Joy to the World – This Christmas

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Find today’s Family Advent Activity at the bottom of today’s reading.

I have loved Christmas since I was a little kid. I love the music, the trees, the lights, and the presents. You can see the joy of Christmas in the kindness and love people show to their fellow man. My favorite thing about Christmas is attending Christmas Eve service with my family. My heart overflows with joy as my family and I celebrate the birth of our Savior, and I reflect on all Jesus has done for me. Christmas has always been my favorite time of the year.

Christmas 2020 may seem different than Christmases past, but we must remember the true reason we celebrate Christmas—the birth of our Savior, Jesus.

This weekend, speaker and writer Barb Roose spoke to our church. During her sermon, she gave some history on the song “Joy to the World.” It was written as a poem by Christian minister and writer Isaac Watts and was included in a book of poems and hymns, The Psalms of David, in 1719. The poem that led to this popular Christmas song was based on Psalm 98. The first few lyrics of the song follow:

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.

The true meaning of Christmas is that Jesus our King came to this earth as a precious baby to save us all. Jesus is the Joy of the World—yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Theologian and pastor Rick Warren has been quoted as saying, “Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation.” With God as our Savior, we can live with joy, even while we are hurting inside or struggling.

That, my friend, is the miracle of Christmas.

This Christmas, praise God for the greatest gift we ever received, Jesus! Pray daily for God to reveal the miracle of Christmas to you year round. Praise him and thank him for all he has done for you. If you are really struggling to find joy this year, pour out your heart to him. He wants to hear from you. He cares, and he wants to fill you with his presence and peace. Trust him to be with you during tough times and heartbreak. I hope this verse will give you comfort:

John 10:10 (MSG)
A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.

Jesus came to give us real and eternal life. A life that is better than you could have ever dreamed of. Receive the true gift of Christmas in your heart: Jesus.

Merry Christmas!

Questions:
What brings you joy at Christmas? What are you struggling with this season? Have you poured your heart out to God? Have you received Jesus as your Savior? If not, what’s holding you back?

Next Steps:
Read Psalm 98. Listen to “Joy to the World.” Sing it at the top of your lungs, and praise Jesus for all he has done for you. Look for Jesus’ miracles and blessings daily. Journal them and review them during tough times.

Prayer:
Jesus, I love and adore you. I am overwhelmed with joy that you, my King, came to this earth to save me. I am so thankful your Holy Spirit is present in me at all times. I don’t have to do it alone. You are always present, filling me with your joy, peace, and love. Help me to remember the true meaning of Christmas this year. Help me to always keep my eyes focused on you. Help me to live in your joy at all times, no matter what my circumstances may be. Amen.

Family Advent Activity:
Family Connection – Use the following prompt to have some meaningful family conversations.

How does it make you feel knowing God loves you so much? That’s why God gave us Jesus. Have you asked Jesus to be your Friend Forever?

Pray – “I know I make bad choices, called sin. I know my sin should separate me from You forever. But instead You loved me and gave me Jesus. I believe and trust that Your son Jesus, died for my sin and came back to life. Thank You for loving me and for giving me the gift of eternal life so I could live with You now and in heaven someday. Be my Friend Forever! In Jesus’ name, amen.”

For more family fun, check out the monthly advent calendar full of seasonal activities.


This post was written by Marsha Raymond. Marsha has been happily married to her husband, Jeff, for 30 years. They have two grown sassy and fearless daughters. She loves spending time with God, her family and friends, reading, riding bicycles, yoga and walking.


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Visitors from the East – This Christmas

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Find today’s Family Advent Activity at the bottom of today’s reading.

The Wise Men

Matthew 2:1-11

1 Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, 2 “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” 3 King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. 4 He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:

6 ‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are not least among the ruling cities of Judah, for a ruler will come from you who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’”

7 Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. 8 Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”

9 After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Who were the wise men? It is probable that these men were from Babylon. They had been taught of the one true God and of the Messiah promised to come through the prophecies of Daniel, the Jewish prophet exiled to Babylon in the years 620-535 BC. They were learned men, most certainly versed in astronomy, astrology divination, and sorcery. As such, they were revered as noblemen, royalty even! It is customarily believed that there were three wise men. Why do we think of them as three individuals—besides the fact that three came in your Nativity set? Because of the number of gifts they presented. However, men such as these would have traveled with many, many servants, pack animals, and aides on such a long journey, about 800 miles.

