Saturday, November 30, 2013

Advent Idea: God is in the Manger by Bonhoeffer


Here is another idea for Advent reading. This contains delightful excerpts from many of his letters and writings. It is a daily devotional reading that averages about 3 minutes a day and goes from the first Sunday in Advent to Epiphany on January 6th.


http://christianaudio.com/god-is-in-the-manger-dietrich-bonhoeffer

Advent Week 4

FOURTH SUNDAY ADVENT READINGS

On this Sunday before Christmas, add the light of the purple wise men candle to that of the other three candles. The readings focus on the wise men, wisdom, and One who is all-wise.

Sunday
Matthew 2:1-12

Monday
James 1:5; 3:13-18

Tuesday
1 Corinthians 1:17-30

Wednesday
Daniel 2:20-30

Thursday
1 Corinthians 3:11-23

Friday
Job 28:12-28; Psalm 111:10

Saturday
Proverbs 1:1-10; Psalm 90:12

CHRISTMAS EVE

On Christmas Eve, light the larger red candle in the center of the wreath, if you have one, along with the other four. Through the weeks, the light of your wreath has grown brighter, and with the celebration of Christ's birth the message becomes clearer that the Light of the World has overcome the darkness. With your family and friends, read John 8:12, 9:4-5; Matthew 5:14-16; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6; and 1 John 1:6-7. Sing your favorite carols in celebration because in Isaiah's words, "The people that have walked in the darkness have seen a great light." 

On Christmas day, relight all the candles and read together the familiar story of Christ's birth in Luke 2:1-20. 

Friday, November 29, 2013

Advent Week 3

THIRD SUNDAY ADVENT READINGS

The shepherds' response to the angelic message was to "make known abroad" what they had seen and heart (Luke 2:17). On this third Sunday in Advent, add the light of the green shepherds candle to that of the other two while you read the following passages:

Sunday
Luke 2:8-20

Monday
Psalm 23; 79:13; 96:7; 100:3

Tuesday
Isaiah 53:6; Matthew 18:11-14; 1 Peter 2:25

Wednesday
Isaiah 40:1-11; Hebrew 13:20-21

Thursday
John 10:1-18, 27-29

Friday
Matthew 9:35-38; John 21:15-17; 1 Peter 5:2-4

Saturday
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 23-31

CAROLS:
While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks
The First Noel 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Advent Week 2

SECOND SUNDAY ADVENT READINGS

Last week's readings focused on god's words through the prophets that foretold the circumstances surrounding the birth, life, and death of His Son Jesus. Angelic pronouncements added to the light given by the prophets. On the second Sunday of Advent, ask the youngest child to relight the gold prophets candle. Have the oldest child light the white angels candle. By the light of these two candles read the selected Scriptures, sing and pray together each day.

Sunday
Luke 1:5-25

Monday
Luke 1:26-38; Psalm 34:7

Tuesday
Matthew 1:18-25

Wednesday
Luke 2:8-14

Thursday
Matthew 2:13-21; Psalm 91:11-12

Friday
Matthew 4:11; Luke 22:43; Matthew 28:2-4;
Acts 1:10-11; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17

Saturday
Daniel 7:9-10; Revelation 5:11-12;
II Thessalonians 1:7-8; Matthew 24:31

CAROLS: 
The First Noel
Hark, the Herald Angels Sing
Angels from the Realms of Glory
Angels We Have Heard on High
It Came Upon a Midnight Clear 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Advent Week 1

The first Sunday in Advent 2016 is November 27!

This introduction repeats much of what I said yesterday, but this is typed from something that was in my church bulletin back in the 1980's. This is where I got the idea to use the non-traditional colors for the candles! Sorry to say I do not know who wrote it! 

PREPARING YOUR HEART FOR CHRISTMAS

Over the years Christians have felt the need to prepare themselves for Christmas. This was never more true than today when the secular influence and interpretation of Christmas all but buries the truth.

The beautiful custom of Advent has helped many to keep their focus on Christ. The world "Advent" means "coming" and refers to the coming of Jesus. The season of Advent is a four-week preparation period for Christmas. 

(Carol's Note: Make sure you start four Sundays before Christmas. It is a different date every year.)

