The shepherds went back, signing praises to God for all they had heard and seen; it had been just as the angel had told them. Luke 2: 20
After the Christmas night events, the shepherds went back home, but they were changed. The shepherds are a familiar part of the Christmas story. While they were tending sheep, an angel appeared to them saying, “…This very day in David’s town your Savior was born—Christ the Lord! And this is what will prove it to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Then an army of angels appeared, singing God’s praise. Based on this revelation, the shepherds went to Bethlehem seeking their Lord and Savior.
They found Mary and Joseph living in a barn, with the baby lying in a cattle trough: not very impressive. Despite the pictures on Christmas cards, it’s quite possible that Mary, Joseph, and the baby did not have circles of yellow light around their heads. Other people probably saw the family in the stable—somebody had to take care of the animals housed there—but we don’t hear about townspeople giving the family a second look. Why the shepherds? What moved them so that they went back home singing praises to God?
Luke tells us it had been just as the angel had told them. The shepherds’ conviction began in the field when they saw a vision, heard a message, and had the faith to follow. Perhaps their sense of wonder sprang from the validation of their experience in the field. The truth of the glory, vision, and message was to be trusted because they found what they were promised to find.
Maybe the shepherds received the angel’s message because they were the only ones watching and listening. What else is there to do in a field of sheep? On the other hand, the mandatory census was a boom for business in Bethlehem. The town was crowded with bustling people.
Christmas is over. We all have commitments and obligations. but as a new year begins, who knows what we might find if we carve out some time to be still, watch and listen.
Prayer: Lord, help me notice what’s important, not just what grabs my attention.
Reflection for sharing: Where can you find a few minutes to watch and listen in stillness today?
A child is born to us! A son is given to us! And he will be our ruler. He will be called, “Wonderful Counselor,” “Mighty God,” Eternal Father,” Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6
Throughout the Christmas Season, we’ve been celebrating the fact that a child has been born to us. Let’s think about what Isaiah had to say about this child. He said the son given to us would be our ruler. Who is it that we are inviting to rule our hearts? He is a Wonderful Counselor, that is, an exceptionally wise advisor. If we are confused or uncertain, our Wonderful Counselor can guide our hearts. Our God is Mighty and can provide us with all the power we need to follow His plan for our ultimate good. Our Eternal Father loves us so much He chose to share our humanity by being born of a human mother. Because He is also Eternal, He will be with us always. The ruler of our hearts rules as a Prince of Peace. If we long for serenity, we can find it as we surrender to His loving will, because Jesus told us that His peace was His gift to us.
Prayer: Welcome, Lord. I open my heart to you.
Reflection for Sharing: Which image of Christ most closely answers the longing of your heart as you begin the New Year: Wonderful Counselor? Mighty God? Eternal Father? Prince of Peace?
The Lord says, “Bethlehem Ephrathah, you are one of the smallest towns in Judah, but out of you I will bring a ruler for Israel, whose family line goes back to ancient times.” Micah 5: 2
The Word who was with God in the beginning and who was God chose to become human. All glory and honor belong to Him and He had the humility to dispense with fanfare. He picked a tiny little town to make His debut.
When we are secure in ourselves, we don’t need to build ourselves up. It’s when we feel insecure or insignificant, that we try to prop up our fragile egos. We play the big shot by trying to look important, flashing status symbols, or name-dropping. We brag about our accomplishments or tear down others to build ourselves up. But when we’re comfortable with who we are, we don’t need external show.
Christ had nothing to prove. His well being never depended on the opinion of others. He got all the affirmation he needed from His relationship with His Father, who is our Father, too.
Can we accept ourselves as we are—human and therefore imperfect? God loved us into existence or we wouldn’t be here. What more value could we want? Unconditional acceptance and love is a wonderful gift to give ourselves and others during this season of giving.
Prayer: Lord, thank you for choosing the humble.
Reflection for sharing: How would our lives improve if we stopped competing for our 15 mintues of fame?
Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a real blessing. Psalm 127:3
Like so many others, my heart is broken with sorrow over the tragedy at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. The pain and suffering of the victims and of their families and loved ones is unthinkable. We who have faith trust that God can and will strengthen and comfort those who are grieving. We long to reach out in solidarity, to be with them—if only in spirit. People long to do what they can to help, although it’s difficult to know exactly what that might be. Every prayer vigil and impromptu memorial is a tribute to the fact that those suffering are not alone in their grief.
