest commandment?”. In the cell two middle – aged men were debating the scriptures and began to engage us in their debate. As we wheeled our book cart closer and began handing out Bibles it became evident that not only was their scriptural command greater than ours but the two men in that cell block had a peace and confidence seldom found outside the walls of our local jail.

Why? The Light had shown itself even in the darkest of places. In this place the battle is REAL between Light and darkness and it is fought every day. In that cell block and others the Light and hope that Jesus brought into the world is found through a combination of reading the Word and at night at “prayer calls” when a leader will rally others to pray before bed. It is there also amongst that fellowship and in the midst of reflecting on their circumstances that many men are handing their lives over to the Lord and yearn for the day they get out so they can go to church and be baptized. Maybe sometimes it’s easier to see the Light in the darkness. Thank you Jesus for bringing and being the Light!

Chip Wittmann

 

Devotional:

“Mighty Works”

John 9:1-7

A year and a half ago my life was changed forever with an emergency trip to the ER that ended with a diagnosis of Stage IV Endometrial Cancer. While trying to digest this unexpected news, my thoughts immediately went to what I had or hadn’t done that had caused this. Why didn’t I get myself to a doctor sooner? Why was I so stupid as to ignore the symptoms? Yet when I tearfully shared this self-loathing with a close friend, her response was, “God isn’t going to hold those things against you, so why should you?” Over the coming months, as I endured a multitude of tests, scans, biopsies, and eventually chemotherapy and radiation, I was cared for by a team of amazing medical professionals, and I spent a lot of time with other women battling cancer right alongside me. I witnessed miracles as God not only allowed me to tolerate my treatments with few serious side effects, but my prognosis changed from a deadly, aggressive form of cancer to one with a much better survival rate. Biopsies came back negative, and scans showed that my treatments had been highly successful. Through all of this I was able to share my story with anyone who would listen and to give God the glory, as I saw and experienced the good that could come out of a potentially terrifying situation.

In reading these verses from John, I realized that my cancer was not a punishment from God, but an opportunity to display His mighty works. This Christmas season, let us be reminded of how blessed we are that we have the light of the world who opens our blind eyes and allows us to see!

Karen Millman

Devotional:

“Salt and Light”

Matthew 5:13-16

A pastor I knew once would close his prayers with “Be the salt and light in a dark and tasteless world.” While some may think that’s a relatively pessimistic view of our world, let’s face it – the media organizations perpetuate it with sensationalizing “bad news.” But what do these passages from Matthew mean?

Salt was used as both a preservative and a seasoning in Jesus’ day. Jesus used this as a metaphor to point out to that we as Christians have a responsibility to maintain our Christian values so that we can keep the Word alive and fresh. Our society, as evidenced by the last 50 years, is in moral decay. If we – the salt – lose our “saltiness”, i.e., our Christian values, then what is there to prevent further decay? While there are millions of Christians in the world today, think of Jesus’ time – he and a band of disciples and followers were it. Armed with the Holy Spirit, they went about “purifying” the world, one person at a time.

As the previous sentence points out, just being “salty” isn’t enough. Salt in a shaker doesn’t accomplish anything. You have to shake it out to season, or spread it over the raw meat as they did in Jesus’ time, to stop the decay and destroy the bacteria that would putrefy it. It’s the same today. We can’t sit around in our Lazy Boys at home, or when out in the world conform to what the world says. Jesus told his disciples that they were the light of the world. He knew that his days were numbered, and that the light that he brought into the world must be kept burning. We are challenged with the same responsibility – the time has never been more critical. We are heirs to these early Christians, and the light that was born into the world that first Christmas day – the Light of the World – must not be hidden but must be displayed, so that our words and actions bring glory to God and make others want to know the source of our joy.

So how do we share our “light” in a multi-cultural world where the fastest growing religion is “none”? Beat them on the head with our Bibles? Of course not, but follow the advice Pastor Mark gave us:

1. be respectful and gracious (but share with conviction)
2. be curious about other religions, even the “none” (make yourself smart)
3. be careful (condemnation can undo the best witness you give)

Now go and let your light shine this Advent season!

