Don’t Shoot the Messenger!

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“Christmas is almost here!” For some people, this announcement causes terror to erupt inside them. One can see it in their eyes. “No! It can’t be! I am nowhere near finished with buying Christmas gifts! How did the time fly by so fast?” For the children, it brings excitement and joy. Christmas will finally be here in a few days and the interminable time of waiting will finally be over. They will soon be at the Christmas tree ripping open their presents on Christmas morning. As for me, I know that Christmas Day is almost here from the bright glow of the Advent Wreath on my dining room table. The purple Prophecy and Bethlehem and the rose-colored Shepherd’s Candles are lit. And now, on the fourth Sunday in Advent, the purple Angel’s Candle is lit as well. All four candles make my dining room bright with their glow and turns darkness into light. The glowing candlelight reminds me of Jesus coming into this dark world to be God’s Light for all who would believe and trust in Him as their Savior and Lord. Jesus said, “I have come into the world as a Light, so that no one who believes in Me should stay in the darkness” (John 12:46).

The Angel Candle on the Advent Wreath reminds us how angels, God’s messengers, were used in the Christmas Story – Jesus’ Story. Before we go any further, we must understand a few things about angels. Angels have never been human beings. A person doesn’t die and become an angel in heaven. God’s angels are celestial beings created by God to do His bidding. Despite the movies that depict angels as having human desires, as in “The Bishop’s Wife”, with Cary Grant, and “Michael”, with John Travolta, angels are only interested in doing God’s work when they are sent to earth. Also, angels are not to be worshiped. Only the Triune God is worthy of our worship. There are also “dark” angels and other types of angels, as found in the Book of Revelation, but I will leave that to the theologians to address. For the purposes of this blog post, I would like to focus on the angels who were used in the Story of Christ‘s Birth.

Angel with Zechariah

First, we see an angel visiting Zechariah, a priest whose time it was to burn incense in the temple. He was married to Elizabeth, a relative of Mary, and they were up there in years and childless. While Zechariah was in the temple, the Gospel of Luke records this: “Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But, the angel said to him: ‘Do not be afraid Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him the name John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord‘” (Luke 1:11-15a). Zechariah wasn’t sure what was going on and whether or not to believe what the angel was saying and questioned him: “‘How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.’ The angel answered, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time’” (Luke 1:18b-20). Zechariah could not speak until his wife Elizabeth gave birth to John, who became known as John the Baptizer and prepared people for the coming of the Messiah.

After Elizabeth gave birth to her son John, she praised God: “‘The Lord has done this for me,’ she said. ‘In these days He has shown me His favor and taken away my disgrace among the people’” (Luke 1:25). After John was born, Zechariah wrote on a tablet that his name was to be “John.” Immediately, Zechariah was able to speak and he was filled with the Holy Spirit and praised God and prophesied about what God was going to do with his son: “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for Him, to give His people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace” (Luke 1:76-79).

In the account of the angel Gabriel appearing to Zechariah, we see that Zechariah was scared out of his wits. Looking at Zechariah’s angel-sighting, it must be a terrifying experience that would “put the fear of God” into anyone (much more terrifying than Christmas shopping, which I think is pretty terrifying). The angel Gabriel isn’t a little naked baby with wings and a “belly button” as some paintings and statues depict angels to be. I don’t believe angels have “belly buttons”, since they were never born. Because the appearance of an angel is an overwhelming and frightening sight to see, the first thing Gabriel had to say was, “Do not be afraid” and that he had good news for him and his wife. The good news was too difficult to believe, but that did not stop God from doing what He wanted to do. This is an example to me that even our lack of faith cannot stop God from blessing us. God may discipline us out of His love for us, to teach us and help us grow in our faith, as He did when He took away Zechariah’s ability to speak, but His discipline is only for awhile and His blessings are forever (See Psalm 30:5 and Hebrews 12:5-6, 10-11). It is also important to note that both Elizabeth and Zechariah praised and worshiped God for the gift of their son John. They did not praise and worship the angel Gabriel.