The wise men would have known what the star signified, and they would have been anxious to undertake the pilgrimage to honor the newborn king. His birth, they had learned, would usher in a new kingdom, where the messiah would rule and lead to the climax of history. Imagine the anxiety (deeply disturbed!) this large caravan of nobles and attendants would have caused the king of that day, King Herod, never mind their message or the reason for their trip!

How did the men decide on what to bring to properly honor this child: gold, frankincense, and myrrh? Gold is pretty obvious—we all know that gold is extremely valuable and would be appropriate to offer a king. Frankincense is an essential oil used as the base for incense made for worship ceremonies by priests. This gift was given to recognize Jesus as our great high priest, the sinless one who would offer himself as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. Myrrh, another costly substance, foreshadowed the Messiah’s death and embalming. Jesus died so we could be dead to sin, and he was resurrected to defeat death, bringing us new life in Christ!

Scripture says that when the wise men saw the star over Bethlehem, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and presented their gifts to this toddler! They were not really age-appropriate gifts, but certainly, they were prophetic in the life of the Son of God.

In the Christmas carol “We Three Kings,” the last stanza sums up these gifts:

Glorious now, behold Him arise
King and God and Sacrifice;
Alleluia, alleluia!
Earth to heaven replies.

These men knew much less about Jesus and his earthly mission than we do now. Do you view the repetition of the Christmas story as the same old, same old story, or will you allow this different Christmas season to write a new chapter in your love and devotion to Jesus? He is glorious as he comes, King and God and Sacrifice!

Questions:
How have you thought about the wise men and the gifts they brought? What gift might you offer to your Lord Jesus this Christmas season?

Next Steps:
This Christmas, something pretty special is happening in the skies. The planets of Jupiter and Saturn will be so close together on the western horizon that they will appear as one bright shining star! This event is being called “The Christmas Star,” and the alignment won’t occur again until 2080, at which time I’ll be viewing it from heaven! Its peak was this past Monday, but you can still catch it as the planets continue to slowly separate. I hope you take time to see it, and as you do, think about the wise men’s journey to see our Savior. 

Prayer:
Jesus, how can we ever thank you for coming to rescue us? I worship you, my Lord. You are worthy of all honor, glory, and praise. This Christmas, I pray you reveal yourself in a fresh way to us, that we may give joy to the world and love and serve you, as you have loved and served us! Amen.

Family Advent Activity:
Family Connection – Use the following prompt to have some meaningful family conversations.

Take a family drive looking at Christmas lights and talk about the best gifts you have ever received.

For more family fun, check out the monthly advent calendar full of seasonal activities.


This post was written by Lauri White. Lauri is one of the 25 people that God used to start CedarCreek in the Fall of 1995, and was on staff until 2013. Lauri loves Jesus, and loves helping people, especially women, live out of the truth about who we are in Christ. She and her husband Mike live in Oregon, but now spend winter months in Florida near daughter Kelda and her family.


Check out the Latest LivingItOut Podcast

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A Most Important Message – This Christmas

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Find today’s Family Advent Activity at the bottom of today’s reading.

Luke 2:8-20: The Shepherds and Angels

Every year since I was a young child, I have heard the Christmas story. It’s either been read to me or I have read it—to my children, and now, to my grandchildren. For many years of my adult life, I wondered why God chose to send the first message of Christ’s birth to shepherds.

Luke 2:9-10
9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring joy to all people.”

This year, I finally decided to do some research and discovered some interesting things. I had always assumed that the shepherds referred to in the Scripture were typical shepherds of the day, considered to be lower-class citizens. However, I found that these shepherds worked the fields just outside of Bethlehem and were the keepers of the sacred sheep used for sacrifices. Because of the sacredness of their work, they were highly regarded by most everyone in the area.

The story says they were terrified, as I would guess any of us would be under the same circumstance; however, I don’t think they were completely surprised by the news. I believe they were well aware of an ancient prophecy found in the book of Micah.

Micah 5:2
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf.

Because of this knowledge, I believe the shepherds had some understanding of what they were being told, and therefore, they readily went to see the baby Jesus.

Luke 2:15
When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

I had also wondered how the shepherds had known exactly where to find baby Jesus, as the story did not say the angels gave a specific address.

Luke 2:12
“And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

While researching, I learned that some Christian scholars believe  that the location where Mary gave birth was actually the same place the shepherds would have taken the ewes when lambs were to be born, so these particular shepherds knew exactly where to go.

Luke 2:17
After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child.

These sacred shepherds were the perfect messengers to spread the news of Christ’s birth because they were so well known to everyone in the area, including the high priests because they provided all the lambs used for sacrifice.