Steve Burich

The Second Sunday of Advent
A Story–A Christmas Carol
by Charles Dickens

Liturgy:

Light Two Purple Candles
As everyone says together: “Jesus said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will nver 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 a symbol, light. The second candle reminds us of Ebenezer Scrooge and the story, A Christmas Carol.

Read Aloud the Scripture and Devotion for today.

Time for Reflection: The rush and busyness of the Christmas season can lead us to focus more on material possessions than the real meaning of Christmas. Share how the focus on “things” and “stuff” has been a part of your life lately. We too can change our perspective just as Ebenezer Scrooge did. Share how you might live out the lesson of “God gave us people to love and ‘things’ to use” this Christmas season.

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.
O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him
O come let us adore him, Christ, the Lord!

Pray: Dear Heavenly Father, help us not to focus on the worldly goods around us but on the people and true gifts you have given us. May the peace of God, which is far beyond human understanding, keep our hearts and minds safe in union with Christ Jesus. Amen. (Philippians 4:7)

Devotional

We had a relative who, over the course of a working life, amassed a large amount of “stuff.” Upon her retirement, after 50 years at her job, she decided to return to her hometown to live. She had already furnished the house she would move into. She sold her current house but, instead of downsizing, she decided to move the contents of the sold house to the retirement house.

At the new place, she had several sheds built and rented storage space to house her “stuff.” All her remaining years of good mental health were spent trying to figure out how to arrange and what to do with the “stuff.” Just a few days ago, we gave the last of it to Goodwill. Our relative made the mistake of building “bigger barns” trying to keep it all.

From what we know, Luke’s “rich fool” was not a bad person. Neither was our relative. Both had lost perspective about the relative unimportance of “things.” The rich man did not live long enough to enjoy the abundance of his recent harvest. His thoughts were centered on the personal pleasure the harvest would bring him. Our relative’s thoughts became centered on how to arrange everything in order to hold on to it. She was tormented and fretted constantly over her belongings.

Based on the conclusions of wise men, St. Augustine among them, there is a three-fold lesson we might take away from Jesus’ parable and our relative’s experience.
• Observe how much God has given us and take from it what we need; the rest is needed by others.
• God gave us people to love. He gave us things to use.
• Things should enable us, not define us.

We should be careful not to begrudge others the material possessions they have honestly earned. The Scriptures do not dictate that we be rich or poor. They do acknowledge that there will be rich and poor. Poverty should not be smiled upon if one has the wherewithal to do better. If we are poor, it does not follow that we are lazy. If we are rich, it does not mean that we are thieves. What we must realize as the Scriptures tell us is that “All things come of thee, O Lord.” Let us use these lessons to govern ourselves in the use of the abundant blessings God has granted us.

John and Lecettie Simpson

Discussion/Reflection Questions

Pastor Mark Miller has prepared Discussion/Reflection Questions to go along with the sermon:  A Classic Christmas — A Story.

 You can access the Discussion/Reflection Questions in these two places:

  1. VA Beach UMC app – Download the VA Beach UMC app at the App Store
  2. www.vbumc.org/sermons

From the app touch the three dots at the bottom right of the screen … (More) there you will find Sermon Weekly Guide.  Click the arrow next to the date and sermon title for the week.

On the webpage, click on the sermon series graphic A Classic Christmas.  There you will find the Discussion/Reflection Questions for each Sunday in this series.

You can also listen to the sermon from the website or app which will be posted by Sunday afternoon after the sermon is preached that morning.  To listen to the sermon:

  • from VA Beach UMC app click on the headphones at the bottom of the screen.
  • from vbumc.org hover over worship and click on sermons.

 

Devotional:

Philippians 2:3: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.”

As young children growing up in Christian households, our actions were not only influenced by God’s teachings but also through storytellers like Charles Dickens who wrote the wonderful novella, A Christmas Carol in 1843. We all know the story about the old miser Ebenezer Scrooge who was a very selfish businessman who loved money more than anything else. As the story goes, it took the visit of four ghosts to scare the spiteful Ebenezer into reflecting on his own past, his current lot, and what the future would hold if he did not lay aside selfishness and treat others with respect and common courtesy. Just as Dickens was inspired to write his story based on a visit to a shelter for street kids, so too must we be visually reminded of the plight of others so as to not be blinded by our own selfishness. Philippians 2:3 reminds us that it is only through our humility that we can gain a true perspective of ourselves which in turn helps to build the church and link us closer to Christ’s example. Likewise, A Christmas Story provides us a very important lesson about the true giving spirit of Christmas. The story serves not only as a seasonal reminder to help others less fortunate than ourselves but as one throughout our Christian lives.