Advent also traditionally includes an Advent wreath with four candles around it. The progressive lighting of the candles represents the dispelling of darkness by the coming of our Lord. This week you might prepare a simple wreath of evergreens and place around it four candles as follows: gold symbolizing prophets, white for angels, green for shepherds, and purple for wisemen. Place a larger red candle in the center of the wreath to represent Christ. Many times candles of all one color are used as an alternative.

Choose a place to have your Advent worship service and put the wreath there in preparation. This provides a place for your family to come together each day to read the Scriptures and pray. You might discuss before hand what time of the day would be best. Many families find that the time right after dinner is the most workable. 

"Now while the people were in a state of expectation . . . " Luke 3:15

FIRST SUNDAY ADVENT READINGS

Gather the family together around the Advent wreath with candles and ask the youngest child to light the gold prophets candle. Read the Scripture passage for the day, sing carols, and give thanks to God.

This short service is repeated each evening during the week by the light of only one candle.

Sunday
2 Peter 1:19-21; Isaiah 7:13-14; Matthew 1:18-23

Monday
Hebrews 1:1-3; Isaiah 9:1-7; Matthew 4:13-16

Tuesday
Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:1-11; Acts 26:22-29

Wednesday
Isaiah 53; Matthew 27:12-14; 27:38; 27:57-60

Thursday
Zechariah 9:9; 11:12-13; 12:10; 
Matthew 21:1-11; 26:15; 27:3-10; John 19:37

Friday
Isaiah 42:1-7; Matthew 12:17-21; Luke 2:32

Saturday
Psalm 22:1-18; Matthew 27:35-46

CAROLS: 
O Come, O Come Emmanuel
Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus







Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Preparing for Advent

Advent Wreath Glow
Photo by Carol Weaver.
Please ask permission before copying

Advent starts on December 1 this year. So, I wanted to give you a "heads-up" for celebrating. Often, Advent candles are on sale over the Thanksgiving Holiday. 

We have done this celebration since the first year of our marriage. It is our favorite family time over the holidays. My kids still love to do it, and they are both adults.

Here is a definition of Advent from Wikipedia.com:
Advent (from the Latin word adventus, which means "arrival" or "coming") is the first season of the liturgical year. It begins four Sundays before Christmas, the Sunday falling on or nearest to 30 November, and ends on Christmas Eve. Traditionally observed as a "fast", it focuses on preparation for the coming of Christ, not only the coming of the Christ-child at Christmas, but also, in the first weeks, on the eschatological final coming of Christ, making Advent "a period for devout and joyful expectation".[8] This season is often marked by the Advent Wreath, a garland of evergreens with four candles. Although the main symbolism of the advent wreath is simply marking the progression of time, many churches attach themes to each candle, most often 'hope', 'faith', 'joy', and 'love'. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advent)
We do the hope, faith, joy, and love candles from Zimmerman's book (see below), but we add additional meanings that really go together nicely with this. Traditionally, Advent wreaths have three purple candles and a pink one (with a white Christ candle in the middle), and you can often find them bundled together for the Christmas season. I do a different color scheme:

1st: The GOLD prophets candle
2nd: The WHITE angels candle
3rd: The GREEN shepherds candle 
4th: The PURPLE kings candle
The RED Christ Candle

We do the Jesse Tree readings daily and read Advent Scripture on Sundays when we light the candles. I have daily Advent Scriptures that I will include over the next four posts. (I am so excited. These readings have been missing for years, but I just found them - they had fallen between my file cabinet and a wall!) 

Here is a wonderful electronic version of a weekly Advent Ceremony. The only difference is that he uses a blue Kings candle instead of a purple one. (sometimes purple ones are hard to find). He even has an abbreviated ceremony doing all four weeks in one sitting. This would be great if you were introducing a guest to what you do during your Advent ceremony! I am so impressed with it. Here is the link:

http://www.rahul.net/mcgrew/advent/


We use the ceremony written by Martha Zimmerman in her excellent book, Celebrating the Christian Year. She suggests the traditional colors, but we make Advent our own and you can too!

