Dear Church Family,
Christmas is my favorite time of year! I actually enjoy many of the external Christmassy things that we do as a culture. I love Christmas music and movies (the classics), decorating and gift exchanging. It brings me joy to consider what to buy for my family and how I can surprise them. It brings me joy to think about all of the fun and meaningful things we will do as a church family during this season. And above all it brings me joy to teach people about the advent and incarnation of our Savior and Lord.
One of the ways that my family likes to keep the gospel at the forefront of our minds and the glory of God as our motivation during the Christmas season is by observing the Advent Wreath. The Advent Wreath is just one of many ways to teach about the biblical history and meaning of Christmas. All you need are five candles (three purple, one pink, and one white) and a wreath to put around the five candles. Each candle stands for a specific aspect of Christ’s advent. So each week leading up to Christmas Day you are to light one of the candles and read certain scriptures that expound on that aspect. Then on Christmas Day you light the last candle along with the others that you have previously observed, which culminates with the gospel, the whole purpose of the incarnation.
This has been such a memorable and meaningful practice for keeping the gospel at the forefront of my Christmas celebrations. I never wonder what the meaning of Christmas is and rarely feel a sense of disappointment or discouragement because of the season. In fact because of this, Christmas often acts like a reset to my motivation for living out the Christian life. I don’t know what kind of holiday traditions you and your family have. But I highly suggest doing something like this. So if you’re interested in how to do the Advent Wreath, here are the things you will need to know. It can vary in practice, but the main elements are as follows:
The first candle is The Candle of Hope- Prophets’ Candle. This is one of the purple candles and it represents the prophetic hope of the coming Messiah. Some scriptures to read with the lighting of this candle are Isaiah 7:10-14, Isaiah 9:5-7, 2 Samuel 7:12-14, and Isaiah 11:1-5.
The next candle is The Candle of Preparation- Bethlehem Candle. This is also a purple candle and it represents the way in which God prepared the world for Christ’s incarnation. Some scripture to go along with this one are Micah 5:2-4, Isaiah 40:3-5, and Luke 3:2-6.
The Candle of Joy- Shepherds Candle is third and it is the last purple candle in the wreath. It represents the joy that Christ brings into the world, and accompanying scriptures are Luke 2:8-14, 15-20, and Matthew 2:1-6, 7-12.
The fourth candle is the pink candle. It is The Candle of Love- Mary’s Candle. Some scripture to read with this candle are Luke 1:26-38, 46-56, Luke 2:19, 51, and 1 John 4:9-10,19. This represents the love of God for the world and the love and devotion of Mary for the Lord.
Finally, and most importantly, is The Candle of Salvation- Christ’s Candle. This candle represents the fact that Jesus is the Messiah who came to take away the sins of the world and bring salvation to all who believe! This is what Christmas is all about. It is the reason for the incarnation. It is the cause of the hope, readiness, joy, and love we have in God. Some scripture to go along with this are Luke 2:25-27,28-32,33-35, 36-38, John 1:29.
There are many more texts of scripture that you could include in these devotions, but these will suffice as a good start. And there are some great online resources on the Advent Wreath. So go do some research and make it your own. But no matter how you do it, be sure it is steeped in the Word of God. I hope this is helpful and encouraging to you and your family. And Merry Christmas!
Dear Church Family,
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The Christmas season is now in full swing, and I’d love to take a few minutes to tell you about our upcoming Christmas Night of Worship. Last year our theme was “God With Us,” and we focused on the fact that God who is transcendent, mighty, awesome, and holy has chosen to dwell among His people forever. We focused on how Jesus (Emmanuel) was much more than just physically with us during His thirty-some-odd years on earth, but that His incarnation, birth, life, death, and resurrection are all part of God’s plan to establish His dwelling place with us for all eternity.
This year, I have entitled our Night of Worship Come And See What God Has Done. Just like every Christmas, we are remembering how the Son of God took on Human flesh and was born in a manger. And just like every year, we are proclaiming the fact that this helpless baby was actually the Lord of all creation, and the Savior of the world. What we are focusing on and celebrating this year during our Night of Worship is that this salvific operation, this careful and strategic design, this story is all about What God Has Done. And that is significant because through this meticulous plot God has done for us what we could never do for ourselves!
When thinking of God’s provision through the birth of Jesus I am reminded of the story of Abraham and Isaac (which is itself just one of the many pieces of God’s careful plan!). God had promised Abraham that his descendants would be innumerable, and that through them the entire world would be blessed! (Gen. 12:1-3, 15:4-6). We recognize now that Abraham’s children would be the people through which God would send the Savior of the world. But Abraham had no children (and when Abraham took it upon himself to bring God’s plan to fruition it resulted only in more broken relationships and more heartache! Gen. 16:1-16, 21:9-16).
However, after what I am sure seemed like an eternity to Abraham and Sarah, God miraculously gave them a son, and God did it in such a way that made it perfectly clear that He was the One who gave them this child. Fast forward now to when this child, Isaac, is a little older and we see that in that span of time Abraham has learned a thing or two about God’s provision. In Genesis 22:2 God instructed Abraham to do the unthinkable: to take Isaac to a mountain and sacrifice him as a burnt offering to the Lord. With wide eyes we read that Abraham obeyed this seemingly heartless command, and he struck out for the mountains, Isaac in tow, with the intention of killing and burning him as a sacrifice to God. Hebrews 11:19 hints that Abraham must have believed that God would raise Isaac from the dead after the slaughter. But what I want to point out as it relates to the Christmas season is found in Abrahams words of faith recorded in Genesis 22:8.
At some point in their journey, Isaac has caught on to the fact that they have brought with them fire and wood for the burnt offering, but no animal to sacrifice on the altar. Isaac asks Abraham, “where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (22:7). Abraham
responds with these words which echo down through every page of Scripture and open our eyes to the magnitude of God’s salvific plan. “God will provide for himself a lamb” Abraham says (22:8). God will provide for himself a lamb. I can’t help but wonder if Abraham knew that those words would mean the difference between life and death for every single one of God’s people from the beginning to the end of time. But God has done exactly what Abraham said and believed he would do, even if Abraham didn’t know how or what that would look like. In the story of Abraham and Isaac, when God saw that Abraham was following in obedience, just when Abraham was about to slaughter his son, God stopped him, and “Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called the name of that place, ‘The LORD will provide’” (Gen. 22:13-14a).
This Christmas season we are celebrating the fact that the Lord has indeed provided. He made a provision not just for Abraham and Isaac, but for you and I and every believer who ever came before us and will ever come after us. God has provided what we could not provide for ourselves. God has completed what we could not do for ourselves by providing the Lamb for a sacrifice, once for all, in the only possible way that we could be saved. If any person was ever going to be forgiven of their sin and be restored to right relationship with God, it had to be God’s way. It had to be God’s doing. It had to be God’s Lamb.