What brings me to tears is the photographs of the bright, eager faces of those children whose lives ended much too soon. As the President said, they had “their entire lives ahead of them: birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own.” That they’ve been denied such life opportunities is cause for deep sorrow. I hold them and their loved ones up in prayer. I almost dare not speak this, lest it seem somehow to take away from this very real tragedy, but I also find myself thinking about the other innocents who won’t see birthdays, graduations, weddings, or kids of their own. They will never see the light of day or even draw their first breath because our culture doesn’t recognize their life. True, it may seem easier to overlook the loss…lives within the womb are not as easy to connect with, but do they have any less innocence? Or potential for a life ahead of them? Are they any less precious when their lives are interrupted before birth? My heart is heavy them, too. My heart is heavy for those parents who, because of pressures or any other reason, don’t feel they have any other option. My heart is heavy for the fact that as a society, we don’t always see children as a blessing.
But there is hope, always hope. As we prepare to celebrate the birth of the baby whose love for us led to His own suffering and death, let’s be open to a Christmas of deeper meaning this year: a peace that the world can’t give or take away and a joy in the conviction that the story doesn’t end with suffering and death, but with Resurrection and new life.
Prayer: Lord, in your mercy, comfort and strengthen all those who are hurting and draw us all closer to you.
Reflection for sharing: What can you do today to nurture the life of someone else?
Show a gentle attitude toward everyone. The Lord is coming soon. Philippians 4: 5
How is being gentle with others tied to the Lord’s coming? “Gentle attitude” is also translated as “forbearance”, which means patience, tolerance, or being considerate. What does the Lord being near have to do with our being patient with each other?
I’m reminded of my sneakers: I didn’t realize how beat up my old ones were until I held them next to my new sneakers. Looking at God’s goodness reminds me of my imperfections. When I’m aware of my own shortcomings, I’m less judgmental mood. I can afford to be more understanding of other people’s flaws. My perspective shifts when God is my point of reference. Little things that seemed ever so important shrink to insignificant molehills when compared to eternal values.
In this season, we celebrate Christ’s coming to the world as an infant, long ago. We don’t know when He will come again. What if it were tomorrow? How would that change our attitudes towards others today? Maybe He comes as soon as we let Him in. In one sense, He’s already here in Spirit. Every day is a day to remind ourselves the Lord is coming soon and to show a gentle attitude toward everyone.
Prayer: Fill my heart Lord, so I can show others the consideration I myself crave.
Reflection for sharing: How would a ‘gentler’ attitude towards others make a difference in your life today?
Then Jethro said, “You are not doing this right. You will wear yourself out and these people as well. This is too much for you to do alone…” Exodus 18: 17-18
Moses led almost a million men, women, and children out of slavery in Egypt. During their desert journey, God empowered Moses to meet the people’s needs by parting the Red Sea and providing water out of a rock. According to Exodus 18, Moses also took it upon himself to personally settle every dispute that came up: a million hot, tired people on foot…in the middle of a desert. That’s a lot of disputes. People lined up, morning until night to complain about each other, one by one until Jethro convinced Moses to delegate.
How many times have we—with the best of intentions—taken on more than we could do, perhaps more than was humanly possible, and then ended up frazzled, worn out, and feeling like failures?
I used to start the day with an impossibly long agenda and end up feeling defeated if my time or energy ran out before the list did. Even if I got everything done, I added more to the list and always ended up exhausted. I thought I was industrious. I was just foolish. Underneath all that ambition was fear that I wasn’t of value if I wasn’t productive. My plans were unrealistic. It took time for me to trust that what was meant to get done would get done without exhaustion, that it was safe to let some things go for another day or for someone else to do.
Following Jethro’s suggestion, Moses delegated responsibility, choosing wise leaders to settle all but the most major conflicts. That freed Moses to represent the people before God and teach them God’s instructions, to do the work that was meant for Moses to do.
Prayer: Lord, teach me to make wise choices about what to do and what to leave undone.
Reflection for sharing: When are you most likely to wear yourself out? How can prayer help you prioritize?
