The cold stable smells of cattle dung, a hungry donkey pesters Joseph for a bite of hay. The night wind whistles through cracks in the stable’s wall as shepherds crowd in close to catch a glimpse. Yes, you could say the birth of every baby is a miracle, but this baby is the Son of God! The reason for the season seems so unreasonable on such a night and in such a place.
The King of Heaven who hurled galaxies across billions of light years, sleeps in a feeding trough for cattle. The infinite, boundless, ineffable God steps into the whirl of time and history, daring to humble Himself and become one of us. The Sovereign Lord over all things plunges headlong into our world to relate to us not as Almighty God, but as our Brother, our Friend, our Savior.
This Advent devotional is prepared to assist in our worship of the Lord Jesus, and to help us ponder the mystery of His coming. Each day’s reading is a reflection from a Scripture text about the Light of God coming into the darkness of our world. In the northern hemisphere of the world the season of Advent comes at the darkest time of the year, so that the symbols of light and darkness work powerfully throughout these days.
Just as darkness universally symbolizes death and destruction, so light symbolizes life and joy to the fullest. As we happily string lights on Christmas trees and houses, we celebrate the One who is God’s true Light shining into our world. We remember and celebrate Jesus as God’s Light shining in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it (John 1:5). Jesus is the reason for the season, and the reason for our confidence and joy in an especially difficult year.
The Bible proclaims, “God is light” (1 John 1:5), and Jesus as “the light of the world” (John 8:12; 9:5). The coming of Christ into our world shines God’s “light on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Luke 1: 79). The Bible tells us that no one lies beyond the radiant brightness of Jesus’ life, as He is “the true light that gives light to everyone” (John 1:9).
Each of the following twenty-seven readings begins by lighting a candle to symbolize God’s presence with us, and to ready ourselves to listen for God as He speaks to us in His Word. (Why not choose a special candle for this Advent?) There is a brief Scripture text, a reflection from that text, and then a time to be still in God’s presence by praying Palms Down/Palms Up.
Palms Down/Palms Up is a way of praying taught by Quaker pastor and theologian, Richard Foster. Praying like this has helped many draw closer to God. You might also like taking this practice into the New Year.
Here is how to pray Palms Down/Palms Up:
• Hold downward the palms of both hands to symbolically let go into God’s hands any burdens, fears, anxieties, guilt, etc. you are carrying. As you hold Palms Down you are asking God to take all of this from you.
• After some moments turn your hands Palms Up to express your longing to symbolically receive from God. As you do this, let God pour His love and grace into you.
Complete these few moments with God by praying the prayer provided for you, feel free to add to it. You will likely find that taking these few moments each Advent day to reflect and pray on God’s Word will add meaning to what has been a trying year. It will lighten the darkness!
THE SEASON OF ADVENT
For the young and for the old there is something about this time of year that excites joy and lightness! The wonder of these days sweeps over us as moments of awe mingle with daily routine. As we get out the Christmas decorations and put up the lights, we start to feel God’s Spirit moving us.
Each year, even in our secular post-Christian culture, there are more and more people observing Advent. Something about celebrating each day of Advent slows down the holiday rush, and helps us focus on the things that really matter.
Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day and culminates on Christmas Eve. It gifts us with four weeks for reflecting, praying, and paying attention to God’s Light shining in the world. The first Sunday of Advent has long served as a “new year’s day” for Christians. For centuries Advent has been understood as a time for new beginnings, fresh starts, and revived experiences of life in Christ Jesus.
Advent comes from the Latin word adventus, meaning, “arrival” or “coming”. It is a word that early Christians adapted from their culture; adventus meant the “coming” of news of victory, or the “coming” of the emperor’s visit. Adventus was a time for joy as people gathered at city gates to celebrate the emperor as soter (savior) and bringer of pax (peace). Early followers of Jesus then appropriated the word adventus to celebrate the coming of Jesus into the world both as true Savior and bringer of peace.
It is significant that the word adventus was the Latin translation of the Greek parousia, a word early Christians used to describe Jesus’ Second Coming. From the early days of Christianity the celebration of Advent has had a double focus: looking back to Jesus’ first coming and looking forward to His coming again. This is a time both for joyful remembering and for looking ahead to the coming of God’s new world.
Advent comes this year, as it has so often, at a time of fearful disease, political discord, economic uncertainty, and grave concern for the future. We live at a time not unlike that when God’s Light first shined into a dark world. But through the centuries God’s people have experienced peace and purpose in looking back, and in looking ahead to the Savior’s coming for us. He is God’s true Light shining in our darkness. And always we pray: “Lord God, lighten the darkness.”