God has given us this season of Advent as a way to remember His work in the world and in our lives.
Advent comes from the Latin word aventus which means “coming.” This Latin word is the translation of the Greek word parouisa which is commonly used to refer to the Second Coming of Christ in the New Testament. This is the two-fold perspective and purpose of Advent: 1) to prepare and anticipate the coming of the babe, Jesus, heir of David’s throne and promised Messiah, 2) to be on alert for the Second Coming of the Son of God, Jesus, King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Over the next several weeks, you will be guided to recall what God has already done for you in Jesus Christ, as well as look forward to what He will continue to do in you and through you.
May God bless this journey of Advent!
Week 1: Hope
Written by Corey Scott
Of all the Advent Guides Northside has put together over the years, this one seems to find us caught in one of the most uncertain times we’ve known. And yet the four themes of Advent still shine through the darkness of this uncertainty: hope, peace, love and joy. As we begin this week of hope, we turn our attention to where our hope truly lies.
Hope can sometimes seem so fragile, as fragile as a snowflake. One moment you feel that everything is going well, and then the smallest upset to a schedule or expectation can seem to knock you off track. At Christmas, we tend to place our hope in parties, celebrations, gifts, traditions, bonuses, etc. But in 2020, COVID-19 has reminded us again and again that when we place our hope in anything other than Christ, we will always end up disappointed. I feel this right now, even as I write these words while I’m in self-quarantine.
But our hope cannot be taken away and certainly won’t fade. It is rooted in who Jesus is and why He came to this earth. Jesus’ coming and His ministry would be characterized by several key marks: the preaching of good news to the poor, freedom for prisoners, setting oppressed people free and proclaiming God’s favor. And as Psalm 146 tells us, it is God alone who does this. Those who place their hope is what God does are blessed (Psalm 146:8). Christmas is a season of hope, not only because of what we look forward to in this season. More than that, Christmas is a season of hope because of what has already been done for us.
That’s why we celebrate Advent. It reminds us to look back, to remember what Christ has done and why He came in the first place. May this Advent season be filled with hope for you as you center yourself on what Jesus came to do for you…set you free!
O God, our hope, we trust in what You have done for us in Jesus. We place our hope in His work on our behalf. Thank You for setting us free. Thank You for proclaiming the good news to us, who are needy for You to move and speak this season. Please keep our eyes open during Advent to see what You want to do in us and through us. Amen.
Written by Molly Bunton
I often skip to the end before I’ve read the whole book. Some might call this cheating. Some might say I’m the worst kind of reader. They might be right, but when I get to a place in the story where things seem to be falling apart or I just can’t take the suspense any more, I read the ending. [And then I go back to finish the rest; don’t worry.]
Maybe you would never dream of spoiling the ending like this, but perhaps you can relate to the tension that drives me to it: Will things be made right? Will the guy get the girl? Will justice prevail? Hope is central to the story of Christmas. It’s one of the gifts God gave when He sent His son to be born on earth. And it’s a promise we return to each Christmas season. But maybe it feels harder to live with hope this year. As you look around, perhaps life looks more like the beginning of Psalm 2: nations conspiring, people plotting and general chaos as our world tries to do things our own way instead of God’s way.
Maybe as you approach Christmas this year, you find yourself wondering: When will things be made right? Will God get His people? How will justice ever prevail?
We are living in the chaotic, messy and broken middle of the story. But we don’t have to live as those who have no hope. We don’t have to wonder or worry. God has already given us the end of the story. Psalm 2 promised, Christ’s birth demonstrates and Revelation 15 reminds us of what is true. We can live with hope, even in the messy middle, because we already know the end of this story: Jesus will return, not as a baby but as a victorious king. All nations will come and worship the Lord. God’s righteousness will triumph over evil; God’s justice and mercy will be complete.
The middle may be messy, but we know the ending is good. That is why we live with hope; God has written it into our story, not just at Christmas, but in every page and every chapter from beginning to end.
Lord, we thank you for the hope we have found in You. We know Your promises are true and we believe that You are writing a good story for our lives. Thank You for the hope we see in Jesus’ birth and for the promise that You will return and reign forever. Help us to live each day with hope and as bearers of Your hope to a world desperate for You.
