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Advent 2018 Devotional—Introduction

I turn the page on the calendar and it’s December. Yeah! Christmas is coming! I think I love Christmas more today than when I was a little boy, when it seemed like Christmas would never come. I love the scent of Christmas trees, the holiday music, colored lights, decorations, parties, fudge, memories of Christmases past and renewed hope. I know that even Scrooge and Grinch will one day feel the joy! I love Christmas!

But look at what we are really celebrating each Christmas! It is life changing! It’s all about the Son of God coming to make us sons and daughters of God. God longs for us to share in His very life and joy. Jesus’ birthday so changed the world that we divide all human history into B.C. and A.D., before Christ came and ever after.

What Oxford scholar C. S. Lewis said of Christianity, we could apply to Christmas: “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing is we cannot be moderate about it!” (C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics) Yes! Christmas is true and is of infinite importance; we cannot be moderate in celebrating it. Christmas is worth going all out.

Yet, if you are like me, it is easy for these wonderful days to zip past us. We can get swept up in the Christmas rush and busyness; the next thing we know, it’s New Years Day! Wistfully we wonder, “Where did Christmas go?”

It is because Christmas is so important that many people celebrate Advent. Advent is made up of days we set aside to catch our breath, savor the moment, let ourselves be open to wonder, and, like Jesus’ mother, “ponder” the meaning of Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:19). People find that celebrating Advent adds to their Christmas joy!

Many wonderful traditions have grown up around Advent through the centuries, but time is always given to the prayerful pondering of Scripture. The Scripture focus for this year’s Advent devotional, We Have Seen His Glory!, is the opening lines of John’s Gospel, 1:1-18. From the earliest days of Christianity these verses have been likened to a pool in which a little child can wade, while deep enough for an elephant to swim. This passage is simple and profound. It was written for the spiritual beginner as well for the most advanced in the faith. In early Christian art and iconography the Gospel of John was symbolized by the eagle because it is a passage that soars!

Bible scholar R. Kent Hughes says this passage “is so staggering that the words almost seem to bend under the weight they are made to bear. The opening verses”¦are an amazingly congealed expression of the greatness of Christ.” (R. Kent Hughes, John: That You May Believe) You might never forget these exciting words of John’s Gospel. Theologian Gary Burge notes of John 1:1-18, “Here divinity and humanity, preexistence and incarnation, revelation and sacrifice are each discussed by John with deceptive simplicity.” (Gary Burge, The NIV Application Commentary) These verses are the preface to the greatest story ever told. They will guide us into a greater appreciation of what Christmas means, and its lasting relevance for our lives.

In addition to the daily pondering of Scripture we include the spiritual practice PALMS DOWN/PALMS UP. This popular spiritual practice is adapted from Richard Foster’s book, Celebration of Discipline. At the end of each day’s reading you can practice PALMS DOWN/PALMS UP like this:

  • For a moment hold your PALMS DOWN in a symbolic gesture of letting go to God your worries for the day, the busyness of the season, and expectations of the way the holidays ought to be. Release all of these concerns to God.
  • Next, hold your PALMS UP as a symbolic gesture of receiving God’s gifts, provision, and guidance for today.

You might like to take PALMS DOWN/PALMS UP into your day to practice at the doctor’s office, your place of work, during the day at home, or even when you go to bed. It is a spiritual practice that can become a spiritual attitude.

People tell us they read these Advent devotionals riding on a bus, having coffee in a coffee house, eating in the cafeteria, and wherever they can grab a place. This year, would you consider setting aside a special place for reading, pondering and prayer? You might choose a corner in your room, a chair by a favorite window, a place by the fireplace or Christmas tree. Perhaps place a candle there, a picture of Jesus, a cross, or an open Bible. This then becomes your special, set-aside, dedicated space for Advent. In time it will become a place of stillness, quiet and peace.

It is our prayer that throughout the days of Advent as you pray, read, and ponder the marvelous opening words of John’s Gospel, you, like early Christians, can say of Christ, “We have seen His glory!”

John 1:1-18

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.”‘) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

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