Angel with Mary

The second angel-sighting that played the most significant part in His Story was the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary: “The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.’ Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; His kingdom will never end.’ ‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’ The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God’…‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May it be to me as you have said.’ Then the angel left her” (Luke 1:28-35, 38).

Again, as with Zechariah, the angel Gabriel had to calm Mary’s fears by saying, “Do not be afraid.” Unlike Zechariah, I believed Mary believed what the angel was saying was true. Mary just wanted to know how it would happen, since she was a virgin. When the angel explained how it would happen and told her that her relative Elizabeth was pregnant and said, “For nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37), Mary put her life into God’s hands. Mary was a very young teenage girl, with her whole life ahead of her. Yet, she gave up all the dreams a teenage girl has and she followed and obeyed God’s unique will for her life. Just as Elizabeth and Zechariah did, she also praised and worshiped God with her own song – “Mary’s Song” found in Luke 146-55.

Mary’s faith in God is an example to us all. In addition to obeying God’s call, Mary teaches us that it is okay to ask God questions. God did answer some of Mary’s questions, but not all of them. She left it up to God, which questions to answer. Sometimes, as in Zachariah’s case, God chooses not to answer any questions. This causes me to ask myself, “Do I have the faith and trust in God when He chooses not to answer my questions?”

Angel's with Shepherds

We already talked about the angels visiting the Shepherd’s when we talked about the Shepherd’s Candle, but it‘s good to note again what the angel said to the shepherds, because they were terrified by their angel-sighting: “Do not be afraid. I bring you GOOD NEWS of GREAT JOY [MEGA-JOY] that will be for all the people“(Luke 2:10b).

Angel in Joseph's dream

The next angel-sighting is with Joseph. The Gospel of Matthew tells about his experience like this: “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had it in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him “Immanuel” – which means ‘God with us.’ When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus” (Matthew 1:18-25). Also, in Matthew 2:13-15, after the visit of the Magi (to be discussed at another time), Joseph had another angel-sighting: “When they [the Magi] left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and His mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the Child to kill Him.’ So he got up, took the Child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I will call My Son.’” In yet another dream, an angel appeared to Joseph to tell him it was okay to go back to the land of Israel (Matthew 2:19-20). If I didn’t know any better, I would thing Matthew was talking about “Joseph the Dreamer” and patriarch in the Old Testament, with all the dreams Joseph, Mary‘s husband was having.

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Unlike the angel visitations of Zechariah and Mary, the angel appeared to Joseph in dreams. Why was that? I really don’t know why. But, wouldn’t it be easy for Joseph to say, “Oh, it was just a dream,” and ignore what God commanded him to do through the angel. However, he didn’t ignore the dreams or brushed them aside as dreams caused by something he ate (ala Scrooge, in Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”). Why didn‘t he? This is my own theory and I am not a theologian, so don’t take it as “Gospel Truth”” Joseph was a carpenter (See Matthew 13:55), and a man of very few words, judging by the few times he is mentioned in the Gospel‘of Matthew and Luke. While he worked he had a lot of time to think, when he did carpentry which did not require a lot of concentration (things that he had done a hundred times and could do them with his eyes closed). During his mundane work, I think he thought about the Old Testament Scriptures and the prophecies found inside them. In all his dreams he obeyed, he was also seeing prophesy being fulfilled. Again, this is only my theory. The fact is, Joseph’s fears were relieved when the angel said, “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife.” He did everything God told him to do without asking questions. The Bible doesn’t give a lot of information about Joseph, the husband of Mary. But, by what it does say about Joseph, we know that he was a man of God and he obeyed God selflessly and loyally. I believe he loved God and he loved Mary and he loved Jesus. He protected them both and cared for their needs as a good husband and father should.