Tony Hunter

 

Devotional:

John 5:1-9

John’s story occurs on the Sabbath of a feast day, a time to follow the Jewish laws of Shabbat. I learned something of these rules firsthand on my recent trip to Israel, particularly regarding elevators! The hotel had a designated Sabbath elevator, which automatically stopped at every floor so that those who were observing the Sabbath would not have to push the buttons for their floor and thus violate rules against working on the Sabbath.

Jesus’ rules were paradoxical for first century Jerusalem. He acted out of concern for humanity, breaking Sabbath law by instantly healing the man who could not get to the spring when it bubbled. Secondly, Jesus gave the man a direct command that violated the law, because it was forbidden to carry a mat on the Sabbath. The healed man did not stop to think about whether or not he would be breaking the law. He gladly accepted healing and his new life.
When we sense God telling us to do something, we may try to decide whether we are really hearing from God, sometimes using our deliberation as an excuse not to act. We may miss the blessing intended for us or another by not responding without delay to God’s call.

Rosemarie Scotti Hughes

 

Devotional:

2 Corinthians 7:8-10

I could give you so many examples of my own regret and yet I really wondered what would happen if we saw regret through the eyes of hope and our Savior. When Jesus revealed these thoughts to my heart, I was overwhelmed with sadness and cried for him. We like to think of Him as being invincible and yet He was humanly frail in so many ways.
We celebrate Christmas because it represents Jesus being born to this world as God’s gift to us. Yet Jesus didn’t come to this world for a happy life. He came with one purpose and mission – to die so that He could save us. His was anything but an easy life. During His time here there were moments as a human that Jesus struggled with regret and Satan tried to make Him unsure of His path. The mission was almost impossible and there was so much against Him. But instead of allowing those struggles to define Him, Jesus constantly went to His Father in prayer. He gave it all to God over and over again and God continually gave back to Him the strength and love that He needed to fulfill His purpose. It was not a one time thing. Jesus had to depend on God and take the same struggles to Him many times. Our individual missions may look different but we were all born with the same purpose – to learn to love and learn to be loved. We constantly need help to overcome our regrets and struggles. Jesus didn’t fulfill His mission to save us by His own greatness. He did it through His complete dependence on His Father. If Jesus needed constant help, don’t we?

I ask you to search your heart right now. What regret is holding you back and defining you? Aren’t you tired of holding it? Take it to the Father in prayer. Trust Him the best that you can and see what He will do with it. Don’t continue to let regret keep you from fulfilling your purpose in God.

Tonya Brown

 

Devotional:

“Repentance”

Luke 19: 1-10

Luke 19:8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

When our son, Watson, was 3, we stopped at a Sheetz gas station on our way to West Virginia. An hour down the road, we discovered that Watson had taken a Miss Piggy purse from the shop. We turned around and practiced what Watson had to say to the cashier at the store. He was resistant – angry, embarrassed, and frustrated. When we finally arrived back to Sheetz, Watson said the 3 steps we practiced in the car. 1. I took the Miss Piggy purse. 2. It was wrong. 3. I’m sorry. He was ready for the consequences and was very relieved when the police weren’t called and he wasn’t hauled away to jail.

I‘m proud of Watson and wish I would always follow these 3 steps when I sin. It is easy for me to justify my actions. “Everyone is watching that show on television. “ “I’m not gossiping. I’m sharing a concern about a person I know.” “No one will know. I’m not hurting anyone.” Until I admit what I do is wrong, repentance is impossible.

Zacchaeus took that step of repentance. 1. As a dishonest tax collector, he admitted that he took money from the poor and cheated people. 2. He knew it was wrong. 3. He was sorry and was ready to repay the money he owed.