Written by Katelyn Lambing
Matthew 12:1-14 shows two types of justice. To the Pharisees, justice was conforming to the cultural and Mosaic laws. By this measure, Jesus broke the law. However, because Jesus healed the man, the Pharisees knew that their justice would need to be more cleverly constructed, if they were to find a law that Jesus was guilty of breaking. The Pharisees were trying to catch Him in breaking the law because the punishment for breaking the law is death. Sound familiar? The consequence of breaking the Ten Commandments is death. Why? Breaking the law means we tried to make ourselves God; the punishment is separation because of sin and death. For those not right with God, Psalm 11:5 says that God’s whole being hates them. The inheritance, the cup from which they drink, is filled with fiery coals, burning sulfur and scorching wind.
In order to become right with God and re-acclimated to His character, we need relationship. Justice is relationship. In the NLT, Matthew 12:20 says “… until he leads justice to victory.” In Greek “leads” is ekballo. This is a violent thrusting forth. If we read it “…until he ekballo’s justice to victory,” how does justice get thrust forth to victory? Jesus is The Word. “…The Word will thrust forth justice to victory.” Why a thrusting forth when verse 20 also says Jesus will not even break a bruised reed? Here is a picture of hesed, God’s consistent loving-kindness. God is also justice. God’s justice created a way to reconnect our physical bodies and souls to God. Justice, then, is available to those who have believed in the Son of God, that He was born for the purpose of dying in our place because we tried to be God and that because He was raised, we can experience intimacy with God forever. In God’s name, the nations will put their hope. Why? When God’s name is spoken, justice is done through a relationship birthed from love.
Father, we thank You that Your word of justice was born in a trough and from there, He violently thrust forth justice to victory; that is, a right relationship that allows us to pursue You, who are victory. Thank You for the inheritance of the cup that overflows, possible because of birth, death and victory through the birth of Your Son. Thank You for the hope in Your character and relationship through Your Son.
Written by Lauri Newlin
Blessed. That word is everywhere. “Blessed” might decorate walls of your home or be the slogan on your birthday card or coffee mug. It might even be your hashtag on your social media post. Its use (or over-use) is intended to wake us up to the good things around us. But deeper than that, have you ever looked at how blessed you are by what God is doing in or around you, then had a reaction deeper than a decorative sentiment can commemorate? Has God’s goodness ever overwhelmed you so much you couldn’t help but let it out?
We read in Luke 1:46-55 that Mary, the soon-to-be mother of Jesus, understood that feeling. This song of Mary, which could be considered the very first Christmas carol, is proclaimed about the exciting news of what God was about to do in her life and through her Son. She couldn’t help but burst into worship to the God who was actively bringing salvation to the world and involving her in the process. Read that passage of Scripture and see! God has brought us salvation too, and He involves us in telling the world of this Good News.
Psalm 13:5-7 (NIV) says, “I will sing the Lord’s praise, for HE has been good to me.” Another translation of that same passage says “I will celebrate with passion and joy when your salvation lifts me up. I will sing my song of joy to you, the Most High…” (TPT) This verse tells us that God’s goodness can cause an eruption in our souls that can’t help but come out in worship.
What has God done for you? Maybe our 2020 Christmas lists could be how blessed we really are in the Lord. If we place our hope in Him, the natural reaction will likely be to sing like the psalmist and like Mary because we can trust in the goodness God has shown us.
Pray that our hearts would be full of the blessings God has given us through the gift of Jesus. Ask Him for a heart of gratitude that erupts in worship.
Written by Mitchell Denney
During this season of Advent, we are in a time of rejoicing, a time of praise and hope! This wasn’t the case, though, until Christ was born. This hope was not found in the Law when Jesus was born. It is because He was born that we have hope.
Psalm 14:3 says “All have turned away; all alike have become corrupt. There is no one who does good, not even one.” There was no hope for those under the Law. Our hope comes from the birth of Jesus Christ. Every person was under the Law and, because of this, they were all sinners; there was no hope for them. We have no right to stand in front of a perfect and flawless God, for we are broken and full of sin. Romans 3:10-11 echoes this when it says, “There is no one righteous, not even one. There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God.” There was no righteousness to be found in the people because the righteousness we now have is not found in ourselves but in the Son of God.