 Amazon has many copies for as little as .01 a piece. This book is full of background, Scriptures, equipment necessary, and recipes for celebrations throughout the whole year! I have done most of them with my kids since they were really small. I do not get legalistic about doing everything every year though. 

Another thing that is very fun for younger kids is to do the excellent Advent Reading books by Arnold Ytreeide.  They are excellent, and at one time, between printings, they were selling for over $100, but I would not dream of parting with mine, ever! My girlfriend in Colorado could not get the next in the series so I sent it to her with a solemn promise that she would send it back! (Of course, she did!)


I guarantee that your family will be on the edge of their seat every night begging for more!






Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and I hope to see you on December 1st for the daily Messiah Meditations!


Monday, November 25, 2013

Jesse Tree December Devotional

Jesse Tree December Devotional Schedule

Introduction to the Jesse Tree


2.      THE FALL: Genesis 3

THE BIRTH OF CHRIST: Luke 2:1-20

DAY 25: THE BIRTH OF CHRIST    

Link: Luke 2:1-20   


Here is my audio of this story: JESUS IS BORN! 

Symbol: Jesus


JOY TO THE WORLD! THE LORD IS COME!! Our Jesse Tree culminates in the birth of Jesus Christ. The world has waited and now received a Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father and the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) . . . a Savior, Redeemer, Brother, and Friend all wrapped up in a baby boy.

WELCOME JESUS, King of the universe and King of our hearts! Overwhelm us with Your coming and Your presence, so that we may never be the same!

PRAISE THE LORD!                   

Songs: "Away in a Manger" & "What Child is This?"

Put the Circle with the Cross symbol on the top and enjoy Jesus! Make a birthday cake and sing Happy Birthday to Jesus!


BBC BACKGROUND: LUKE 2

Jesus is born in Bethlehem (2:1-7)


Caesar Augustus was ruler of the Roman Empire between 27 B.C. to A.D. 14. God used a secular ruler to fulfill the prophecy of Micah 5:2. In the Roman Empire the census was taken every fourteen years for military and tax purposes. Joseph ancestral home was Bethlehem. Joseph was a descendant of David (1:27) who was born in Bethlehem. So they needed to go from Nazareth to Bethlehem (means "house of bread").  Usually it was just the Jewish male, but he traveled with Mary because she was so near to delivering her baby. Tradition tells us that Jesus was born in a cave near the inn. He was wrapped in strips of cloth which was a practice at that time for keeping limbs straight and protected. 


Shepherds visit Jesus (2:8-20)


How wonderful that angels would appear to poor, outcast shepherds.  Their work made them ceremonially unclean.  God calls the poor and lowly to Himself (Luke 1:51-53; 1 Cor.. 1:26-29). This baby was also the Good Shepherd (John 10) and Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world (John 1:29). 

Stomer-adorationThe shepherds were to "fear not" (Where have you heard that before over the last few days? Luke 1:13, 30, 74; Matt. 1:20). The angel pronounced GOOD NEWS of a great JOY of a Savior who is Christ the Lord! 

Then a multitude of angels came praising God and announcing PEACE. Even though the Roman Peace ("Pax Romana") had been in effect since 27 B.C., there was really no peace. 
The Stoic philosopher, Epictetus, (A.D. 55 - A.D. 135) once said:
While the emperor may give peace from war on land and sea, he is unable to give peace from passion, grief, and envy. He cannot give peace of heart for which man yearns more than even for outward peace.  
(The Bible Exposition Commentary: Volume 1, p. 176) 
The Hebrew word for peace, Shalom, that is translated as eirḗnē in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament), "has to denote, not merely rest, but a state of well-being or wholeness [emphasis mine], so that one can even be said to die in peace (as distinct from suffering violence). Nor is this well-being restricted to material welfare" (Theological dictionary of the New Testament, p. 208). 

Let this all wash over you and soak in deeply. It is so easy to just gloss over this because you hear this so many times during Christmas. Jesus is our Peace! It is amazing!


REFLECTION/APPLICATION/PRAYER


You probably know by now that I am a "Messiah nerd." I cannot get enough of this masterpiece, and I sing it almost daily. It is ALL Scripture!  So, here is the part of the oratorio that covers these verses in Luke. Use it as your prayer for today! And join us for a trip through the entire Messiah starting on December 1!