The Ghost of Christmas Present helped Scrooge see his need for repentance. Why did Zacchaeus realize he needed to repent? Zacchaeus actively searched for Jesus. Jesus responded by stopping under the tree Zacchaeus had climbed, calling Zacchaeus by name, and inviting himself to Zacchaeus’s home to hang out with him. Zacchaeus could change because he had a relationship with Jesus.

That’s the relationship that will change our lives. Search for him, and Jesus will be there for you, too.

Tommy and Brenda Stahl

 

Devotional:

“Ghost of Christmas Future – Forgiveness and Salvation”

Luke 24:44-48

Do you worry about your future?

When you are controlled by fear you become irritable, unable to think clearly and your health may start to decline. Unchecked fear and worry may affect your well – being, and that is a trespass against God.

God is the only one who can protect you from the negative side effects of fear and worry. He can and will provide for all your needs, and fill your mind with peace.

Luke 24 tells us that Jesus said that everything written about him had to come true for your sake. He suffered humiliation and physical torture. Died on the cross and arose on the third day, so that we could receive salvation. Confess your trespasses to one another, as he told us, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. He who turns the sinner from his ways will save a soul from death. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Prayer will not just enable you to face life’s circumstances victoriously, it will enable you to show others how repentance and God’s forgiveness can bless all people.

The Lord is your strength and your salvation. Forgive one another even as Christ forgave you.

D. Etheridge

 

Devotional:

“God bless us everyone.”- Tiny Tim

Psalm 67

Good things come in small packages just like tiny blessings. It’s very hard to see the tiny blessings in the oversized things during the Christmas season. Several tiny blessings come to my mind on or around Christmas. Christmas Eve for my family meant making our way to church without Dad so it was always harder than it should be. One Christmas Eve as we were leaving home for the service tiny sounds of the sweetest music cut through the cold night air. A trio playing in the neighborhood…A tiny blessing in all the hurry of the holidays… or the Christmas Eve it was too cold for the people in the live Nativity but the animals were perfectly happy to be there under the tent…a tiny blessing in all the hurry of the holidays. Tiny Tim was the best part of that Christmas story… he was the tiny blessing when he declared “God bless us everyone”. I wish a tiny blessing for everyone in all the hurry of this holiday season.

Paula David

 

The Third Sunday of Advent
A Song
O Little Town of Bethlehem

Liturgy:

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 nver 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 a symbol, light. The second candle reminds us of Ebenezer Scrooge and the story, A Christmas Carol. The third candle reminds us of a song, and all the songs and carols we sing at Christmas.

Read aloud the Scripture and Devotion for today.

Time for Sharing: God has given us many Christmas carols and songs that we sing during the Christmas season. Share one of your favorite Christmas carols or songs and why the song is significant for you.

Sing Together: “O Little Town of Bethlehem”
Oh little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by
Yet, in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight

For Christ is born of Mary, and gathered all above
While mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love
Oh, morning stars together, proclaim thy holy birth
And praises sing to God the king, and peace to men on earth

Pray: Dear God, thank you for the gift of song. Thank you God for showing us your love by sending your most precious gift, your only Son, into the world so that we might have life through him. That is what love is; not that we have loved you, but that you loved us and sent your son to be the means by which our sins are forgiven. Amen. (1 John 4: 9-10)

Devotional:

“O Little Town of Bethlehem”

Psalm 23:1-3

The shepherds in the fields outside of Bethlehem were waiting for the coming of the Savior as was their teaching from youth. Little did they know that this particular starry night their lives would be changed in a way they could never imagine as they encountered the Angel of the Lord, while tending their flocks, who announced to them that the Savior was born in Bethlehem, the City of David.

I also experienced such an amazing night Christmas Eve 1992. I was drawn to the 11pm Christmas Eve service that night at my church. Earlier that day, I had put my 8 year old daughter on a plane by herself to spend the Christmas Holiday with her Dad at his family’s home in Kentucky as stipulated by my divorce decree. As I walked into the back of the Sanctuary of the church, I could see it was packed with people, except for the very back row, which was saved for a family who was participating in the service. I reasoned that if I sat down in the pew, I could always get up when the family returned if they needed the entire row. I began to pray to God with a heavy heart filled with fear and sorrow, asking Him for safety and protection for my beloved daughter. I was deep in prayer, when suddenly I experienced a sense of being ‘lifted up’ as if into the hands of a Loving Father, with all-consuming pure and perfect Love. This candlelit night, I would receive God’s love, mercy and saving grace through Jesus the Christ Child just as the shepherds in the fields so long before me. God meets us at the lowest point of our lives and shines His Glory upon us, giving us hope and strength when we need it the most.