Angels at God's Throne

To summarize: Angels are celestial beings created by God to accomplish His will. One of their duties is to be His messengers to people on earth, to bring them good news, to warn them and protect them from evil, and what they say and do always comes from God’s Word. Even though angels can be an overwhelming and frightening sight to see, they encourage us not to be afraid, but to believe in God’s mercy and His perfect will. They never seek to be worshipped, but encourage people to worship and obey God as they do. Through the lives of Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph, and the shepherds, we have examples of people who love the Lord and obey Him, no matter the cost. Through their obedience to God, many people have been blessed, and they were blessed because they saw the very “Face of God” when they saw the Christ Child: “For God, who said, ’Let light shine out of darkness,’ made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (II Corinthians 4:6). (I think Zechariah and Elizabeth might have paid a visit to Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus, but it’s just a thought.)

baby jesus in mangerWORSHIP

Dear Father God,
Thank you for the Indescribable Gift of Your Son, Jesus the Light of the world. I pray to have the obedience of Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary and Joseph, and the shepherds and obey Your call. Help me to walk in the Light of Your Son and live by faith and not by sight. l do not need all my questions answered because You know them. As these faithful people obeyed the angel by doing their part in Your Eternal Plan of salvation through the Light of Christ, I pray that I will share Your Light with others and not keep it hidden under a bushel. Thank you for Your mercy and grace when I fail to share Your Light with others out of fear of what they may think. I want to hear the angel’s encouragement loud and clear, “FEAR NOT.” O Lord Jesus, make me a blessing to my family and friends, to my church family, and to neighbors and strangers You put in my path. Thank you Lord that Christmas Day is near. Even so, Lord Jesus, help me to anticipate with excitement and MEGA-JOY the Great Day when You come again in glory! Come Lord JESUS! Amen.

Angels at God's Throne

Angels, from the Realms of Glory
By James Montgomery

Angels, from the realms of glory, Wing your flight o’er all the earth;
Ye who sang creations story, Now proclaim Messiah’s birth:
Come and worship, come and worship, Worship Christ, the new born King.

Shepherds, in the fields abiding, watching o’er their flocks by night,
God with man is now residing, Yonder shines the infant Light:
Come and worship, come and worship, Worship Christ, the new born King.

Sages, leave your contemplations, Brighter visions beam afar;
Seek the great Desire of nations, Ye have seen His natal star:
Come and worship, come and worship, Worship Christ, the newborn King.

Saints before the altar bending, Watching long in hope and fear;
Suddenly the Lord descending, In His Temple shall appear:
Come and worship, come and worship, Worship Christ, the newborn King.

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Some Christians begin the Celebration of Christmas, the birth of Christ, on Christmas Eve. At time all five Candles on the Advent Wreath are lit, with the white Christ Candle in the center of the wreath. This is the time the Advent Wreath is at its brightest and symbolizes Jesus as the Light of the world. Jesus Himself said, “I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the Light of Life” (John 8:12). The celebration spills over to Christmas Day, when Christians rejoice in Christ’s birth and, with joyful anticipation, actively await Christ’s Second Coming. When Jesus comes again, as an angel told John in his vision, “No longer will there be any curse. The Throne of God and of the Lamb [Jesus] will be in the city, and His servants will serve Him. They will see His Face, and His Name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them LIGHT. And they will reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 22:3-5).

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Until Christ comes again, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His glory and goodness. Through these He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in His divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil [selfish] desires” (II Peter 1:3-4).

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO YOU ALL and MAY YOUR 2014 BE FILLED WITH CHRIST’S GLORY, GOODNESS AND GRACE!!!!

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Lydia (with my sister Jane and her new puppy “Sweet Pup D’Otter” – “Pupper” for short).

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The Shepherds and Religious Elite Should Be Friends

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“I made a mistake” and “I have a confession to make” are both excellent “hook” sentences which writers occasionally use to get their readers’ “curiosity” juices flowing and want to read more (no matter how long the writing is). In my last post, I made a confession. In this post, I want to admit to making a mistake (or two or three). First, I mistakenly called Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip the parents of Prince William of England. Of course, they are the grandparents and Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana are the parents of Prince William (I did make the correction for future readers of my blog). I do humbly apologize, especially to those with British roots. I even knew who Prince William‘s parents are. Perhaps I made the mistake because I really don’t like Prince Charles all that much. Also, in my post regarding the Prophecy Candle, I may have made a few Scripture reference mistakes. For example, Psalm 110 does not have a verse 10 because it only has seven verses. I meant to type Psalm 110:1, which foretold of Jesus being “seated at God’s Right Hand” and Matthew 22:44 and Hebrews 10:12-13 state the fulfillment of this prophesy. If I made other mistakes in Scripture references, please let me know, if you wish, and I will send you the correct reference(s).

