Friday: The Birth of Faith – Advent 2022

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I never saw Santa Claus strategically placing presents under our tree on Christmas Eve, but I knew joy would fill the empty space while I slept. Besides, I never wanted to actually see the big guy because my mother shared a story of Santa sprinkling pepper in her eyes when he showed up and found her awake. (I later discovered Grandaddy Cephas was the culprit. His “jokes” definitely crossed the line at times.)

My childhood faith in the unseen brought rest during unrestful moments. Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy delivered the promises from previously told tales. Thankfully, in my home, there was never a letdown. Kids choose to believe the stories adults tell without proof. It’s genuine faith.

Christmas, above all else, is magical. Although some Christian adults feel Santa Claus erases the true meaning of Christmas, I can’t remember a single time when my mother failed to deliver the spiritual truth of the holiday season. Mom constantly reminded us of Jesus’ birth and focused on the Three Wise Men. Their response is a wonderful example of this childlike faith in action. They followed a star, hoping it would lead them to the Messiah.

Hebrews 11:1
Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.

The Three Wise Men weren’t the only ones who heard the prophecy of the newborn king, but they faithfully sought him out when others stood still. It’s harder for adults to believe in the unseen, so it’s easier for our faith to waver. Faith isn’t blindly following instructions. You should doubt your doubts and ask questions to understand the invisible. After all, there’s a point to faith, and seeking answers will make it stronger.

Watching children be captivated by the Christmas spirit can be a wonderful reminder to us all. Not only is it an opportunity to invite children into God’s Kingdom before they’re hindered with doubt and skepticism, but seeing pure faith through the eyes of a child is also an invitation for us all to open our hearts and rekindle our childlike faith and wonder in God. This is the type of faith Jesus calls us to.

Matthew 19:14
But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.”

Questions:
What does faith mean to you? How has faith changed the way you approach life?

Next Steps:
Read the Christmas Bible Story. Share the role faith plays in the Christmas story. Be proactive and share your faith with people who don’t know Jesus.

Prayer:
God, I receive more spiritual understanding the more I dive into my faith, and I thank you for that. You will not abandon me when I need you the most or when I forget I need you at all. I will continue to have faith in you, my story within your story, and in the things I’m not meant to know. Amen. 

Parent Resource:
Read Luke 1:39-56 together as a family. Create a playlist of everyone’s favorite Christmas carols and worship songs. Play it all week and sing along!


This post was written by Jaron Camp. Jaron is a storyteller and a professional ghostwriter who enjoys using his gifts to write for the LivingItOut. When he’s not developing fictional worlds, researching, and writing, Jaron enjoys watching sports, participating in family game night, and spending time with his wife and four kids.


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Filled with Anticipation – Advent 2022

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Around Christmas, you can see anticipation on the faces of almost every child. Their eyes seem to shine. Small, secretive smiles dimple their cheeks. And as the big day grows closer, their energy only increases.

Unlike joy and hope, anticipation is a sort of whispered excitement—a longing so deep inside, to speak it aloud is almost too vulnerable. We are uncertain of what it really means. Anticipation reveals our desire for a perfect, eternal home—for the promise of Jesus’ return.

For hundreds of years, the Israelites had lived in anticipation, waiting for the Messiah to rescue them. God had promised one man, Simeon, that he wouldn’t die until he saw the Messiah. On the day Mary and Joseph brought their newborn son, Jesus, to the Temple, Simeon was called there by the Holy Spirit. When he saw Jesus, he praised God, saying:

Luke 2:29-32
29 “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised. 30 I have seen your salvation, 31  which you have prepared for all people. 32 He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel!”

Many people missed Jesus—even when he was right there in front of them. Although the Israelites were anticipating God’s Savior, they had their own expectations of what that would look like. Simeon, on the other hand, never saw Jesus’ teaching, miracles, or resurrection, but he was no less overjoyed by the sight of him.

We sometimes create an expectation rather than being full of anticipation. When we place boundaries on how we want God to work, we end up limiting how much of his story we’re able to see and experience. Simeon was open to whatever Messiah God had in mind, and he was able to rejoice and share the good news.

Psalm 130:5-7
5 I am counting on the Lord; yes, I am counting on him. I have put my hope in his word.
6 I long for the Lord more than sentries long for the dawn, yes, more than sentries long for the dawn.
7 O Israel, hope in the Lord; for with the Lord there is unfailing love. His redemption overflows.

