Advent Day 10: God So Loved The World (John 3v16-21)

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16 “For God so loved the world,[a] that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgement: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

Giving is central to the celebration of Christmas because God gave His Son. Jesus is God’s gift to the world. John 3v16 sums up the wonderful inclusivity of Christianity. God gave His Son so that whoever believes can know God. The invitation is to everyone and anyone. At the same time there is also a challenge for those of us who read these famous verses, especially at Christmas. The call is to believe in Jesus; not missing the point of Christmas – that God’s gift to the world is not just another leader, teacher or “good person” but His beloved Son. 

 

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Advent Day 9: The Word Became Flesh (John 1v1-18)

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1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life,[a] and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own,[b] and his own people[c] did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name,he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) 16 And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God,[d] who is at the Father’s side,[e] he has made him known.

It’s easy to forget how shocking Christmas is. John helps us to remember. Jesus, the eternal Son of God, takes on humanity. He becomes one of us and comes to dwell with us.

Christmas is about the birth of a baby. But there’s nothing unique about that. Around the world approximately 370,000 babies are born every day, including almost 2000 in the UK.

Christmas is special because it’s about God coming to the world He made in the person of His Son.

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Advent Day 8: A Light for the Nations (Isaiah 49v1-7)

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Listen to me, O coastlands,
and give attention, you peoples from afar.
The Lord called me from the womb,
from the body of my mother he named my name.
2 He made my mouth like a sharp sword;
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polished arrow;
in his quiver he hid me away.
3 And he said to me, “You are my servant,
Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”[a]
4 But I said, “I have laboured in vain;
I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity;
yet surely my right is with the Lord,
and my recompense with my God.”
5 And now the Lord says,
he who formed me from the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him;
and that Israel might be gathered to him—
for I am honoured in the eyes of the Lord,
and my God has become my strength—
6 he says:
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
7 Thus says the Lord,
the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One,
to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nation,
the servant of rulers:
“Kings shall see and arise;
princes, and they shall prostrate themselves;
because of the Lord, who is faithful,
the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

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Advent Day 7: Zecariah’s prophecy (Luke 1v67-80)

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67 And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,

68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
    for he has visited and redeemed his people
69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
    in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71 that we should be saved from our enemies
    and from the hand of all who hate us;
72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers
    and to remember his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
74     that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
75     in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
    in the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
    whereby the sunrise shall visit us[a] from on high
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

80 And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.

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Advent Day 6: Mary’s Song of Praise (Luke 1v46-55)

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46 And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
    For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
    and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
    to Abraham and to his offspring for ever.”

 To magnify something is not to make it bigger, but to see it more closely. Mary’s song (often called “the Magnificat”) shows how God is closely and intimately involved in Mary’s story and the story of His people. God is not far away. He is near to everyone of us. Believing in God is not about escaping reality. We praise God for who He is and the “great things He has done” (v49)  in the real world. That’s what Mary’s song is about.
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Advent Day 5: Mary And Elizabeth (Luke 1v39-45)

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39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be[a] a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

Luke doesn’t tell us why pregnant Mary goes with haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth. It’s likely that her recent miraculous conception hadn’t been met with universal celebration in her community. Getting away from Nazareth by visiting her relative could have been for Mary’s own protection. In any case, Mary visits Elizabeth, who has herself miraculously conceived. Mary finds only encouragement from her cousin. Elizabeth’s baby leaps in the womb (which can’t have been comfortable!). Elizabeth herself is filled with God’s spirit and exclaims with a loud cry “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!…And blessed is she who believed that there would be[a] a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

This short episode highlights once again that the central characters in the Christmas story are not the rich and powerful, but ordinary people who believe in God.

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Advent Day 4: More Than A List (Matthew 1v1-17)

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1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3 and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram,[a] 4 and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of David the king.

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, 7 and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph,[b] 8 and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, 9 and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos,[c] and Amos the father of Josiah, 11 and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel,[d] and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, 15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.

17 So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.

It’s easy for modern Western readers to skip over Matthew’s introduction. “Isn’t it just a long list of unpronounceable names?” But for 1st Century Middle “Easterners”, genealogies like this were a big deal. They told a story. Family history was and is a big deal. 

Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus is remarkable in that, among the list of notable men from Israel’s history, it also includes the names of 5 women. Why was this remarkable? Because Jewish genealogies were not meant to include women. Family history was traced through male descendants. So what’s Matthew doing? Let’s look at the women he includes.