Recitative (Soprano)


There were shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night. (Luke 2:8)


And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. (Luke 2:9)



Recitative (Soprano)


And the angel said unto them, Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10,11)

Recitative (Soprano)


And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, (Luke 2:13)


Chorus


Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. (Luke 2:14)


Sunday, November 24, 2013

MARY: Luke 1:26-56

DAY 24: MARY                         
Link: Luke 1:26-56                     

Here is an audio version of me telling the story: ANGELS VISIT MARY AND JOSEPH                  
Symbol: Mary

Mary describes herself as a “bond slave of the Lord” (Luke 1:38). She is honored to do His will. Mary is a good example of a humble heart that God can work through. In her song of praise to God (Luke 1:46-55), Mary quotes 15 Old Testament Scriptures, showing how familiar she was with those Scriptures. Jesus was to be reared in a home where humble parents ought to follow God’s word. Can we give our children the same privilege? 

Song: "Silent Night"


BBC BACKGROUND: Luke 1




Paolo de Matteis - The Annunciation
"The Annunciation" By Paolo de Matteis (Saint Louis Art Museum official site) 
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
An angel promises the birth of Jesus to Mary: Luke 1:26-38

Mary was a poor, young girl (some commentators think as young as 12 or 13) from Nazareth, and God chose her to be the mother of the Messiah. WOW! The Greek word for "highly favored" comes from the root word charis, "grace." Mary was a recipient of God's special grace.


Note that Gabriel said, "Do not be afraid" to both Zechariah and Mary. He also told her of her Son's special characteristics, as he did to Zechariah. He was to be the "Son of the Most High":

The Septuagint often used the term “Most High” (hypsistou) to translate the Hebrew ‘elyôn (cf. v. 76). Mary could not have missed the significance of that terminology. The fact that her Baby was to be called the “Son of the Most High” pointed to His equality with Yahweh. In Semitic thought a son was a “carbon copy” of his father, and the phrase “son of” was often used to refer to one who possessed his “father’s” qualities (e.g., the Heb. trans. “son of wickedness” in Ps. 89:22 [kjv] means a wicked person).  
(The Bible knowledge commentary: Volume 2 p. 205)
God promised David that his kingdom would last forever (2 Samuel 7:16). Jesus fulfilled this promise.  
The name Jesus is also very significant. It is the Greek form of the Hebrew name, Joshua, which means "the Lord saves." Joshua led the people into the promised land (Joshua 1:1, 2), and Jesus would lead His people to salvation.

Unlike Zechariah, Mary was not punished for her questioning.  She asked how Jesus would be born to her if she was a virgin, Gabriel must have known the heart behind her question.


Mary's response is so beautiful: “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).  I wish we could all have that response to God's will! 


Some commentators believe that Luke must have interviewed Mary personally because this account is so personal, reflecting her deep inward feelings. 



Jacopo Pontormo 031
The Birth of John the Baptist by Jacopo Pontormo
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Mary visits Elizabeth: Luke 1:39-56

Shortly after Gabriel's visit to Mary, she went to spend three months with her pregnant relative Elizabeth.  What joy and female bonding!


Luke frequently used the word "joy" in the two books he wrote (Luke and Acts). He often links this word with salvation. We have seen him use it in describing John the Baptist (1:14), and it is in full view in this section! John leaped for joy in Elizabeth's womb when Mary came carrying Jesus. Elizabeth responded in joy when she said that Mary was carrying the mother of her Lord. The term "Lord" (kyrios) was often used to describe Jesus in the book of Luke because "Christ" ("Messiah") would have not meant as much to his target audience, the Greeks, because they did not know all the prophecy leading up to His coming. 


Lastly, Mary responded in joy at carrying Jesus by singing a hymn of praise and quoting many Old Testament Scriptures (Psalms and Hannah's song in 1 Samuel 2:1-10).  This song is often called "The Magnificat" because the opening words, "My soul doth magnify the Lord," is Magnificat anima mea Dominum in Latin. Many beautiful pieces of music have been written to this music by composers like Vivaldi and Bach (I think I sang the Vivaldi version my freshman year in college). 