This is the way to anticipate—to count on him, to hope in his word, to long for him like the dawn, to seek his unfailing love and overflowing redemption—until he returns forever.

Micah 7:7
As for me, I look to the Lord for help. I wait confidently for God to save me, and my God will certainly hear me.

Questions:
What are you anticipating? When do you feel anticipation the most? Are there any expectations that you need to let go of?

Next Steps:
Make a “Christmas list” of the things you are anticipating to experience in Heaven. Include things like rest, closeness with God, awe, and relief. If you’re creative, paint a picture or write a poem to express your anticipation. If not, find a space in your home, at the park, or the library where you can anticipate God’s promises for a few moments.

Prayer:
Father, what a gift anticipation is! Thank you for our anticipation of the little, like hot coffee and a warm bed at the end of a long day, and of  the big, like spending eternity with you. Please, help us let go of our expectations so we can receive your story, which is far better than anything we could ever come up with ourselves. Teach us to find ways to bring a little bit of Heaven to earth as we wait for you. Amen. 

Parent Resource:
Read Luke 1:38 together as a family. Bake a batch of Christmas cookies (no shame if you grab a tube from the grocery store!) Share a snack together and take some of them to a neighbor.


This post was written by Lydia Snyder. Lydia has been a story-lover for as long as she can remember, often found reading books or writing. She is thrilled to be making a difference by inspiring others to take part in the best story ever – God’s story. Lydia lives with her three wonderful siblings and two amazing parents.


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Face the Wonder – Advent 2022

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The word wonder is defined as “a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable” (Oxford English Dictionary). I want to invite you to look deeply into the wonder of that first Christmas and to open the gift that is available for all who believe.

Not everyone has a home where the “stockings are hung by the chimney with care,” or where loving and/or annoying family members come from afar just to be together. Instead, some are wondering if they will even have a place to spend Christmas.

Mary and Joseph experienced this dilemma just before Mary was about to give birth; there was no place for them to stay. I imagine Mary thinking back to when the angel told her, “Don’t be afraid, Mary” … “for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:30-32).

So there they were with the most precious miracle the world would ever see on that first Christmas, and the only place to lay him was in a manger with the barn animals. Nearby an angel of the Lord appeared to some shepherds. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” … “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.” .… “You will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger” (Luke 2:10-12).

What a wonder that God used this humble scene to have the first Christmas gathering. He provided the location, the guests, and the gifts—and none of those were what anyone expected.

I want to be like Mary and Joseph this holiday season and trust that God will lead me and you into a deeper understanding of the gift we have been given in Jesus. This gift is so much greater than where we live and the things we do or do not have.

Let’s wonder at all he can do when we open our hearts, pray, and listen.

Questions:
What do you need this holiday season? Are you feeling alone even in a crowded room? Ask yourself, “why?”

Who can you bless with your gifts to show Jesus loves them?

Next Steps:
If you have a need, reach out and ask for help.

Do something special for someone on your list who is in need this Christmas.

Prayer:
Jesus, we pray for those who are in need physically, spiritually, and/or emotionally this Christmas season. Please provide solutions to meet these needs.  Make us a people with open eyes and hearts, willing to serve when you call us. Amen. 

Parent Resource:
Read Luke 1: 34-37 together as a family. Taking care of a new baby is a big challenge! Take a meal to a family you know with a new baby, or pick up diapers to donate to a local shelter or food bank.


This post was written by April Willer, a regular contributor to the LivingItOut Bible Study.


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My Hope – Advent 2022

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As my relationship with God continues to grow, it has become easier to remain hopeful. I know that no matter the circumstances, I am loved. Even though I’m not the greatest at choosing my words and I have been known to talk in circles (it might be genetic Stengelese), I don’t need to wonder if God hears my cries for help. I am confident he hears me loud and clear and knows my hopes and dreams—because he made me the way I am. He knows me.

During a time of year that is often filled with shopping and presents, it’s easy to lose hope as expansive wish lists and tight budgets collide. In Western society, people often get caught up in putting their hope in the perfect present under the tree.  But true hope offers so much more.

I recently saw a story on the news about two orphaned brothers from Sierra Leone who were adopted into an American family. For the first time in his life, one of the brothers, Abraham, was thrown a birthday party. He was so moved that he called his cake the “blessing cake.”

Just as this young boy saw blessing and hope through this birthday celebration and the incredible new life he was experiencing from the adoption, we too can have incredible hope through a birthday celebration.