One time, when Nelson Mandela was called a saint, he replied, “If by ‘saint’ you mean a sinner who keeps trying, then yes, I am a saint.” Some people say that I am a good writer. I humbly thank you for this “crazy generous” compliment. If by “writer” you mean someone who is able to express her ideas through her creative writing, despite her numerous typos and occasional errors regarding certain facts, but keeps on trying to produce a piece of writing without any typos or other critical errors, then yes, I am a good writer (in progress). I am thankful to the Lord for my gracious and patient blog “followers” who keep reading my LONG posts and gently ignore my mistakes and say, “I knew what you meant.” Thank you very much! (However, I do welcome corrections and other constructive criticism.) Nelson Mandela was one of the greatest men who ever lived. He was a political activist and he ended Apartheid in South Africa and became president. Nelson Mandela was also a great man of the Christian Faith. He often talked about how he took strength, during his twenty-seven-year imprisonment, by reading the biblical account of Joseph’s imprisonment, in Genesis 37-50. Nelson Mandela was a brother in Christ who knew how to fight for what was right and knew how to forgive because he knew the forgiveness of God through Christ. From a human standpoint, few people can ever hope to fill Nelson Mandela’s shoes but, as brothers and sisters in Christ, we are all have the same spiritual status (See Galatians 3:28) and I believe Nelson Mandela would wholeheartedly agree.

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Speaking about mistakes, did you ever think God makes mistakes? For instance, take the Christmas Story: God handpicked a young, poor peasant girl, named Mary, to become the mother of His One and Only Begotten Son Who would save the world from sin. God handpicked a poor peasant carpenter, named Joseph, to merry Mary, while she was already pregnant with God’s Son – the same man who was thinking about quietly “calling the whole thing off“, but was convinced by an angel not to. Then, God arranged it so that Joseph and Mary had to take a four-to-six-day journey to a little town called Bethlehem, while Mary was nine-months pregnant, in order for God’s Son Jesus to be born in Bethlehem, in a cattle stall. To top it all off, God sends His angels out to a bunch of shepherds to be the first ones to witness and welcome the Savior of the world to the world at His birth. All this does not make any worldly sense. Could it be because we do not know all the heavenly details God knows?

Advent 3b

During the Third Week of Advent, the two previous purple Prophesy and Bethlehem Candles are lit on the Advent Wreath, in addition to the rose colored Shepherd’s Candle. The “Advent-ure” continues like this:

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“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you GOOD NEWS of GREAT JOY that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: You will find a Baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ Suddenly a great company of heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.’ When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’ So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the Baby, who was lying in a manger. When they had seen Him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this Child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. Thee shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told” (Luke 2:8-20).

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Can you imagine what it would have been like to be one of the shepherds? Think of the brightest night sky you have ever seen. People have told me about the magnificence of the Aurora Borealis, in the Alaskan winter sky. The sky that the shepherds experienced on that Holy Night must have been brighter still. Think of the time when you were filled with the greatest joy in your life. Maybe it was the time you got married or had a baby, or the time you graduated from college or got your dream job, or the time you learned you or a loved one was cancer-free, or the time the RED SOX won the 2004 World Series Championship after an eighty-six-year “drought” (The first time was more glorious than the ones in ’07 and ’13). Your happiest time filled with “busting-at-the-seems” joy cannot compare with “THE GOOD NEWS OF GREAT JOY” the angel brought to the shepherds on that Holy Night. A pastor I know explained the “great joy” the shepherds experienced can be described as “MEGA-JOY!” It is the joy that makes me free from sin and shame and makes me the child of the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is the MEGA-JOY that tells me death longer has a grip on me and this aging body will one day be transformed into a new body without pain or sorrow or dread. “For now we know in part [just as the shepherds did, only we know a little more]…but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears…Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part, then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (I Corinthians 13:9a, 12).

