To sign up to receive these devotion by email, click HERE.
HOME FOR CHRISTMAS
“Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem” (Luke 2:4).
Being home for Christmas is important. We sing songs like “I’ll be home for Christmas.” We portray happy Christmas homecomings in our movies. We illustrate Norman Rockwell-like paintings on our Christmas cards to show a warm Christmas at home. We each have some image of what it would be like to be home for Christmas. But the reality is, sometimes we aren’t home.
Sometimes we aren’t at home physically: no vacation time, deployed for duty, living far from home. If so, we aren’t the first. The Holy Family had left their home in Nazareth and traveled all the way south to Bethlehem. Miles away from home, no family in sight, about to have a baby. Being away from home at Christmas can be tough. Just ask Mary and Joseph.
Sometimes we aren’t present emotionally. Maybe someone won’t be there this Christmas due to family fights or divorce. Sadly, someone we love may have died and won’t be at the table. Perhaps our heart is heavy because of our own illness, or our finances, or our child’s troubles. What should be the most joyous time of the year has become a “Blue Christmas.”
We can also be away from home spiritually. While our sin separates us from the Lord, Christmas is the story of God acting to bring us home. Christmas is a great time for homecomings. All the sights and the sounds can serve to remind us that no matter where we’ve been or what we’ve been up to, God wants to welcome us home.
If we find ourselves away from “home,” Jesus comes to share our lives with us. If our hearts are broken and away from those we love, Jesus offers healing and wholeness. Even if we wake up on Christmas to find that we have run away from our spiritual home, Jesus is there to bring us back.
The Good News, the Gospel, is that Christmas comes to each of us because Christmas is where Jesus is: whether it is Bethlehem, or Nazareth, or even Water Valley, Mississippi. May it be so today and forever more. Merry Christmas and Amen.
Prayer for the Day: O God, of your goodness, give us yourself, for only in you do we have all. Amen. (A prayer of St Julian of Norwich)
By Rev. Jim Genessee (Senatobia District Superintendent)
In the beginning, the Word was already there. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. John 1:1,2 NIrV
This reading of the first two verses in the Gospel of John may sound somewhat unfamiliar. That wouldn’t be surprising since it comes from the New International Readers Version. This version is written for younger ears that haven’t quite developed the ability to process the use of language found in most other translations. The funny thing is, I’m not so sure that most of us wouldn’t benefit from a reading that is easier to understand. That is after all what the good news (gospel) of Christmas is all about. Maybe not “understanding” necessarily, but allowing the distant to be near.
John tells us, “In the beginning, the Word (Jesus the Christ) was already there.” And not only that but also, “All things were made through him. Nothing that has been made was made without him. Life was in him, and that life was the light for all people” (vss. 3,4). ALL things were made through him. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a pretty big deal. Oh, and did I forget to mention that “the Word (Jesus the Christ) was God” (vs. 2)? So, what does all that mean? At the very least it means that Jesus is more than we expect him to be. He is “true God from true God,” “the Alpha and Omega,” “the beginning and the end.”
While he is all of that, Jesus is also the son of Mary, the baby in a feeding trough. It is the fullest expression of what I mentioned earlier, the distant becoming near. God, from the very beginning, has been a God who is present in human experience. However, because of our willful ignorance, we could not experience God that way. Instead, we were more at home with God being God on the mountaintop, surrounded by cloud and fire. No wonder John said, “The Word was in the world that was made through him. But the world did not recognize him” (vs. 10).
The baby in a manger is a picture of vulnerability and nearness with which we may not be entirely comfortable, especially when we see it as the very nature of God; vulnerable and near. God loves us enough to become the most vulnerable among us. It is the gift of Christmas, offered to the world, offered to you. Now what will you do with it?
Prayer for the day: God of all creation, to you who came to us, when we could not and would not come to you, we give ourselves, on this holiest of days, to the only one in whom we can trust, as we rest secure in the promised gift of Christmas.
By Rev. Allen McGraw (Water Valley First UMC)
Galatians was written for the Gentiles of Paul’s day. Therefore, it comes to us now as “modern day” Gentiles.
I accepted Christ on faith. At the time, I did not understand the “works of the law.” But as I studied, I came to understand that the law was written for Jews before the coming of Christ. After Christ, there was no need for reliance on the Jewish law for salvation. We are saved by faith – believing what you’ve heard – that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Christmas is a time of renewal – celebrating the love of God through His Son, Jesus Christ. We exchange gifts as if that is the biggest thing going on. But the getting together of families is the best part of Christmas – looking forward to the family all together for a meal and fellowship.