Romans 3:22 shows us hope! “The righteousness of God is through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe since there is no distinction.” It is through faith in Jesus Christ that we have hope during this season. Because of Jesus’ birth and our belief in His death and resurrection, we have the hope and the ability to stand before a perfect God. Without His sacrifice on the cross, we would not survive being in the throne room of the King.
Lord, it is in this season of rejoicing in the birth of Your Son that we must not forget that, before Your Son and His sacrifice, we had no hope. We had no hope in the future because we were all broken. It is through Your Son and belief in Your Son that we have hope. Help us to not lose sight of the hope that is given to us through faith in Jesus Christ. It is easy to get distracted and find our hope in things of this world. Thank You for Your Son and the opportunity to be reconciled with You through Him. Amen.
Written by Zach Owen
This season of the year is an exciting time for many reasons: Christmas traditions, spending time with family and lots of food. I remember as a kid looking forward to Christmas all year long. But this season is a time of pain and hurting for many as well. “I can’t wait for Christmas!” turns into “I can’t wait for it to be over.” I have fallen into that thought process myself.
On October 22, 2010, my Grandma passed away from breast cancer. Two months later, on December 19, my mom lost her battle with the same disease, six days before Christmas. The season that was once my favorite time of year became scarred with pain and suffering. Similar to David at the beginning of Psalm 22, I was asking God “Why? Why me? Why her? Why now? Why aren’t you here?”
Despite the pain we may feel, we are reminded each year during this season that we have something to hang onto – we have hope. We celebrate Jesus’ birth, which is a symbol and a reminder for what we have in God – hope. This psalm points to the suffering of the cross, but as David goes on, we can hear the hope in it as well.
Now, we don’t normally associate Christmas with Jesus’ death, but His death doesn’t happen without His birth. That is why He was sent to Earth, to die for us so that we may have eternal life. In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul reminds us that, even in our darkest days, we don’t lose heart, and we have hope because of Christ’s death and resurrection.
King Jesus, I pray that during this season of Advent, we are not only celebrating Your birth, but we are also remembering what Your birth means for us. For those of us who may be hurting, help us remember that Your birth gives us hope. We thank You that the pain is temporary and our hope in You is eternal. Amen.
Written by Ed Holt
Where’s the mayonnaise? I know it has to be in here somewhere! I have to find it because a BLT just doesn’t taste right without mayonnaise. Where is Sara when you need her? She can find anything in a heartbeat! Oh, that’s right, she is getting her hair done. Better not call her about the mayonnaise. She might not think it is as important as I do.
Do you also sometimes have trouble seeing what is right in front of your eyes? Why is that? I suspect that it is because of the distractions. Because there are so many other things that catch your eye, you are incapable of seeing what you are looking for even though it is right there in front of you. In a physical sense, it is sometimes true that we “have eyes but do not see.” How much more is this true in the spiritual realm?
Hebrews 11 is “Faith’s Hall of Fame.” This amazing chapter tells the story of men and women who had the unique ability to see what so many others were incapable of seeing. In fact, verse one says that they were “certain of what they did not see.” They were able to look beyond all the distractions, all the difficulties, all the uncertainties and all the allure of this present world that grapple for our attention and see “Him who is invisible” (vs. 27).
As we enter this time when we celebrate the birth of our Savior, there will be a tug-of-war going on for our attention. There may be more distractions at this time of year than any other season. Even during a “COVID” year that has limited children’s plays and school activities, there are so many things to do: cards to send, letters to write, friends to call, texts to respond to and of course the development of a strategy for getting family together without exposure to COVID-19. Then there is the tree and the house to decorate and lights to hang on the front of the house. Distractions! Perhaps good distractions, but distractions none-the-less.
May today be a day when we seek the Lord to help us see past the distractions of this season, so we can see Him clearly.
Lord, may we see past the glitter and distractions of this season we are entering and see You, the invisible God who has come into our world in the person of Jesus to become our savior and redeemer. Open the eyes of our heart Lord. In the midst of this busy season, we want to see You!