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But why shepherds? Why didn’t God choose kings and princes and the religious leaders of that day to witness and welcome His Only Begotten Son, the Savior of the world, into their world? We learn from Scripture that both King Herod and the religious leaders of that day were drunk with power and control. When King Herod learns that another king is born “he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years and under” (Matthew 2:16), which fulfilled a prophecy in Jeremiah 31:15. Before Jesus could be killed, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him to take Jesus and Mary to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15), which fulfilled another prophecy in Hosea (11:1). Before then, three Magi came to Herod to inquire about Jesus’ birth (See Matthew 2:1-12). Because Jesus was born in Bethlehem, I believe Herod chose not to go along with the Magi because it was too long of a long trip, but waited to hear about their findings (Interesting!). Later on, in Matthew 23, Jesus calls out the Pharisees and teachers of the law for abusing their power, in the “Seven Woes” by saying things like, “They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them” (v. 4). Later on, in all four Gospels, we learn that the religious leaders of the day were all conspiring to kill Jesus. They were not interested in the things of God, but only their own honor, power and control over the people they were meant to shepherd and care for.

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But why shepherds? In those days, shepherds were at the bottom of the social ladder in Palestine. In the beginning of the Bible, shepherding was an honored profession (Genesis 4:20; 30:29; 37:12; Exodus 2:16). It was only after the Hebrews migrated to Egypt that shepherding got a bad name. Egyptians were farmers and the Arabs, who were their enemy, were shepherds. In Genesis 46:34, Joseph warns his brothers, “Every shepherd is detestable to the Egyptians.” Shepherding goats and sheep meant their farmland was taken away and their crops would be diminished. Somehow, the disdain and prejudice against shepherds stuck with the Hebrews through the centuries. As in all forms of bigotry, religious snobbery and class prejudice, hatred toward shepherds grew without any rhyme or reason – It was just how people always felt about that people group. The religious leaders, in Jesus’ day, hated shepherds most of all. Religious leaders banned pasturing sheep and goats in Israel, except in the dessert. They called shepherds “incompetent” and “untrustworthy” and considered them “second-class” and labeled them as “sinners.” Shepherds were deprived of their civil rights and could not hold judicial offices or be admitted in court as witnesses. Jeremias (a writer who lived in the 6th Century, B.C.) wrote, “The rabbis ask with amazement how, in view of the despicable nature of shepherds, one can explain why God was called ‘my shepherd’ in Psalm 23:1.” (The information in this paragraph is from “Shepherd Status,” by Randy Alcorn, in “Come Thou Long-Expected Jus, Nancy Guthrie, Editor [Wheaton Illinois: Crossway Books, 2008] pp. 85-89.)

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As I worked on the paragraph above, a song from the musical “Oklahoma,” by Rodgers and Hammerstein, popped into my head:

The Farmer and the Cowboy
(First Stanza)

The farmer and the cowboy should be friends.
Oh, the farmer and the cowboy should be friends.
One man likes to push a plough, the other likes to chase a cow.
But that’s no reason why they can’t be friends.

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Isn’t that basically it? All God’s children should be friends, if God’s Kingdom is #1 on our priority list, just as “Territory folks should stick together“ in order for Oklahoma to become the 46th state of the United States. But, how do we make God’s Kingdom #1 priority in our lives when we make ourselves #1 and are only interested in having our own way and keeping our own power and control in tact? God tells us how to make His Kingdom #1 in Micah 6:8: “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and the walk humbly with your God.” And God shows us how this is done through the life of His One and Only Begotten Son: “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, Who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Jesus is the epitome of humility. He told His disciples, “…You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them [the lower class], and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25b-28). Jesus also says in John 6:38 and 40, “For I have come down from heaven not to do My will but to do the will of Him Who sent Me…For the Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

baby jesus in manger

Jesus Christ, our Immanuel (God with us), came down from heaven, down to our level, in order to raise us up to His. John 1:1-2 tells us, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” II Corinthians 4:6 teaches us, “For God, Who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” Philippians 2:6-8 informs us about Christ, “Who, being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death of a cross!” Colossians 2:9-10 instructs us, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, Who is the Head over every power and authority.”