Prayer for the Day: Father in Heaven, help us to follow the Spirit in faith and to understand Your message to us – to live in truth and to follow the Spirit’s lead. In the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ – AMEN.
By Cynthia Dodge (Water Valley First UMC)
The beginning of this passage of Isaiah conveys to me the worry God’s people might feel approaching the kingdom in their walk of faith. There is an eeriness about verse 18 saying “your heart will meditate on terror.” We all have moments of panic where we feel as though God has abandoned us and we must survive this crazy world on our own volition, and in fact, sometimes that might be easier to fathom.
Everyone has seasons of life where it seems the roller coaster never seems to pull into the gate to disembark. As a college student, my plate is constantly overflowing with events and assignments and games and the constant need for ever-elusive sleep. It is all too easy to forget that God is sovereign over all of these activities and that he does not want us to meditate in terror over what lies ahead of us, in our passageway, or even the lack thereof. We may not see a clear path; in the same way, this passage shows an absence of a scribe and other administrative elements of a city. But God is always there, giving his children a calm reassurance to trek on through life towards this city where He is waiting.
The passage goes on to reassure that there are brighter, reassuring things ahead. It describes Jerusalem as a quiet home with a tabernacle that will not be taken down and a waiting God that will be for us. Through all of these hectic times in our lives – mine as a college student and yours at whatever point you have reached in your life – we need to be reminded that our God is for us. He is the end of our path, the place we finally get to disembark from this crazy rollercoaster we call life, and the constant reassurance that He walks beside each of us every day.
Prayer for the Day: Lord, please help me to remember that You are my constant companion in my walk through life. Your plan is perfect, and You alone are the peace I need to survive what each new day will bring. Please allow my faith and reassurance to rest in You alone. In Your precious and holy name, Amen.
By Shade Epes (Water Valley First UMC)
In several of Joseph’s dreams, he describes to his brothers and father his visions of him one day being king. His brothers then immediately take offense to the statements made by Joseph. Joseph’s father, on the other hand, took what Joseph had said to mind. The brothers envied Joseph and the visions of him being king, especially since he was the youngest of all of them.
Webster states the definition of envy as “a feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or luck.” I suppose, in this case, Joseph’s brothers were envious of his luck. But regardless of what they were truly jealous of, we as humans would be lying to ourselves if we say we have never been envious of anyone. Mostly we become jealous of others who are wealthier, have fancier belongings than we do, etc. But we never really stop to think about how they came to acquire such skills, belongings, or riches, do we? In the case of Joseph, his brothers were envious of him for having visions of himself being king of the land, but they never asked themselves why they didn’t have the same visions. Joseph, most likely, was being rewarded a marvelous gift from God for his dedication to faith and good deeds. We as humans find ourselves asking, “Why them and not me?” when instead we should more commonly ask God how to serve him better. We as Christians must remember that there will be no greater gift than eternal life with God Almighty in heaven; no worldly possession could begin to compare to the awesomeness of God’s gift of eternal life. Our time on Earth is short, and we were put here to make disciples out of the inhabitants of the land, not to let envy drive our pursuit of happiness.
Prayer for the Day: Lord, help us not to be green with envy, but rather to be lights in which Your amazing love shines on the world brighter than ever before. Help us not only as a state, nation, or world, but as a family through Christ to overcome the temptations of envious thoughts and spread your message of unending love. In Jesus’s holy name we pray. Amen.
By Tyler Curvin (Water Valley First UMC)
“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” (Galatians 5:1, NKJV)
Growing up in the Baptist faith, I was often struck by all of the “thou shalt nots.” To me, being a Christian meant no drinking, no dancing, no cussing, and not having too much fun. What a sad dreary life that Christians had to live! Or so I thought.
