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Yes of the Heart

MEDITATION:

Written by Grace Adophsen Brame, a contemporary author, professor, lecturer, singer, and retreat leader who integrates spirituality and theology. This is an excerpt from her book, “Faith, the Yes of the Heart.”

When Luther wrote, “Faith is the yes of the heart, a confidence on which one stakes one’s life,” he was saying faith is a response of the whole self to God. It is not just our words: the creeds we confess, the prayers we pray, the way we argue our faith, or what we say in  teaching our children. It is not just our works and deeds: our faithful attendance at church, our participation on committees, or our acts of love toward others.  This yes is an inner assent of the will. It is a willingness to receive the grace and guidance of God. It can be so deep and far-reaching as to cause a real conversion of life, a real repentance, a turning around to go in a completely new direction. It always involves, says Luther, the daily death of the person we have been in order to fulfill our reason for being alive: to accomplish God’s will in our time and place.

PRAYER:

Written by Susie Larson, a contemporary author, speaker, and radio host.

Lord, I know that You have forgiven me for my sins. I thank You for Your unconditional love and grace. I am truly repentant and wish to overcome these tendencies. Now, Father, help me forgive myself. Erase my guilt and create a new heart within me. Amen.

God Will Come in Glory

MEDITATION:

Written by Brennan Manning (1934-2013), an American author and public speaker. This is an excerpt from his book “Reflections for Ragamuffins.”

Christmas is the promise that the God who came in history and comes daily in mystery will one day come in glory. God is saying in Jesus that in the end, everything will be all right. Nothing can harm you permanently, no suffering is irrevocable, no loss is lasting, no defeat is more than transitory, no disappointment is conclusive. Jesus did not deny the reality of suffering, discouragement, disappointment, frustration, and death; he simply stated that the Kingdom of God would conquer all of these horrors, that the Father’s love is so prodigal that no evil could possibly resist it.

PRAYER:

Written by Thomas Merton (1915-1968), an American Trappist monk, writer, theologian, mystic, poet, social activist, and scholar of comparative religion.

Ah, Lord God, thou holy Lover of my soul, when thou comest into my soul, all that is within me shall rejoice. Thou are my Glory and the exultation of my heart; thou are my hope and refuge in the day of my trouble. Set me free from all evil passions, and heal my heart of all inordinate affections; that, being inwardly cured and thoroughly cleansed, I may be made fit to love, courageous to suffer, steady to persevere. Nothing is sweeter than love, nothing more courageous, nothing fuller nor better in heaven and earth; because love is born of God, and cannot rest but in God, above all created things. Let me love thee more than myself, nor love myself but for thee. Amen.

MEDITATION:

Written by David Cerullo, an American Pentecostal minister and televangelist.

As the early church sought to celebrate Jesus’ birth, a day was set aside to commemorate the coming of the magi to bring Him gifts. This day was celebrated because it demonstrated that Jesus came to save the world. The day came to be called “Epiphany,” and it was celebrated 12 days after Christmas. Various traditions developed around this celebration, many of which focused on the magi and the giving of gifts.

Epiphany provided particular inspiration for William Dix, who was born in 1837 in Bristol, England. As a young man, Dix became ill and, during his recovery, he studied the New Testament carefully. He became fascinated with the magi. However, the more he studied, the more he felt that too many Christians focused on these men rather than on Jesus. His conviction inspired him to write the hymn we know as “What Child Is This?” In this hymn, Dix pointed us toward Jesus: “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?” Dix wanted those that sang his song to focus on Jesus. For He was “Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing.” In your life, use this Epiphany Day to help you think about what Jesus has done for you. As Dix realized, Jesus died that we might be freed from sin. What offering would be appropriate to give to the One who changed your life and gave you hope, freedom, and victory? Today, “bring Him incense, gold and myrrh,” and “enthrone Him” as the king in your heart.

SCRIPTURE: Matthew 2:1-2

MUSIC VIDEO: What Child is This?

Performed by The Ball Brothers

MEDITATION:

Written by Jill Briscoe, a contemporary author, educator, and speaker.

Many people start out seeking, but deep down they aren’t willing to bow to anyone. So even if they find Christ, their search will hold little satisfaction for them. Not so with the magi. They took their search to its logical conclusion. With wisdom and passion, they followed their clues and found the truth—the Christ child. When they found Jesus, they fell at His feet and worshiped Him. Their search may have begun out of sheer intellectual curiosity, but it ended in worship. As part of their worship, the magi brought very valuable gifts to Jesus. Gold was a gift worthy of Christ’s royalty. Frankincense was a gift to honor His deity. The bitter myrrh marked His humanity. Once they found who they were looking for, they didn’t hold back.

Sometimes we search, but we’re unwilling to open our lives to God once we find Him. We withhold our love, our honesty, our past, our pride, our future. What was at stake for these wise men? Do you really think they expected to find the infant son of a peasant couple to be the King of the Jews? What might it mean to them politically to worship another human being in such unimpressive circumstances? What were they opening themselves up for, having acknowledged that this child held a position superior to them? Yet they set aside all these possibilities and gave their gifts. Each of us in one way or another is searching and seeking. We must be wise in our seeking, seek wholeheartedly, and respond willingly and honestly to the truth we find. I pray that this Christmas season you will make room in your heart for seeking and worshipping the King.