Luke 2:20
The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.

The shepherds were the very first witnesses to the glory and truth of Jesus. They were excited and wanted to experience and share God’s great gift to man, so they moved toward him. Is that your attitude this Christmas? With all that 2020 has brought us, it would be easy to have an indifferent, or even negative attitude, this Christmas season. I urge you to remember the reason for the season—and just like the shepherds on that very first Christmas eve—move toward Christ and spread the good news through word and deed.

Questions:
What attitude are you showing others this Christmas?

Do you feel like you have lost some of the joy that this season should bring?

Next Steps:
Reread the Christmas story in Luke with new purpose and appreciation. Make a conscious effort to move toward Christ this season and spread the good news.

Prayer:
Our most gracious and loving God, please help us to remember the true reason for this Christmas season. Even though this year has been filled with trials and hardships, help us to remember that you are in control and to put our faith and trust in you. Help us, as Christians, to exemplify the excitement and joy that the shepherds did on the night your son was born and spread the good news to everyone who will listen. Father, thank you for the perfect gift of your son, Jesus, and help us to always keep moving toward him, in good times and during times of struggle. Amen.

Family Advent Activity:
Family Connection – Use the following prompt to have some meaningful family conversations.

John 3:16
16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

Happy Birthday Jesus! God loves us so much that He sent His son into the world to rescue us. That’s what Christmas is all about! Sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Jesus as a family.

For more family fun, check out the monthly advent calendar full of seasonal activities.


This post was written by Ned Miller, a regular contributor to the LivingItOut Bible Study.


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The Already, But Not Yet. – This Christmas

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Find today’s Family Advent Activity at the bottom of today’s reading.

Immanuel has been at the top of my list of “favorite names for God” for years! Even before I gave my life to Christ in 1994, “O Come O Come Emmanuel” was my favorite Christmas carol. I just really love the thought of it—God with us. God with me. But what does that really mean?

Speaker and author Barb Roose said that the kingdom of heaven, God with us, is often described by Bible scholars as an “already but not yet” condition. I used to think that the kingdom of heaven was the place (if you could call it that) where Christ followers would go when they die. But if that were the case, then why did Jesus instruct us to pray in the Lord’s prayer, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”? Jesus prays for God’s kingdom to be established here on earth.

What does God’s kingdom look like? It is the upside-down, counter-intuitive kingdom where the last are first and the first are last (Matthew 20:16). It is the kingdom in which we are called to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44).  It is the kingdom where if you lead, you serve those whom you lead (Matthew 20:28). It is the kingdom where you give up all to receive all that God has for you (Matthew 16:24).

When we compare and contrast earthly kingdoms with God’s kingdom, we see very clear differences. Earthly power comes from dominance, selfishness, and fear. If you don’t believe in God and his moral authority, you should not be surprised that this is so. You are left with survival of the fittest, which exploits those who are weaker and less able to care for themselves, mainly women and children, along with the infirm. It should not surprise you that the stronger among us take what they want with no regard for others. Yet we are surprised when people mistreat us to get what they want! In contrast, the kingdom of heaven, God with us, is a kingdom built on community, generosity, and freedom. In this kingdom, we put the welfare of others before ourselves, giving to provide for their needs. We strive to find our purpose and live the life to which God calls us.

To live in this kingdom is a choice we get to make every day. We live knowing that the presence of evil does not restrict the work that God has prepared for us to do—to bring his kingdom to earth while we wait for Jesus’ return. When he comes, we will welcome the new heaven and the new earth over which God will reign in righteousness (2 Peter 3:13). For now, we live in the “already but not yet” world that God entrusted to us, each one of us, to bring his kingdom into our lives. We get to choose to live in the “God with us” kingdom—Immanuel!

Isaiah 7:14
All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).”

Questions:
How do you live in the “already, but not yet” kingdom of God? Are you consciously working to move it forward? How, and with whom, are you engaging in this work for which God created you? 

Next Steps:
Make it your New Year’s resolution to sign up for and complete GrowthTrack! Through these four weeks, you will discover God’s gifting, plan, and purpose for your life. Then you will know what his plans are for you in bringing his kingdom into the already but not yet! 

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, thank you for being our Immanuel! Thank you for demonstrating, in the clearest possible way, God’s tender hearted love for us! Your sacrifice calls for me to offer myself as a living sacrifice, free and able to bring your kingdom to my little section of the tapestry that we will one day see as beautiful and marvelous! I am in awe of you, Jesus! I worship you! Amen.