Tamar (v3) pretended to be a prostitute in order to sleep with the father of her dead husband and gain the justice denied her as a widow (Genesis 38). 

Rahab (v5) was a non-Jewish prostitute who protected Jewish spies in order to save her family (Joshua 2)

Ruth (v5) was a Gentile (non-Jewish) widow who chose to worship the God of Israel (see the book of Ruth). 

“The wife of Uriah” (v6) was Bathsheba, who committed adultery with King David (2 Samuel 11)

Mary (v16) was the mother of Jesus, who was married to Joseph.

Matthew chooses to include these 5 women because they reveal what type of people Jesus came to save. God chose the Savior of the world to be born into a family line which included Jews and Gentiles, “saints” and “sinners”, rich and poor. Matthew includes women in his list to make it clear that Jesus would call both men and women to follow Him. 

Jesus’ family tree was messy. Jesus came into a messy world. Christmas is good news because God sent His Son into a messy world to rescue messy people. 

Advent Day 3: Mary’s Faith (Luke 1v26-38)

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26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed[a] to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favoured one, the Lord is with you!”[b] 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”[c]

35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born[d] will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant[e] of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

The angel announces that Mary has found favour with God. God has chosen Mary to be the mother of Jesus, the Saviour of the world. Mary’s reaction demonstrates her humble faith in God. Yes, she has a question, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” Faith is not the absence of questions. Nor is faith about just giving God the credit when things go as we would plan them. Unlike Elizabeth, Mary probably hasn’t spent years crying out to God for a child. Yet, despite her surprise at God’s plans for her, she responds with humble faith. “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord, let it be to me according to your word.”

The Christmas story is full of surprises. Things don’t always work out as we plan or how we would want them. God loves it when we respond to Him with humble faith.

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Advent Day 2: The Root of Jesse (Isaiah 11v1-10)

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‘There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. 2 And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 3 And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, 4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 5 Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.6 The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. 7 The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. 9 They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

10 In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations enquire, and his resting-place shall be glorious.

Isaiah looked ahead to a future where God’s people would enjoy peace, as they did for a time when Jesse’s son David was king. Under David, Israel’s borders were secure and the people were free to worship God. Now, David is a distant memory and God’s people long for respite from their enemies. Into this context God’s speaks words of hope through the prophet Isaiah. The stump of Jesse (David’s family) will bear fruit as a king from David’s line reigns over Israel. This king won’t just be for the Jews; the nations will flock to him as well. 

The Christmas story was hundreds of years in the making. The Old Testament is full of promises from God of a time when His people would again have a king like David. To fully appreciate the story of the birth of Jesus, the root of Jesse, it’s essential to know the prophetic hopes his birth fulfilled.

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Advent Day 1: A People Prepared (Luke 1v5-17)

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Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the time of year when the Christian church celebrates the coming of Jesus Christ. We remember the birth of Jesus 2000+ years ago. We celebrate Jesus’ presence with the church now by His Spirit. We look forward to Jesus’ promised return as King. Many find it refreshing and faith-building to look again at the events around the birth of Jesus.

Christmas can be such a busy time of the year. Celebrating Advent can help us to focus on the One at the centre of the story, God’s gift to the world. Every day we’ll be posting bible verses related to Christmas, along with some thoughts to consider. Have a great Advent and Christmas!

5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah,[a] of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.6 And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.

8 Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him.13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

Despite walking blamelessly before God, Zecariah and Elizabeth haven’t been able to have children. Barrenness is hard for any couple to live with; for those in the Middle East in the 1st Century (and today) it was a cause for grief and shame. Zecariah would have no heir to continue the family name. Elizabeth would have no son or daughter to care for her in old age. The community would assume that God was displeased with Zecariah and Elizabeth.

But God has a history of blessing barren couples and giving them central roles in His story. The father of the Jewish people was Abraham, whose wife Sarah was barren. God blessed Abraham and Sarah with a son. God gave Hannah a son after years of barrenness. The child was Samuel, Israel’s great prophet and priest.

Luke’s account of the Christmas story starts with good news about the birth of a baby boy. That boy would prepare God’s people for the arrival of the promised Saviour, Jesus. The birth of John the baptist shows that God loves to use the most unlikely characters in His story. Zecariah and Elizabeth thought their time was past. Against hope God chose to bless them with a son.

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