REFLECTION


I've never had an angel visit me, but this story brings back fond memories of a day during the Christmas season of 1991 when God told me that the baby due in January would be a boy.  Later that day, while driving to a performance of The Nutcracker, I told George about what God told me, and to my surprise, he said, "Carol, God told me the same thing this morning!" It was fun to tell our son that story on the way to see The Nutcracker again twenty years later! 

I think that this is confirmation that God does speak to us today, and we don't have to wait four hundred years for God to break through the silence.


APPLICATION

Here are some possible suggestion for application:

  • Spend some time listening to God. That means shutting out the busyness of your life to really find some solitude and silence.
  • Worshiping God as You pray through Mary's Magnificat!
  • Meditate on Jesus being redemption, salvation, forgiveness, and light for you.
PRAYER

Lord, I cannot study this and not believe that You are the LIGHT OF THE WORLD who came into my dark life.  Everything fits together so perfectly. Thank You for Your Word that shows us all of this. Amen. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

ANNA AND SIMEON: Luke 2:25-38

DAY 23: ANNA AND SIMEON                   

Link: Luke 2:25-38                     


Symbol: Man & Woman


Anna and Simeon were looking for the Christ with great expectation! What does Simeon tell us about Jesus’ mission on earth? Does the coming of Christ, both the first time and for the second time in the future, fill us with joy like it did Simeon? Simeon and Anna thanked God for the Christ child (Luke 2:38). May we also be filled with joy and thanksgiving for the Christ child.

Song: "Joy to the World"

BBC BACKGROUND: LUKE 2


Mary and Joseph Bring Jesus to the Temple (2:21-40)

Did you notice that the word "law" is mentioned five times in this section? Jesus did not come to destroy the Law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17-18). Mary and Joseph followed the Law by the following ceremonies:

Hans Holbein the Elder [Public domain],
 via Wikimedia Commons
 1) Circumcision and naming on the eighth day (Leviticus 12:3).

2) Redemption of the firstborn - 33 days after circumcision, they were to present their firstborn male to God (Exodus 13:2, 11-16; Numbers 18:15, 16). The ceremony included buying back or "redeeming" from God through an offering. 

2) Purification of mother - When the baby was 40 days old (80 for daughters), Mary was to make a a burnt and sin offering to the priest of the temple since birth caused a woman to be ceremonially unclean (Leviticus 12). After sacrifice, the priest would declare her clean. Joseph and Mary's offering of a dove instead of a lamb for the sin offering indicates that they were poor (2 Corinthians 8:9). 

Simeon anticipated the "consolation of Israel" which means the Messiah, who would bring consolation (comfort) to God's people. Most of what he said is straightforward. The child was to be light and glory, but what does "cause the falling and rising of many in Israel" mean? The ones who followed Him would rise, but the ones who did not follow Him would fall. 

Anna, the godly, fasting, and praying prophetess continued where Simeon left off praising God and telling all who were looking for redemption that the Messiah had come to redeem them!  

GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN
OVER THE HILLS AND EVERYWHERE
GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN
THAT JESUS CHRIST IS BORN! 
(Sorry, I digress!)

This section ends with Jesus going back to Nazareth (65 miles north of Jerusalem) to grow up becoming strong and increasing in wisdom with God's grace upon Him!

PRAYER


Lord, make us anticipators and look to You coming again! Amen.

Friday, November 22, 2013

JOHN THE BAPTIST: Matthew 3:1-12



Link: Matthew 3:1-12                     

Symbol: John the  Baptist 


John the Baptist was similar to us as we celebrate the advent of Christ’s birth. John was preparing the way for Christ’s ministry by telling the people to repent. Do we need to prepare our hearts by repenting of some sin or wrongful attitude? Advent is the perfect time to rededicate our lives to the furthering of God’s kingdom. Only then can we “make ready the way of the Lord.”

Here is an audio of me telling this story in a narrative way:John the Baptist 

John the Baptist prepares the way for Jesus (Parallel accounts: Matthew 3:1-12, Mark 1:1-8, Luke 3:1-18)

Specific to the Matthew account: Matthew tells the story of the Messiah-King. So, he skips from Jesus' infancy to the introduction of Jesus by John the Baptist who was Jesus' relative. 