Family Advent Activity:
Family Connection – Use the following prompt to have some meaningful family conversations.

Have a family picnic in front of your Christmas tree and talk about all of the things you love about Christmas.

For more family fun, check out the monthly advent calendar full of seasonal activities.


This post was written by Lauri White. Lauri is one of the 25 people that God used to start CedarCreek in the Fall of 1995, and was on staff until 2013. Lauri loves Jesus, and loves helping people, especially women, live out of the truth about who we are in Christ. She and her husband Mike live in Oregon, but now spend winter months in Florida near daughter Kelda and her family.


Check out the Latest LivingItOut Podcast

The LivingItOut Podcast is released every Wednesday morning. It discusses key takeaways and principles from the weekend message. Listen to the weekly podcast in your car, during your lunch break, or any other time that works for you. You can find the latest podcast here.


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God with Us – This Christmas

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Find today’s Family Advent Activity at the bottom of today’s reading.

Well, one of my family members tested positive for COVID-19, and as a result, we’re all quarantined to prevent any unnecessary spread. I haven’t left my house in over two weeks. And if I’m being honest, I’m struggling.

This year has been deeply challenging for personal reasons as well as …  well, you know, 2020. I like to think I’ve handled those challenges with grace and wisdom, but with the added challenge of quarantine, sometimes it feels like I’ve hit my limit. It’s hard to feel like I’m living out the purpose God has for me when I can’t leave my home. Some days, it’s hard to even feel God near when I can’t connect in-person with friends and other Jesus followers or celebrate the holidays like I normally would.

But as I reflect on Barb Roose’s weekend message, and the holiday season in general, I’m reminded of the powerful message of Christmas for Christians—the message of Immanuel, God with us.

Matthew 1:23       
“Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’”

Jesus humbled himself to be born an infant, to physically be with us. Later, he would sacrifice his life so we could reunite with the Father through his forgiveness of our sins. And after Jesus ascended to heaven, his followers were able to receive the Holy Spirit—God within us.

In her talk, Barb offered this bottom line: “The Kingdom of God is closer than you think, so let your hope in Christ soar and tell your fears to shrink.” She discussed three gifts that come with the kingdom of God: his presence, power, and promise.

  • God’s presence means he is with you. Even if COVID-19 has you feeling a little isolated, you are never alone with Christ at the center of your life.
  • For those who have accepted Jesus as their savior, God’s power means God is living within you. Even when you don’t feel strong, God can give you victory.
  • God’s promise means that, with God, all things are possible. Even when things are challenging and we don’t know when they’ll get better, we know there is hope in him.

No matter what situation you’re in or how you’re feeling this holiday season, remember God is with you. God has made great sacrifices so he could be with you, because he loves you. Even if present circumstances make it difficult to see, he is still working on your behalf, in you and through you.

So take heart—even in the difficult times, the Kingdom of God is near, and Jesus has already overcome the world.

Questions:
What helps you feel close to God? Which gift do you need to be reminded of today: God’s presence, power, or promise?

Next Steps:
God’s presence never leaves us, but sometimes we neglect the habits that help us experience his presence. Set aside some time today for the things that help you draw close to God—maybe that means spending time in the Word, going for a quiet walk outdoors, or having a good conversation with a trusted Christ follower.

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, thank you for your presence. I know whether I feel close or far from you, you are always with me. Thank you for sending your Son as Immanuel, God with us, and for all that means to us as your followers. Thank you also for your power and promise. Help me to draw close to you today, making time to be still, to listen, and to invite you into what I’m doing. May your will be done in me and through me.

Family Advent Activity:
Family Connection – Use the following prompt to have some meaningful family conversations.

Read Luke 2:1-7

Take some time to read the Christmas story together as a family. What is your favorite part of the story? God loved us so much that He gave us a Savior.

For more family fun, check out the monthly advent calendar full of seasonal activities.


This post was written by Payton Lechner. Payton is currently the apprentice copywriter at CedarCreek. In her spare time, she freelances as a writer and editor. Besides the English language, Payton loves swimming, cats, and a good cup of tea.


Check out the Latest LivingItOut Podcast

The LivingItOut Podcast is released every Wednesday morning. It discusses key takeaways and principles from the weekend message. Listen to the weekly podcast in your car, during your lunch break, or any other time that works for you. You can find the latest podcast here.


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We would love to hear how the LivingItOut is making a difference in your life. Let us know how today’s post inspired, challenged, or encouraged you by leaving a comment here.


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