Matthew 12:21
“And his name will be the hope of all the world.”

Christmas is our opportunity to celebrate Jesus’ birth and the new life he offers us through his death and resurrection. When we put our faith in him as our Lord and Savior, we are adopted into his family and become recipients of his blessings (Romans 8:15, Romans 8:23).

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about Abraham’s faith and story. His hope is infectious, yet the hope we have in Jesus is even more powerful. It’s an anchor, especially during our most difficult times.

Hebrews 6:19
This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary.

When we keep our hope in Jesus, it is easy to be thankful and content for what we have. By understanding that Jesus won’t let us down, there is no way not to be thankful for the hope we have in this world. What a miraculous blessing Jesus’ birth offers us.

Questions:
When you’re feeling down, do you look to God for hope? What are you hoping for this Christmas season?

Next Steps:
Watch Abraham’s story, and think about a time you have been so thankful that you wanted to spread the hope of the world. Invite others to church with you so they can see where your hope comes from.

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, thank you for giving me hope. Help me share it so others will feel your love and joy. You give me the hope that I need to keep going and spreading your word so others can know you the way I do. Thank you for every day that you put the breath in my lungs. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Parent Resource:
Read Luke 1: 32-33 together as a family. Parents, share the meaning behind your children’s names (Google is your friend for this) and why it’s special to you.


This post was written by Casey Stengel. Casey is a follower of Christ, a dad, and an avid Chicago sports fan. When he’s not working, he enjoys spending time with family and friends. He works in recovery and loves to help people however he can. He is also working toward his Associate Degree in Biblical Studies.


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Jesus is Coming – Advent 2022

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When I was a child, my family’s celebration of Advent involved a Christmas countdown calendar with pieces of chocolate hidden behind little doors. As a young adult, I assumed that Advent was something extra but not necessary. However, as I have grown, I have been drawn more deeply into the tradition of Advent and what it means for us as Christians.

“Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” by Charles Wesley
Come, thou long expected Jesus,
Born to set thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in thee.

The word advent comes from a Latin word, meaning “coming.” Initially, Advent was a time of fasting and penance. It had nothing to do with Christmas. It was a time of anticipating the Messiah’s second coming. It was during the Middle Ages that Advent was tied to the first coming of Christ, and its connection with Christmas has remained with us to this day.

Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

Today, we are a people positioned between two Advents. Prior to Christ’s birth, the Jewish people eagerly waited for God’s promised Messiah. They clung to the hope of the prophecies promising God would restore his wayward people. We as 21st-century believers are waiting for his second advent. Christ has defeated death and ensured the final victory, yet evil is still destroying the world we live in. We anticipate the day when Jesus returns.

Born thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now thy gracious kingdom bring.

When we observe Advent, we are both remembering what Christ did for us when he came to earth as a frail human baby and also looking forward to the day when he victoriously returns. We prepare our hearts to celebrate his birth and anticipate what is to come. We remember that we are living in the “already and not yet.” Death has been defeated, but we still live in a fallen world.

By thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to thy glorious throne.

As we prepare our hearts to celebrate Christ’s first Advent, we remember he is our future hope. The first Advent came after a dark time in ancient Israel. The people felt abandoned by God, yet in their darkness, light broke through.

Isaiah 9:2 (NIV)
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.

We are still living in a dark time. Evil seems to be triumphing. But as children of the One True God, we have hope. We know Christ will return to rule and reign forever.

Revelation 21:6-7 (NIV)
6 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. 7 Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.

Questions:
Did you know that Advent was more than just tied to Christmas? Have you celebrated Advent in the past? What is one way you can more intentionally enter into this season to anticipate his return?

Next Steps:
As you enter into the Advent season, remember that we are not only celebrating the birth of Christ but also his second coming.

Spend time this season reading through:

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, I am in awe of the love you have for your sinful people. You entered into our world and took on our frailty. You suffered unjustly and showed us what it meant to truly love. Thank you for entering into our darkness and shining a light on us. As we enter into the Christmas season, remind us that we are also anticipating your second coming. Help us never lose sight of the future we will one day enjoy in your presence for eternity. Amen.

Parent Resource:
Read Luke 1:26-31 together as a family. God’s plan for Christmas surprised everyone. If you could plan Christmas this year exactly the way you wanted, what would it look like?


This post was written by Julie Mabus. Julie has a passion for thinking about big ideas, art, reading, and seeing God reveal himself through creation. She is married and is homeschooling her five young children.


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