Glory to God in the Highest. Peace, Good Will Toward Men. Amen.

Corey Tullar

Discussion/Reflection Questions:

Pastor Mark Miller has prepared Discussion/Reflection Questions to go along with the sermon:  A Classic Christmas — A Song.

You can access the Discussion/Reflection Questions in these two places:

  1. VA Beach UMC app – Download the VA Beach UMC app at the App Store
  2. www.vbumc.org/sermons

From the app touch the three dots at the bottom right of the screen … (More) there you will find Sermon Weekly Guide.  Click the arrow next to the date and sermon title for the week.

On the webpage, click on the sermon series graphic A Classic Christmas.  There you will find the Discussion/Reflection Questions for each Sunday in this series.

You can also listen to the sermon from the website or app which will be posted by Sunday afternoon after the sermon is preached that morning.  To listen to the sermon:

  • from VA Beach UMC app click on the headphones at the bottom of the screen.
  • from vbumc.org hover over worship and click on sermons.

Devotional:

Proverbs 14:1

had most of the pieces of the puzzle early on in my life but I really never started putting them together until a good while later. The old adage of many miles to go feels about right as I look back over the years. Like most of us, I was my own worst enemy. I graduated with high honors from the school of hard knocks. The Lord was so patient with me while I insisted on doing everything my way. The blessing of his patience paid off and I have since put most of the puzzle together. Not to be naïve, still many miles to go.

Fast forward, I have a wonderful husband who truly loves me. He is kind, considerate, and loves the Lord. He never fails to ask what he can do to help around the house, praises my dinner creations, compliments my appearance (even with his glasses on), and is an excellent father and grandfather. We have a beautiful daughter who is a feather in our cap. She is truly a blessing and loves the Lord. Even in grade school, she would always mail a donation to Billy Graham. She and her wonderful husband have raised their children with our Lord’s word. Our grandchildren are wonderful assets to the world.

I had a very long career as a registered nurse and pride myself in the comfort that I provided my patients over the years. However, nothing has been as thrilling as being a wife and mother. I like to keep my house tidy, cook my family good meals, clip coupons, dote on my grandchildren, and other probably not so exciting sounding things. I am so very thankful for my blessings. On my daily walks, God and I have the best conversations. How wonderful it is to be loved in spite of myself. I can honestly say that my days are full and my blessings are many.

I will be home for Christmas with my family and loving every minute of it. I’m pretty sure, by the grace of God, I am now a wise woman. Ever aware of the blessing of many miles to go and the good sense to know it.

Merry Christmas
Randy and Sherri Parks Ferguson

 

Devotional:

 1 John 1:5

“Jesus, Thou joy of loving hearts,
Thou Fount of life, Thou light of men.
From the best bliss that Earth imparts,
We turn unfilled to Thee again.
O Jesus, ever with us stay.
Make all our moments calm and bright.
Chase the dark night of sin away;
Shed o’er the world Thy holy light.”

“Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts” is a hymn with a long history. In its original form, it was a prayer written by Benedictine monk Bernard of Clairvaux in twelfth century France. His prayer is known as “Jesu, dulcis memoria,” and its Latin text has been given glorious musical life by many composers over the centuries. In 1858, Ray Palmer wrote an English translation of this prayer, which became the lyrics for the hymn “Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts.” Of course, the true reference for both the prayer and the hymn is 1 John 1:5. “This is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all.” The pure light of God banishes shadows of worry, doubt, guilt, and other obstacles to joy. This light is the Advent promise to all who wait in darkness of any kind.