The rest of this background will include information from all three parallel accounts.



It is the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar, A.D. 29. Tiberius ruled over the Roman Empire from A.D. 14 to A.D. 37 and Pilate was the governor of Judea from A.D. 26 to A.D. 36. The reigning Jew over Galilee and Tiberius is Herod Antipas who we have already mentioned in a previous post. His brother, Philip, ruled east of the Jordan from 4 BC to A.D. 34. Annas was the high priest from A.D. 6 to A.D. 15. Caiaphas was his son-in-law and the Romans would replace him as high priest from A.D. 18 to A.D. 36 even though the Jews continued to recognize Annas.

John has been growing, becoming strong in spirit and living in the desert until his public appearance in Israel (Luke 1:80). This is that public appearance. As a descendant from the priestly line of Aaron, John could have been a priest, but God had for him to be His messenger (Malachi 3:1) preaching a very special message in the Judean desert and the country around the Jordan River. His message was direct and to the point:

"Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."

We know from our reading of the Old Testament that the concept of a coming kingdom with a reigning king is huge. The idea of repentance prior to entrance into that kingdom was the new concept for the Jews. They thought that entrance was automatic for them. John said that they needed to "repent." This Greek word metanoéō comes from the base word noéō which means to "perceive, think, know." Repent means to change your opinion, feelings, or purpose from what you thought you always knew! If what you thought you always knew was wrong the word takes on the sense "to regret" (The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament p. 636). They thought they knew the way into heaven, but John had come to tell them about the real way, and it came via a man who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.

John the Baptist exhorts his audience to bear fruit in keeping with righteousness. Just being baptized and Abraham's descendants would not give them an "in" with God!  The Luke account goes into more detail about what would give evidence of genuine repentance: generosity, honesty, and contentment. All three are tied to money and material possessions.  It is interesting to note that the Luke account is the only one that proclaims that "all mankind" (not just the Jews) will see God's salvation (Luke 3:6). This is probably because Luke's audience was non-Jewish. 

REFLECTION/APPLICATION

Try the Loyola Method of meditation as you imagine John the Baptist in the wilderness.

There is also an entire handout on many methods of meditation for download HERE.

Get Totally Involved -The Loyola Method

(Note: Here’s an approach to meditation adapted from the “Spiritual Exercises” of Ignatius Loyola. He was a spiritual director in the 16th century. The Loyola Method works better when you have a passage that involves a narrative story.)

PART ONE (Preparation)

a. In prayer, ask God for grace to direct your thoughts, words, and actions to service and praise of his Divine Majesty.

b. Read the passage upon which you intend to meditate. Read unhurriedly, but without attempting yet to meditate on the passage. Your goal now is simply to familiarize yourself with the passage.

c. Determine an objective for your meditation time and ask God to help you accomplish it. If the passage you choose, for example, is the account of Jesus’ birth in Luke 2:1–7, your objective may be a sense of awe and humility as you contemplate the mystery of-your Savior’s entry into the world.

Usually this preliminary request is formulated in terms of some emotion you wish God to give you as a result of your meditation. Ignatius Loyola believed that the ultimate purpose of meditation is application (that is, an act of the will), and that the will is motivated primarily by emotion rather than reason.

PART TWO (Meditation)

a. Visualize the scene. In the case of Luke 2:1–7, see in your mind the road from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Is it level, or does it wind through valleys and around hillsides? See Mary, in her ninth month of pregnancy, riding on a donkey, accompanied by Joseph who is perhaps leading an ox. They are going to Bethlehem to pay a tax. What kind of people are they passing on the way? Soldiers? Peasants? Merchants? Other families?
Study in your imagination the place of the Nativity. Is it spacious or cramped? Clean or dirty? Warm or cold? How is it furnished?

b. Assume the role of one of the characters in the passage, or of someone else who might be present. In Luke 2, for example, you could be the hotel’s servant or maid.

c. Now apply your five senses to the scene. Look carefully, watching all the action. Use your ears as you listen in on conversations. Apply your senses of smell and touch. What odors are present? What quality of garments are being worn? Feel the woodwork of the manger. Smell and feel the straw. Apply your sense of taste—is there anything there to eat?

d. Analyze your own feelings as a member of the scene. How do you feel about what is happening? How do you feel about the persons involved? How do you feel about yourself?