SCRIPTURE: Matthew 2:9-12

MUSIC VIDEO: For This is Christmas (Wise Men Still Seek Him)

Performed by Erica Soelsinger

Reflection on Camels

MEDITATION:

Written by Joyce Meyer, a contemporary author and speaker.

We all remember the Christmas story: how Jesus was born of Mary in a stable and laid in a manger, how the Wise Men came from the east following a star that led them to the Holy Child, how they came in and worshiped Him, laying before Him precious gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. In this story, we see that Mary and Joseph didn’t go out seeking gifts. Although they were forced to spend the night in a cold, dark stable, they didn’t send out messages asking for gifts. But because they were in the middle of God’s will, He sent them wise men from the east mounted on camels loaded down with provisions. I once heard a sermon preached on this subject in a church in Minnesota. It was titled, “The Camels Are Coming.” The basic message was that if we are in the will of God, He will always bring our provision to us. We don’t have to try to chase it down; it will seek us out. We don’t have to try to make things happen; God will bring them to us. I believe the camels will come for each of us if we’ll stay in the will of God. The only way we can expect this kind of provision is by being faithful to stay where He’s placed us and do the work He has given us to do for His kingdom’s sake. When we begin to believe this, we’re free to cast our care on Him. We don’t have to stay up all night fretting and worrying, trying to figure out what to do to take care of ourselves. We can simply deposit ourselves with God… and watch for the camels.

SCRIPTURE: 1 Timothy 6:17

MUSIC VIDEO: He Is the Gift

Performed by Shawna Belt Edwards

Reflection on Anna

MEDITATION:

Written by Joye Smith, a contemporary author.

Night after night. Day after day. Anna was there at the temple, worshiping God by fasting and praying. We read of Anna in Luke 2:36-38 as part of the story about baby Jesus when he was presented at the temple at 8 days old. We are told that Anna was a prophetess, and she had been a widow for many years. Night and day she was at the temple, seeking God in prayer. Anna had seen much heartache in her life. She had become a widow as a young woman. She lived in a time when there were many difficulties. I’m sure there were many sleepless nights for Anna, and many days of uncertainty. Yet she continued to cling to God in expectation of redemption. When she saw the baby Jesus, she added her testimony to that of Simeon’s that this child was the One they looked forward to as the Messiah. Anna’s example encourages us to continue seeking God in prayer. Through the sleepless nights and uncertain days. To give thanks to God for His presence in our lives. As we pray, to thank Him that Christ is our Savior and therefore we look forward to eternal life with Him. We must also be relentless in praying for the lost world of our time, praying that people would come to know redemption through Jesus. Keep on praying faithfully. Night after night. Day after day.

SCRIPTURE: Luke 2:36-38

MUSIC VIDEO: Pray

Performed by Sanctus Real

Reflection on Simeon

MEDITATION:

Written by James Merritt, a contemporary pastor and host of the television broadcast “Touching Lives.”

An important, yet often-overlooked, person in the story of Christmas was a Jewish man named Simeon.  His name literally means, “God has heard.”  The Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would see the promised Messiah before his death.  It is important to remember that it had been 400 years since God had spoken to His people through a prophet before Christ was born.  Simeon’s story is one of incredible faith, as he waited and watched with great hope for God to fulfill His promise made long ago to His people Israel, and to him personally. As the months and years went by, Simeon’s faith was not deterred.  His hope was not in circumstances or in man’s calendar, but in a faithful God.  Finally, one day the Holy Spirit prompted Simeon to go to the Temple because today was the day.  On that same day, a young, poor teenage couple walked up the Temple steps to fulfill the Jewish offering for their firstborn son.  That day, faith became sight for Simeon as he took the Christ-child in his arms, lifted Him up, and blessed the Lord for His faithfulness.  The Messiah was here…a Savior not only for the Jews, but also for the whole world.

I find Simeon’s praise to God absolutely incredible.  He referred to Jesus as God’s, “salvation,” which He had, “prepared in the sight of all people.”  What did Simeon mean when he said God had prepared His salvation?  That word in the original language of the New Testament (Greek) came from the Oriental custom at that time of sending people out before a king’s journey to level the roads and make them passable.  God, Simeon announced, had long been preparing His people for the arrival of His Son and the salvation He would bring. It is astounding to see how the road had been made smooth, so to speak, throughout the Old Testament.  The great flood demonstrated God’s wrath towards sin and those who remain in it.  The covenant with Abraham demonstrated God’s desire for His people to rest in Him and trust Him for all their needs.  The giving of the law to Moses showed God’s righteousness, and man’s unrighteousness.  The Tabernacle taught the people that God requires a blood sacrifice for sin.  The Old Testament prophecies foretold the coming of Messiah.  God took every measure necessary to prepare the world for the arrival of His Son, Jesus – the Lamb of God who would bring salvation to everyone who would believe.  And yet, Jesus wasn’t recognized by most as the promised Messiah…until His parents took Him to the Temple where God had prepared one man’s heart to proclaim the glory of His Son. To some, Simeon’s role may seem small and insignificant in the Christmas story, but that is not the case.  Simeon’s example reminds us that if we believe what God has said, and live according to that belief, our lives become a testimony to the character of God, just like Simeon’s.  His life testified to the faithfulness of God.  He kept His promise, not only to Israel, but also to Simeon.  May Christ’s birth remind us that God is faithful.