Lisa Smith

 

Devotional:

Luke 2:14

“Peace on earth; goodwill to men!”
We see and hear this phrase many times during the Christmas holidays. It is often on Christmas cards and other forms of greetings. It is part of the lyrics of Hark! The Herald Angels Sing and It Came Upon the Midnight Clear as well as many other traditional Christmas carols.
And it is a prominent part of one of my favorites: I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. This carol is based on a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow during the Civil War (1863). Not only was one section of our nation fighting against another, but Longfellow had lost his wife in a fire and his oldest son had been severely injured in battle. Rather than being filled with joy, this poem points us to HOPE. Read the words of the selected verses below and think about them:

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
……
And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Many of us have bowed our heads in despair this fall because of wars and rumors of wars, massacres, devastation from earthquakes and hurricanes and other disturbing events. Let us remember the words of the last verse printed above. “God is not dead. . . The right (shall) prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men.”
We have Christ’s promise in John 14:21 (CEB) “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I give to you not as the world gives. Don’t be troubled or afraid.” Even in the midst of any despair we feel, we can have hope, inner peace and show goodwill to our fellow men.
Betty Bridges

Devotional:

Haggai 2:7

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus, by Charles Wesley
“The desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord Almighty.” Haggai 2:7

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Recently we had a change of boss at work – bringing all the anxiety that comes with a big change. Questions filled my mind; will the boss be reasonable? Will I be able to do the work we’re asked to do? Will things be fair? How will we be judged when we make mistakes? I’d worked some with this boss before, but still, how will the boss look at me?
Charles Wesley reminds me what we know and believe, that you and I can find our rest in Him, and be released from our sins and fears. With the birth of our Savior, our house is filled with glory – and we can move from fear to strength and consolation, from sin to obedience and peace. And I can know where I can find my true rest, regardless of what the new boss brought. For,
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

Rich Lee

 

Devotional:

“I Wonder as I Wander”

 Luke 3:4-5
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord.”

I grew up in the mountains of Southwest Virginia. My father had worked in the coal mines as a young man. He loved to sing the old mountain folk songs and taught some to me. I think this is what made me, as a child in the 1940’s, become so fond of the song, I Wonder as I Wander. It had the same feel as simple American folk songs. It became my favorite carol which I sang frequently as a solo at church. What really sparked my interest was reading that singer, John Jacob Niles, discovered the song one day as he was wandering in the mountains. He heard a little girl sitting on a bench singing a beautiful song. She said she learned the song from her mother and grandmother. Niles copied the words down and memorized the tune. He later introduced it to the public but always said that his version was not nearly as beautiful as when he first heard it sung by the little girl. He never saw her again and never knew where the song originated.

“I wander as I wander out under the sky,
how Jesus our Savior was born for to die.
For poor hon’ry people like you and like I,
I wander as I wander out under the sky.”

Betty Moore

Devotional:

Luke 2:8-11

The big day is almost here! The decorations are up, brightly shining, but has the season truly been a ‘thrill of hope’ for you? When you think of Christmas, it usually involves a list of shopping, schedules, cooking, putting up those twinkling lights, etc. More often than not, it becomes less of a thrill, and more like an exhausting, costly, and overwhelming season, right? We are indeed weary.

But let’s strip all that away; what remains? Hope! Our Savior was born to us on that night divine.

We are the shepherds, humble and hard-working, but still worthy of this good news. Our hope for the new and glorious morn comes from Christ’s birth alone, not the lights, tress, gifts, and parties. Let the angels’ voices wash over you as you fall to your knees, truly hearing the good news of this special season.

My wish for you is that you find time to listen to the music of Christmas, and feel the excitement the shepherds felt on that otherwise ordinary night.
O Holy Night, indeed.
Merry Christmas!

Jennifer Lundgren

 

The Fourth Sunday of Advent
A Savior

Liturgy:

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 nver 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 a symbol, light. The second candle reminds us of Ebenezer Scrooge and the story, A Christmas Carol. The third candle reminds us of a song, and all the songs and carols we sing at Christmas. The fourth candle reminds us that the promised Messiah, the Savior, is coming soon.

Read Aloud the Scripture and Devotion for today.

Time for Sharing: Share a time when God asked you to do something that was “out of your comfort zone.” Did you say yes, and like Mary and Joseph, take on a task that seemed way too big, dangerous or difficult? Did you feel that God was with you? Is God nudging you right now to step out in faith? If so, share what that might be.