PART THREE (Conversation)

Talk to Joseph, or Mary, or someone else in the scene. Talk to them about the thoughts that have come to your mind as you have meditated on this passage. Talk to God or to the Lord Jesus.
    
          This conversation should in most cases lead to some form of action or personal application. 

Loyola Method exercise adapted From Discipleship Journal, Issue 6 (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress)

PRAYER

Thank You, Lord Jesus, for coming to fulfill all righteousness and being righteousness on my behalf. We desire to do Your will, God. Amen. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

RETURN TO THE LAND: Ezra 1:1-8

DAY 21: RETURN TO THE LAND     

Link: Ezra 1:1-8               


Symbol: Brick Wall

The exile and return of the children of Israel to their land was prophesied in Jeremiah. Read Jeremiah 25:1-11 and Jeremiah 29:10-14. God is getting His people in the right place at the right time, for the coming of the Messiah. When has God put us in just the right place at just the right time?

BBC BACKGROUND: EZRA 1


Ezra 1 - Cyrus' Edict


This chapter opens in 538 B.C., 47 years after Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem (2 Kings 25; 2 Chronicles 36). The Persians had overthrown the great Babylonians, and Cyrus became king of Persia in 559. Isaiah 44:28-45:6 prophesied that Cyrus would help the Jews return to Jerusalem. He allowed them to bring back articles belonging to the temple that Nebuchadnezzar had taken away. 


Persian records show that many Jews had accumulated much wealth while in captivity. Consequently, many remained, preferring the comfortable life in Babylon. 


REFLECTION (written before I returned to the home of my ancestors, July 2012)


Next week, Lord willing, I will be walking the 120 acres of the land of my ancestors in Cross Fork, Pennsylvania. My grandmother left that town in 1906 after her parents both died within two weeks of one another, leaving her an orphan at 11 years of age.  I am the first to return to the land of my forefathers in over 100 years! I have wanted to go there for much of my life. It is a dream come true to finally be doing it (Of course, it took the wedding of a dear friend in Pittsburgh to prompt us to go).  


My grandmother never returned to that land, and sadly, because of the bitterness of becoming an orphan at such a young age and dishonest dealings from church families in Cross Fork that caused her to lose her inheritance, she was always bitter toward God. She never returned to Cross Fork or to God, and she did not like that I had made a decision to make Jesus my home. I will walk that land with both joy and weeping next week. 



Ancestral Land, Cross Fork, Pennsylvania, July 2012
This gives me just a little bit of a glimpse of what it must have been like for the exiles to return to their homeland and settle in the towns and villages of their ancestors after 70 years. They were returning home. What joy but also what sorrow to remember the past and what once was. 

Jesus is our home. He is where we need to return every day. Many of us are held in captivity in our souls, and we need to return to Him where we can settle and find peace and rest there. 


APPLICATION 

Return to your true home today. Walk His land. Find rest and peace. 


PRAYER 


Psalm 126 is a "Song of Ascent" recalling the joy of returning exile. The agricultural reference in 126:5-6 indicates that the returning exiles would face bad seasons (Haggai 1:9-11), but God would give them rain and harvests (Haggai 2:15-19) and keep His covenant promise.  Let it be your prayer today:



When the Lord brought back the captive ones of Zion, 
We were like those who dream. 
Then our mouth was filled with laughter 
And our tongue with joyful shouting; 
Then they said among the nations, 
“The Lord has done great things for them.” 
The Lord has done great things for us; 
We are glad. 

Restore our captivity, O Lord, 

As the streams in the South. (the Negev desert south of Judah that overflowed in rainy season)
Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. 
He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, 
Shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him. (Psalm 126:1-6)

I love how The Message words verses 5 and 6:



So those who planted their crops in despair 
will shout hurrahs at the harvest, 
So those who went off with heavy hearts 
will come home laughing, with armloads of blessing." (Psalm 126:5-6)