Week 2: Peace
Written by Sylvia Ofori-Yeboah
There are not a lot of places in this world where the small and great are given the same opportunities. Those who are considered great are often favored. The desire to be favored can lead the small to strive for greatness and the great to maintain it. I wonder if there are times we have questioned our own greatness. Some try to be great for their significant other, family, social media or something else. This striving can lead to a life filled with anxiety and skewed priorities along with feelings of depression when we discover the lack of satisfaction.
Working in mental health, I see how symptoms of anxiety and depression create significant issues for people: it affects how they function at work, school and with people. People find it hard to relax, sleep and enjoy their favorite activities. Often, this leads to unhealthy coping skills that exacerbate the problems. How do we ever achieve peace in this world with a constant cycle of seeking greatness?
Psalm 115 tells us that the “glory” is not for us but for God because of His love and faithfulness. The psalm goes on to describe lifeless idols and warns that those who worship such things will also become lifeless. In verse 9, the author reminds the reader, whether Israelite, a member of the house of Aaron or a random reader, to “trust in the Lord— He is their help and shield” and that “the Lord remembers us and will bless us… great and small.” In the Luke 2 passage, we see Psalm 115 played out as an angel of the Lord appears to the shepherds and declares, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord.” We can take comfort in the fact that, rather than striving to be great, we have a great God who sent His Son to save all people – great and small!
God, thank You for Your loving kindness and for caring for all people, no matter their status in life. Help us to be humble before You and others and may we live every day with a heart full of peace that can only come from You. Amen.
Written by Lexie Stevenson
One of my favorite things about the Christmas season is the focus on joy and peace. However, it would be naive to believe that the opposition, divisiveness and uncertainty we face the other eleven months of the year just disappear. Our country is divided politically. Our homes and families are divided and separated. Social media is full of disagreements and differing opinions. Uncertainty has controlled our lives in the year 2020. Even our churches are divided by denominations. It’s easy to find opposition and enemies in our world today. It’s becoming increasingly more difficult to find peace in the midst of uncertainty.
However, one thing we can be certain of is Christ. In Psalm 25, David calls out to God for help. He is faced with enemies, trials and his own shortcomings, and he calls out for guidance from a kind and compassionate God. His desire is for God to guide him down the correct path. As he calls out to God, he has confidence in God’s character. He knows that God is compassionate and will answer his call for help.
David is honest with God about his struggles and unhappiness. He expresses anguish, distress and afflictions. In the midst of all his troubles and anguish, David still realizes that his hope is in God. He realizes that he needs help, that God will provide him with that help, and that ultimately, the struggles of this world have already been overcome.
Psalm 25:14 says those who fear the Lord are His friends. In Christ, we are not at war with God anymore. We are at peace with Him. As we remember the anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day, we recount that in spite of the troubles we face in this life, the spiritual war has been won, and we are now at peace with God.
In Romans 5:1-2, we are reminded that we are justified in faith through the grace of Christ and that we can boast in the hope Christ offers us. Because of this faith, we are offered a peace through Christ in the midst of the opposition, division and uncertainty that surrounds us.
As we enter this Christmas season of peace and joy, we will still face opposition and troubles. But, God offers us help and guidance when we experience anguish and face enemies. All we have to do is call out to Him.
Take some time to express to God the distress or unhappiness you are experiencing. Ask for His guidance and help in finding the right path to take. Praise Him for being a God who offers peace, guidance, and answered prayers. Then, allow yourself time to listen for His response.
Written by Paul Highfield, global worker (Kenya)
In Psalm 36, there is a contrast between those who trust in themselves and those who seek God’s peace, strength and protection under the shadow of His wings. In Luke 13:31-35 we see that so many people in Jerusalem trusted in themselves and refused to come to Jesus for His protection and peace. We also see that, in the end, their way resulted in total failure. This is the way it has always been and will always be. There will always be those who trust in themselves and their own strength, and there will also always be those who humbly come to God and Jesus for their protection and comfort. What is amazing is that God and Jesus are always offering a way of peace and protection right in the middle of our problems. Wow, we certainly need this word of hope in these uncertain and confusing days.