When I was in high school, I began attending the Methodist church in our small Texas town. It seemed as if there weren’t as many “thou shalt nots,” but even Methodists had to toe the line! It seemed as if, as a Christian, I had a big yoke of responsibility and hard work ahead of me, if I wanted to stay in the good graces of God. Being a good Christian was difficult! But the older I got, and the more I studied the Bible, I realized that I didn’t have to work hard (at least not physically) to earn God’s love. He loves me just as I am! Sometimes, He doesn’t love what I do, but He will never stop loving me. And the more I get involved in the “Christian life,” I find myself being freed for joyful obedience. The yoke isn’t all that heavy anymore! In fact, being a Christian doesn’t feel constraining – it feels like the ultimate freedom. I don’t have to be afraid anymore. This Christmas season, try to remember that God wants us to have all of the love, wonder, and joy that we experience at Christmas every day of the year!
Prayer for the Day: Now, to God the Father, who first loved us, and made us accepted in the Beloved; to God the Son, who loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood; to God the Holy Ghost, who sheddeth the love of God abroad in our hearts, be all love and all glory in time and to all eternity. Amen. (A prayer of John Wesley)
By Peggy Rotenberry (Water Valley First UMC)
When I read these verses, I don’t usually wonder so much about a ninety-year-old woman and a hundred-year-old man having a son. My thoughts go to how did God speak to Abraham – and how does He speak to me. My mind goes back to my senior year in high school when I was wondering how I was going to pay for college. A graduate of Water Valley High two years ahead of me had informed the superintendent of the WV School System about a scholarship he received after he enrolled in college in another state. The superintendent met with all the male eleventh and twelfth graders to tell us about it. (It was not available to females at that time.) The scholarship was available at over fifty colleges – one of which was less than 20 miles from my house. I applied for it and went to that college.
Does God use people we know to pass messages to us? The chapter in Genesis following the one referenced above reinforces the message to Abraham by three men showing up at his tent with the same good news. We read other accounts in the Bible about God using natural events or even unnatural occurrences to get messages to us. I don’t know all there is to know about God after years of attending – and even teaching – Sunday School. What I do know is that God knows a lot more than I do and uses all sorts of methods to get through to me.
As we approach the celebration of the coming of the Savior into the physical world, we need to be alert to the messages that God is delivering to us both individually and collectively. As the old signs at railroad crossings used to say: “Stop, Look, Listen.” God may have an important message today for you or me.
Prayer for the Day: Oh God, help me to be attentive to what You are saying to me today. Thank you for your patience and care through the years. Amen.
By James Person (Water Valley First UMC)
Let it be understood that when God gives, He GIVES! In this passage, although He is weary of Ahaz’s hypocritical display of virtue, God graciously gives a sign, a glorious sign regarding the birth of Immanuel – God with Us – and a promise regarding the fate of the dreaded Syrian and Israeli kings. God assures Ahaz that they will be destroyed.
How do you deal with the sometimes worrisome, threatening, even terrifying circumstances of life? Do you strive to live “by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God?” Do you strive to abide in the Father’s love? Do you strive to listen to God, to believe His Word, and to trust and obey accordingly? In the midst of trouble, do you struggle to recall that not only is God with us but that He also sees and knows exactly what we need before we even consider asking him to provide? Immanuel is with us through all the crises of life, big and small.
The great and ultimate promise of Immanuel is foretold in Isaiah – to Ahaz – a wicked unbeliever – who is going to miss out on so much! Why? Because he lacks faith, stubbornly refuses to submit and believe, and has a completely self-righteous response to God.
This is the thing. When GOD says test ME or prove ME in this, HE means it. When HE says believe every WORD that proceeds from the mouth of GOD, know without a doubt that those WORDS are the power of GOD to those who believe them. When HE says ask ME, HE means to ask in faith, believing and trusting GOD to do what only GOD can do.
Ahaz didn’t believe God. Didn’t believe God’s words of promise and security. Didn’t believe in the promise of Immanuel. Ahaz wearied his people as well as God with his fearful unbelief and his false piety. Recall for a moment what it feels like to be afraid and to miss out on the peace of God because we embrace the very real struggle rather than the ever-present hand of the Lord and His Word of truth. Our unspoken thoughts and fears become the ruling “words” of our days instead of God’s words. We’ve all been there! And God is right there with us the entire time, whispering wonderful words of life into our hearts . . . “A young woman is with child and shall bear a son and shall name him Immanuel, God with us.” It’s a promise – as prophetically true then as it is today, 2000+ years after the fact.