SCRIPTURE: Luke 2:25-32

MUSIC VIDEO: Simeon’s Song

Performed by Nia Allen and Tommy Walker

The Feast of the Circumcision of Christ is a Christian celebration of the circumcision of Jesus in accordance with Jewish tradition, eight days (according to the Semitic and southern European calculation of intervals of days) after his birth, the occasion on which the child was formally given his name.

MEDITATION:

Written by R. Fergus Mair, a contemporary writer, educator, and CEO of Clergy Stuff.

Sometimes we want to forget that Jesus was human. We focus on the fact that he was God, fully divine, all-powerful, and transcendent. But Luke’s gospel wants us to understand that not only was Jesus fully human, he was a particular human in a particular community. Jesus was a first-century Jewish male. His parents followed the Jewish laws and traditions of the time.

When he was eight days old, they took him to be circumcised and named. When we are tempted to look only to some distant future paradise with God, Luke’s gospel reminds us to keep our feet firmly where they are. God made us human beings in God’s image, with material bodies that have material needs. When we participate in our own traditional rituals of baptism and communion, singing together, eating together, and being in community, we celebrate the physical, embodied nature of our faith.

Our human bodies are not simply a temporary burden to bear until our souls are freed, but a gift from God, a God who willingly took on a human body in order to be with us. How can I be present in and give God praise for my physical body?

SCRIPTURE: Luke 2:21-24

MUSIC VIDEO: When Love Was Born

Performed by Mark Schultz

MEDITATION:

Written by Bill Sytsma, a contemporary pastor and author.

I don’t blame people for missing what happened in the small town of Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago. Who would have thought that the Lord of heaven and earth would come into the world as a child born in a stable? We are about to close the book on 2021. Today you might find yourself remembering some of the triumphs and trials of the past year. Even if you have had some wonderful successes in the past twelve months, you can probably remember some low points as well.

As you enter a new year, I hope you can remember that God’s plans have always been to prosper his people. He can transform ordinary events and difficult trials into key moments that help his plans to prosper. He is not out to harm us, but the dark moments we experience can be part of the most important lessons to help us grow nearer to him. God has a way of saving his world that we may find hard to understand. He introduced his Son into the world and brought about our salvation in a way that could easily be overlooked—and yet he has changed the world, and his kingdom keeps growing. That same God comes into our lives and draws us into his plans for a hope-filled future!

SCRIPTURE: Jeremiah 29:1-13

MUSIC VIDEO: The Prayer

Performed by Pentatonix

MEDITATION:

Adapted from a writing by Anne Arabome, a contemporary nun.

What qualified Jesus, Mary, and Joseph to be called holy? Each one possessed a unique identity, but together they experienced God’s eruption into their lives. God’s eruption into their lives was disruptive. It required an unqualified and absolute acceptance. Mary responded with complete availability, serenity, and trust. She said, “Yes,” not knowing what the future held. She trusted in God’s promise… Joseph embraced God’s will as “the father in the shadows”—as Francis describes him in Patris Corde—who exemplifies the love, courage, creativity, tenderness, acceptance, and hard work of a beloved father for his family. Likewise, Jesus’ response to God was firm, albeit progressing through moments of temptation to completely abandon God’s will. Opening their hearts to God interrupted and changed the course of their lives radically. Mary became a contemplative at heart. Joseph became deeply attuned to the silence within. And Jesus incarnated the presence of the compassionate God-with-us. Yet heeding God’s will wasn’t an easy path for the holy family. Mary and Joseph gradually embraced their understanding of their roles as parents. There were moments of anxiety, like when they lost Jesus among the crowd; there were times of perceived rejection when Jesus seemingly relativized their role in his mission, and even outright rebellion: “Didn’t you know that I have to be about my father’s business?” Eventually, Mary would witness the horrific murder of her son. Those moments revealed the conviction of Mary and Joseph that theirs was a journey of faith, hope, and love. Like many parents, they remained committed to their parenting vocation, celebrating its joys and hopes, embracing its pain and anxiety. Their example of holiness isn’t ethereal; it is borne of their interior freedom and radical commitment to their roles as parents even in the face of difficulties and challenges. They didn’t have all the answers. The Feast of the Holy Family offers an opportunity to reflect on our call to holiness. Holiness is a path for each person to discover, not a portrait to be copied and imitated sheepishly. The important thing is that each believer discern his or her own path, that they bring out the very best of themselves, the most personal gifts that God has placed in their hearts”

SCRIPTURE: Colossians 3:12-21

MUSIC VIDEO: Mary and Joseph’s Song

Performed by Marcia Boland