As it is written in the book of the prophet Isaiah: “Someone is shouting in the desert: ‘Get the road ready for the Lord; make a straight path for him to travel! Every valley must be filled up, every hill and mountain leveled off. The winding roads must be made straight, and the rough paths made smooth. The whole human race will see God’s salvation!” Luke 3: 4-6
“No two snowflakes are alike and no two people are alike,” as my dad used to say. Preparing to welcome the Lord won’t be identical for all of us because we are all individuals. Some of us may have mountains of pride that need to be leveled off. Maybe we’re self-righteous and we’re looking down on others from some imagined higher ground. On the other hand, some of us may be entrenched in familiar ruts, not realizing that they’ve deepened into valleys. We may be afraid of venturing out or feel stuck in a low place of despair.
Although getting ready to receive the Lord may look different for each of us, we can all take heart. There are things we can do, whatever situation we find ourselves in, to open ourselves to God’s love. Becoming aware of what, in us, needs changing is the first step. What if the job looks too big for us to do on our own? That’s okay. We never have to do more than we can. We can ask for help—road crews never go it alone. What if we don’t know how to change ourselves? That’s okay, too. The Lord who is coming told us that He is the way. John the Baptist concludes his call to action by saying that the whole human race will see God’s salvation. When we do what we can, God will do for us what we can’t do for ourselves.
Prayer: Lord, help me remove whatever blocks your path to my heart.
Reflection for sharing: What mountains or valleys in your personal landscape are blocking your connection to God today?
May the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow more and more and become as great as our love for you. In this way he will strengthen you and you will be perfect and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all who belong to him. 1 Thessalonians 3: 12-13
Our Christmas preparations may include decorating, shopping for gifts, or baking holiday treats. Advent devotionals and church programs abound to help us make room for Christ in our busy lives crowded with our pre-Christmas “to-do” lists.
Ironically, inviting God into our hearts can be challenging as we prepare to celebrate Christ’s birth. How can we become more “perfect and holy” as we get ready to welcome Him? Paul suggests that we ask Him to do for us what we can’t do for ourselves. We can ask God to make our love for others grow more and more. Meanwhile, we can practice paying attention to the love coming our way that might be easily overlooked during this busy season. We might have to shift our focus a bit. Lets invest a few moments to notice love being offered to us—whether it comes disguised as another driver letting us merge in front of him, finding the clean clothes already folded when we forgot to empty the dryer, or simply an exchange of smiles.
God’s love is all around when we have the eyes to see it. Accepting it and passing it on is a great way to allow it to grow—especially as we get ready to receive the Lord who is Love.
Prayer: Lord, grow us in love.
Reflection for sharing: How can you open yourself to noticing small gifts of love today?
Be joyful always, pray at all times, be thankful in all circumstances. This is what God wants from you in your life in union with Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5: 18
“If we look for the joy in the day, we will find it.” That’s what a friend of mine says, in spite of the fact that she suffers from a chronic illness, is wheel-chair bound, and lost a loved one within the past year. My friend is not Pollyanna. She’s well aware of the pain in life, but she knows that pain is not the whole story. Her ability to look for and find joy ties in with her ability to be thankful in all circumstances. She has a knack for appreciating things like her husband’s love and level-headedness, having friends who listen as she shares life’s ups and downs, and above all, her relationship with God and her freedom to communicate with God honestly at all times, no matter what feelings she may be going through at any given moment.
This is what God wants for her and for us. Being joyful and thankful, praying at all times, is not a mandate that God wants for His own gratification. I think he wants it for us because it is in our best interest. Gratitude brings joy and appreciation of life—even during painful times—and it can be cultivated. When we practice we improve. So whether we count our blessings instead of sheep at bedtime, or make a list in black and white of every good thing we can think of, we can take a concrete action. Taking that action—no matter what our attitude is to begin with—can leave us feeling more aware of the abundance of good in our lives. When we focus on what is good, it may not change reality, but it will change our attitude. Then our joy can’t be taken away from us by a change in circumstance.
And what is giving thanks but a prayer? Connecting with God in the good times enhances our joy. Turning to him in the bad times, is a source of strength and comfort. Finding ways to connect with Him in the ho-hum, in between times can give us a sense of purpose and direction.
Prayer: Lord, direct my thinking today, no matter what this day holds.
Reflection for sharing: Make a written list of every thing you can think of to be grateful for today. Once you are finished, compare your attitude with how you felt before the exercise.