The Maasai have a blessing that says, “May God hold you under His wings.” In other words, may God protect you like a mother hen or bird protects her children under her wings. This is not to escape from the problems of the world but to be hidden by His powerful loving care for a while, so that you can feel His peace and strength and go forth in service in His kingdom. This is like when Jesus said to His disciples, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6: 31). Jesus longs to gather us under His wings so we can find true rest (Mat. 23: 37). In these uncertain times, let us embrace this sacred protection, solitude and rest, and find refreshing for our souls.
Dear God, may You hold us under Your wings and give us peace in the middle of this chaos and confusion. May You be our shelter in the storm. May You protect our hearts from fear, hopelessness and depression. We may at first feel weak, but You know how to bring healing and renewed strength out of weakness. Sometimes we just need to come to You, rest in Your care and be renewed. May Your peace that passes our understanding and comprehension protect our hearts today as, in this season, we contemplate the Advent of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In the precious name of Jesus, Amen!
Written by Tim O’Kelley
The Christmas season ushers in changes all around us. Some of those changes are easy to see and easy to feel. The days get shorter and colder. The Christmas trees and the lights go up around town. Some changes are not as easy to see, but we feel them just as deeply. The holidays often bring stress that leads to isolation, loneliness, despair and grief.
Some struggle with the forced cheerfulness of the holidays and the financial strain of a generosity they do not feel. Often, the holidays bring back memories of broken relationships or loved ones lost.
The psalmist in today’s Scripture felt that way, too. The words used in this passage convey a sense of forgottenness. It appears as if the whole of creation has abandoned the writer. The longings, the sighs, the heart pounding and the lack of strength go unnoticed. Friends, neighbors and companions stay away and are plotting against the writer. The psalmist is defenseless and seemingly without hope.
Mark 14:43-50 shows us that, like the psalmist, Jesus was not immune from the plots and the schemes of those around Him who He called His friends. Verse 50 paints a stark picture of the isolation, loneliness and abandonment Jesus may have felt. “Then everyone deserted Him and fled.”
Our comfort during this Advent season is the same comfort for which the psalmist searched. It is the same comfort that Jesus found in doing the Father’s will. Mark 14:49 tells us that Jesus saw that “the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” Both turned their eyes toward God! Both waited on the Lord for an answer! Both acknowledged that God would answer!
Advent reminds us that God’s answer to our weakness, our pain and our struggles lay wrapped in a manger. It was a child who became a man. It was a man who knew and felt and wondered and loved and lived like we live. Our peace this season comes from a God who did not leave us alone. He answered our cries! God brought His Son, Jesus, to seek and to save the lost. No matter what this season brings, rely on God and His answers!
Father God in Heaven, hear us when we cry. Hear us in our times of desperate need. Hear us amid this season when we do not often feel the joy that Christ brought to us. Remind us that hope and peace
come from Your saving grace, purchased for us on Calvary by Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen.
Written by Brooklyn Oliver
We all know that person who stands outside on the front porch staring into the gray sky as the sirens are going off. It’s as if they stand out there to talk to the sky and assess the storm to determine for themselves if it is going to be bad, rather than seeking shelter like they’re supposed to when the warning sirens go off.
We have all been through storms, whether that is a physical storm or a storm in life that hits fast and hard, usually leaving damage on its way out. And because of that damage left by past storms, we tend to fear and worry about the ones to come.
When I was growing up in Oklahoma, we experienced these storms I am referring to a few times. One time my dad was doing his thing, standing outside, assessing how bad they were. He came in to get us, and we went three blocks down the road to an elementary school that had a section of the school underground for cover. That was the F-5 tornado that went through Moore, Oklahoma, and was eight miles from our home. It reached peaks of 300+ miles per hour, lasted for 85 minutes and covered 38 miles with a final death toll of 36 people. That was the beginning of my fear of storms and tornadoes.
As we go through the storms in life, we need to remember that God has a plan and that we don’t have to hold onto the pain or the fear the chaos that happened in the last storm. Fear and worry have tight grips. When you let them in, they don’t want to leave, and they can keep you from things that God has planned for you. In the middle of a storm, it’s hard to look on the bright side; it’s hard to see God in the middle of the storm. I encourage you, when you feel the storm coming or if you are in the middle of the storm, pause and look to God. He will guide you. He can place people in your life to help and He will lead you to the other side. He makes the way for us, and we just sometimes have to pause in the chaos and not try to conquer the storm ourselves but let God in and let Him guide us through it.