I close with the words of a song most of us know well:
“When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word, what a glory He sheds on our way. What He says we will do; where He sends we will go. Never fear, only trust and obey. Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” (John H. Sammis, “Trust and Obey” (No. 467) in the United Methodist Hymnal, verse 1)
Prayer for the Day: Lord, in this season of Advent, please forgive us for forgetting that with God, all things are possible. Refresh our vision of who You truly are: the Maker and Giver of every good thing that was and is and ever shall be. Lead us to delve deeply into Your Words of Life – believing, obeying, asking, trusting, and walking alongside the One who loves us most . . . Immanuel. Amen.
By Leslie Carr (Water Valley First UMC)
John reminds us that Jesus is our ultimate gift from God. Jesus is our pathway to God; to believe in Jesus and his teachings is to believe in our Heavenly Father and have “eternal life.” During this Advent season, we can remember that Jesus’s birth was the path to the beginning of our eternal life in God. God put “everything into HIS hands.” This everything includes everything we have in OUR hands; Jesus holds it all, including our trials and triumphs.
The Christmas season reminds me of time with my family. Every year since I was little, my family has spent Christmas Eve at my grandparent’s house in Carrollton. My grandmother loved Christmas time; she decorated the entire house, bought everyone in our 20+ person family presents, and cooked enough for a small army. She was the center of our family; however, on March 23rd of 2013, this center was taken away. Though my family could find peace in knowing she was in God’s hands spending her eternal life with Him, Christmas presented a hard time. The joy that Christmas brought was overshadowed with a somber feeling.
During Christmas, my family has to remind themselves that she is with our Heavenly Father, and even though this special time of year can be hard, it is still a time of rejoicing. Jesus holds our troubles in his hands; he feels what we feel and weeps with us. Jesus brought to us the promise of eternal life beginning with his birth; therefore, Christmas is the beginning of a promise that we will all be joined together again. This promise is the center of our family Christmas. We are all united not only by blood but also by Christ, and this is the best Christmas gift of all.
Prayer for the Day: Our Heavenly Father, help us to remember the ultimate gift of eternal life through your Son. Remind us that everything is held in your hands and that we may cast our trials and triumphs upon you because we are yours. In your most precious and holy name, Amen.
By Tyler Epes (Water Valley First UMC)
For reasons I cannot possibly quantify, I would say that for most of my life, my father was the most special person in the world to me. There is no way for me to describe the bond we shared, other than to state that it was an amalgamation of common genes, emotions, interests, and experiences. He may or may not have been just as special to my siblings, but to me, he was always my father – my daddy – my kinsman, partner, advisor, and best friend. Since his death, scarcely a day passes when there isn’t something that prompts me to wish that I could once again ask for Daddy’s advice, assistance, or reassurance. He was just a mere mortal, constrained by plenty of faults and limitations, but he was also a man that earned my respect as a beloved father and gracious benefactor.
In reading this passage from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, we are reminded of the special relationship that God affords those who believe in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Clearly, Paul sees this relationship as one that is felt in our core as we experience the Holy Spirit giving us the understanding of who we are and to whom we belong. Paul emphasizes the spiritual adoption that believers receive – the process of formally entering the family of God, complete with our redemption from the worldly burdens of our former life and the transition to a life of spiritual entitlements. As J. I. Packer stated in his book Knowing God, “This is the view of the great change which Paul sets out in Galatians 4:1-7, contrasting his readers’ previous life of slavish legalism and superstition in religion with their present knowledge of their Creator as their Father and their pledged benefactor.”
In recent years, there have been a number of people who have misinterpreted the Aramaic word “abba” as a childish, informal rendering of the word father – such as “da-da,” “papa,” or “daddy.” However, the word should be always rightfully understood as a respectful, intimate expression of the word father. Stated simply, “abba” best translates into English as “my father.” For each and every Christian, this understanding is essential, for we must realize that our relationship with God is uniquely intimate and personal, and therefore God should be addressed as such. So, to each of us, God is more than the Father, or our Father – He is my Father.
As we continue our journey through this time of Advent, may we take time to reflect upon the necessity of God sending his Son to be born of Mary, under the law. And may we rejoice daily in the special, intensely personal relationship that we now have with my Father.
Prayer for the Day: Father, My Father, thank You for bringing us into the safety, certainty, and enjoyment of the family of God. Thank You for sending Jesus into our world at just the right time, under just the right circumstances, in order to provide just what we need for redemption. May Your Holy Spirit teach us and guide us in becoming worthy sons, and daughters, and disciples. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
By Phillip Carr (Water Valley First UMC)