Jesus Christ not only became one of us, He was one of us. He lived with us, ate with us, cried with us, rejoiced with us; He related with us and became our friend. Someone once wrote the Jesus is our “Stooping God.” It makes sense that our “Stooping God” lived with the poor peasants an d identified with the lowly shepherds, so much so, that He became our Good Shepherd. How awesome is that?!

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“The LORD is exalted over all the nations, His glory above the heavens. Who is like the LORD our God, the One Who sits enthroned on high, Who STOOPS down to look on the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; He sits them with princes, with princes of their people” (Psalm 113:4-7).

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“I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep…I am the Good Shepherd; I know My sheep and My sheep know Me – just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father – and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. The two will listen to My voice, and there shall be one flock and One Shepherd” (John 10:11, 14-16).

“And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away…Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s Mighty Hand, that He may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you” (I Peter 5:”4, 6-7).

The following Scripture and Hymn is my prayer for all of us. As did the shepherds long ago, let us go to Bethlehem and see the GOOD NEWS and MEGA-JOY that Christ’s birth brings to all who believe.

“May the God of peace, Who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing His will, and may He work in what is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ, to Whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (Hebrews 13:20-21)

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Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us
By Dorothy A. Thrupp
(Stanzas 1 and 2)

Savior, like a shepherd lead us, Much we need Thy tender care;
In Thy pleasant pastures feed us, For our use Thy folds prepare:
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus, Thou hast bought us, Thine we are;
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus, Thou hast bought us, Thine we are.

We are Thine; do Thou befriend us, Be the Guardian of our way;
Keep Thy flock, from sin defend us, Seek us when we go astray:
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus, Hear, O hear us when we pray;
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus, Hear, O hear us when we pray.

This Sunday is the fourth Sunday in Advent. Along with the two purple Prophecy and Bethlehem Candles and the rose-colored Shepherd’s Candle, the purple Angel’s Candle will be lit on the Advent Wreath. Please read John 3:16-21 and Revelation 21:1-6 and 22:7, 12-17, 20-21.

me writing

 

Christmas Blessings to All,

Lydia

Sorry, There’s No Room – Sorry, No Time Either – You’re Not On The List, Sorry!

westminster abbey .

I have a confession to make (This usually grabs most people’s attention!). My friend Holly and I watched Prince William’s and Kate Middleton’s royal wedding on TV, on July 29, 2011, at Westminster Abbey, in London. It was a pre-meditated act which took some planning. Because Holly is a “night worker” I DVRed the morning wedding, so that we were able to watch it together when she woke up in the mid-day. I have to admit, I watched it out of curiosity. We both wanted a glimpse of how “the other half” lived. While we watched, we used my hymnal to look up the hymns that were sung throughout the ceremony. It was a very “Christian” wedding, with beautiful hymns sung by the boys’ choir and the homily given by the Archbishop of Canterbury was about God’s love being the example of how a man and a woman are to love each other as man and wife. The service was quite lovely. Prince William was dashingly handsome and Princess Kate was beautifully stunning. Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip were regal and proud grandparents of the groom. Everyone was dressed “to the nines.” After the wedding, there was a parade from the Abbey to the palace, with hundreds of thousands of people lining the streets to get a glimpse of the newly married royal couple. Many more thousands waited outside the palace balcony for Prince William and Princess Kate to come out and wave at them. It was a day for England to celebrate and rejoice. Both Holly and I agreed that it was nice to watch happy news on TV for a change.