Lord Jesus, we remember that You are with us in the storms we face. Even as the night You were born could have been viewed as a storm by itself, filled with uncertainty and fear, You have entered in to storms of our lives. You are with us in those storms. Thank You for never leaving us. We praise You that You are our safety and peace in the storms.
Written by Jason Brotherton, global worker (Kenya)
These verses represent the climax in Luke’s account of Jesus’ life. Up to this point, everyone expected that God’s Kingdom would come in a certain way, just as all the other kingdoms to date had by power and force and domination. However, at this juncture, we have found ourselves at an unexpected place. Too weak to even pick up His own cross and bear it (Simon, typically a throw away character in this story, carried it for Him), Jesus was led to the outskirts of town and executed by the state without a legitimate trial. Experiencing capital punishment to its highest degree, Jesus Christ only said, “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” Unexpected.
I imagine it was about this time that Jesus’ remaining, yet hidden, followers were recounting all the times He had reprimanded them for having little faith just before performing one of His many miracles. But then He said, just as David did in Psalm 31, “into your hands I commit My spirit” and breathed His last. No miracle. Unexpected. The other gospels recount Jesus’ final words differently, but the point remains. The full manifestation of God came, dwelt among us and announced His Kingdom from day one of His ministry. He then spent three years mystifying the mess out of everyone in trying to show them how to live in it. I say mystifying because none of what He did or taught or said was expected of a Messiah. He did not behave as they expected He would. He served instead of subdued. He spent His time with the outcast and marginalized. He said the first would be last and the last would be first. This was hardly the demeanor of someone who has come to save the nation of Israel and start a new Kingdom.
I suppose being a global worker and living in a different cultural and spiritual context has reoriented my expectations of God and what His Kingdom is like. On several occasions, I have come face to face with my own expectations of who God is and what Jesus’ work was about. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it), every time those expectations show me who I personally want God to be and not who He has shown Himself to be in the person of Jesus. Unexpectedly, I continue to be in awe of just how unsearchable God’s ways truly are. Much greater than any of my expectations.
God, thank You for being greater than our myopic expectations of who You are. Thank You for inviting us into the renewal and initiation of Your Kingdom here and now. Grow our perspective and allow us to commit our spirits to You.
Written by Jim Riley, global worker (Honduras)
David was the great king and a human ancestor of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. He was a man after God’s
own heart; yet like all of us, he was far from sinless. After his spectacular failure involving an affair and a murder, he turned to God, confessing his sins. To his great surprise, he received mercy and forgiveness. God hid and protected him from the just wrath he had brought on himself by his sins. In the story, only David’s innocent newborn son dies as a consequence of the king’s sin. That story never seemed fair.
In the Christmas narrative, Jesus, Joseph and Mary find a hiding place in Egypt to escape the wrath of an evil king. However, the innocent baby boys of the Bethlehem area are left to suffer Herod’s wrath. Has that part of the story ever seemed fair to anyone? How can we sing “Songs of Deliverance” in a world that is full of injustices and cruelty?
It was into this unjust and cruel world that Jesus came and, while He managed to maintain His innocence and purity, His days were numbered. He walked every day in the shadow of the cross, knowing that He came to “give His life as a ransom” for us all. It was not fair that the perfect, innocent, world-maker would hang on a cross as His rebellious creatures laughed and mocked. Yet that is how God chose to deliver us all. The Messiah took upon Himself our death sentence, conquering death as He died. His resurrection proves His identity as the perfect Son of God, but it also proves our justification (Romans 4:25). Ultimate forgiveness and the freedom that it brings are real and available to all who will completely submit to Jesus. Like David, our sins can be forgiven. Mercy has been shown. Our hiding place is in Jesus. Truly, the best gift of all time was wrapped in swaddling clothes.
Thank You, Father, for being our hiding place. We thank You for sending Your Son to pay our ransom and to free us from the guilt of our sins. This advent season, help us to number our days and share
with others not only gifts and holiday greetings, but the gift of Your Son. In Jesus’ name, Amen.