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 shepherds kept their watching o’er silent flocks by night,
Behold throughout the heavens there shone a holy light. REFRAIN
2. Down in a lowly manger the humble Christ was born,
And God sent us salvation that blessed Christmas morn. REFRAIN

Pray: Dear God, thank you that you break into our lives Lord, open our eyes so that we might see you. Unstop our ears so that we can hear you. Help us to listen. Let those who have ears to hear, let them hear. Help us to have ears to hear you, O Lord. Amen.

 

Devotional:

Matthew 1:18-21

What the angel said shocked Joseph. Mary and he were to be the early parents of God’s Son the Messiah. Joseph believed the angel and he and Mary married. Both of them realized that this path would be difficult and perhaps dangerous. For God to give them this task, their faith in and love of the Lord had to be very strong. They knew the Lord would be with them.

Like Joseph and Mary, our Father often asks us to take on tasks far out of our comfort zone. With all our knowledge of Jesus, we should know we can trust our God like this young couple did. Don’t be afraid to accept new challenges. We have a divine helper.

Thank you Father for the gift of your son.

Joyce Scott

 

Discussion/Reflection Questions:

Pastor Mark Miller has prepared Discussion/Reflection Questions to go along with the sermon:  A Classic Christmas — A Song.

You can access the Discussion/Reflection Questions in these two places:

  1. VA Beach UMC app – Download the VA Beach UMC app at the App Store
  2. www.vbumc.org/sermons

From the app touch the three dots at the bottom right of the screen … (More) there you will find Sermon Weekly Guide.  Click the arrow next to the date and sermon title for the week.

On the webpage, click on the sermon series graphic A Classic Christmas.  There you will find the Discussion/Reflection Questions for each Sunday in this series.

You can also listen to the sermon from the website or app which will be posted by Sunday afternoon after the sermon is preached that morning.  To listen to the sermon:

  • from VA Beach UMC app click on the headphones at the bottom of the screen.
  • from vbumc.org hover over worship and click on sermons.

Christmas

Liturgy:

Light all Five Candles as everyone says together: “Jesus said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will nver 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 a symbol, light. The second candle reminds us of Ebenezer Scrooge and the story, A Christmas Carol. The third candle reminds us of a song, and all the songs and carols we sing at Christmas. The fourth candle reminds us that the promised Messiah, the Savior, is coming soon.. 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.

Time for Sharing: Many expected the Messiah to be a political king or a military warrior. But God gave us the unexpected. Mary and Joseph were poor and humble folks from a small town in Galilee. They were open to God and God worked through them to bring to the world the promised Messiah. He was not what was expected. The Messiah came as an infant born in a room filled with animals and hay. He was wrapped in cloths and placed in a feeding trough for animals. God sees beauty and possibility in the most unlikely of places. God worked through humble people in humble surroundings to bring us the precious gift of His Son. Share how God has worked through the humble or droughts, rubs and nicks in your life.

Sing Together: “What Child Is This”
What child is this who, laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet, while shepherds watch
are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard
and angels sing;
haste, haste to bring him laud, the babe, the son of Mary.

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.

Pray: Lord, help us to rejoice in You always. Rejoice! As we celebrate the wonderful gift of your son, Jesus, help us to show a gentle attitude toward everyone. Since you are with us always, help us serve others in your name, glorifying you always. Help us not to be anxious about anything, but in all our prayers ask You for what we need, always asking with a thankful heart. And with Your peace, which is far beyond human understanding, we will keep our hearts and minds safe in union with Christ Jesus. Amen. (Philippians 4:4-7)

Devotional:

Matthew 1:18-21

What the angel said shocked Joseph. Mary and he were to be the early parents of God’s Son the Messiah. Joseph believed the angel and he and Mary married. Both of them realized that this path would be difficult and perhaps dangerous. For God to give them this task, their faith in and love of the Lord had to be very strong. They knew the Lord would be with them.

Like Joseph and Mary, our Father often asks us to take on tasks far out of our comfort zone. With all our knowledge of Jesus, we should know we can trust our God like this young couple did. Don’t be afraid to accept new challenges. We have a divine helper.

Thank you Father for the gift of your son.

Joyce Scott