In 2013, there was more joyful news coming from across the sea. Prince William and Princess Kate were expecting their first child. Just as in the royal wedding, all the stops were pulled and no amount of money was too much in insuring the best of care for Princess Kate and her unborn child. The best medical staff of doctors and nurses and the best hospital in England, with the best medical equipment and know-how were used in the pre-natal, peri-natal and post-natal care of both Princess Kate and baby. Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge was born on July 22, 2003, in the best of circumstance possible, as most babies of royalty are. Once again, throngs of people from the British Isles and around the world waited to see their first glimpse of the baby boy, who may be England’s king one day.

2nd Sunday in Advent

(This is my Advent Wreath om my dining room table)

On the Second Week of Advent, two purple candles on the Advent Wreath are lit. Along with the Prophesy Candle, the Bethlehem Candle is lit. The Bethlehem Candle tells us a story of an entirely different couple expecting a Child. This Child who was born over two thousand years ago was already the Prince of Peace and the King of kings, even before He was born, but not many people seemed to know about His arrival or even cared. The Story goes like this:

mary on donkey

“In the sixth month [of her relatives Elizabeth‘s pregnancy], God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendent of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.’ Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; His kingdom will never end.’ ‘How can this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’ The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.’ ‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May it be to me as you have said.’ Then the angel left her” (Luke 1:26-38).

“This is how the birth of Jesus came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband [to be] was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had it in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins’” (Matthew 1:18-21).

Jesus, Mary, Joseph

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world…And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped Him in cloths and placed Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:1-7).

During the First Week of Advent, we learned of two prophesies being fulfilled:

“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The VIRGIN WILL BE WITH CHILD and give birth to a son. And will call Him IMMANUEL [which means GOD WITH US]” (Isaiah 7:14).

During the Second Week of Advent, we learn of another prophesy being fulfilled:

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among your clans of Judah, out of you will come for Me One who is Ruler over Israel, whose origins are from ancient times [from days of eternity]” (Micah 5:2).

baby jesus in manger

The Lord Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords, our Immanuel, God with us, left His Heavenly Throne, to become one of us. He was born the baby of a poor young woman who was engaged to a poor man himself. Neither had any worldly riches or earthly prestige. Yet, God chose these two common people to bring His One and Only Son into this world as a baby. Both were afraid and did not understand what would become of them. Yet, both Mary and Joseph obeyed God’s call, even if it meant their lives would be turned up-side-down. This tiny, helpless infant needed a mother’s tenderness and a father’s protection. Instead of a palace in Jerusalem and a soft crib and warm blanket, the Baby Jesus was born in a cattle barn and was laid in a manger filled with straw, with only shredded cloths to protect and warm Him.. This Baby grew up, from these humble beginnings, to teach us what true humility and unconditional love is all about. Jesus practiced what He preached. His friends were the poor, the crippled, the disenfranchised, sinners and tax collectors. Jesus came for those who needed Him most. Jesus came for you and for me, to teach us how to live for God and how to die to selfishness. Jesus was born to show us, the little people, how much God loves us. He was born to die for our sins, so that we might live to love God, to love each other, and to live with Him for all eternity. The best Christmas present comes from a little town, wrapped in torn up cloths and lying in a tiny little box. May we all make room for Him in our hearts this Advent Season and always.

Jesus' Baptism

(Jesus teaches us about humility and love through His teachings and by His Life. Here are some examples: Matthew 3:13-17 and 5:1-12 and 12:7-14 and 20:25-28 and 23:37-39; Luke 14:1-24 and 15:1-31 and 19:1-10 and 21:1-4 and 22:25-30, 39-51; Mark 8:1-1-8 and 9:33-37 and 12:28-34; John 13:1-5.)

jesus on the throne

“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness or compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:1-11).

imagesCAZB8MBR

Dear Jesus,

In this busy season in which we have parties to attend, presents to buy, concerts to go to and, yes, church activities to enjoy, I pray that I will spend alone time with You. Forgive me when You are not at the top of my to-do list. I pray that You will change my will and my priorities to be Your will and priorities for my life. Help me to give the little gifts of kindness, tenderness, comfort and caring to those I see everyday. The little things that take a little time to notice and “do to others as [I] would have them do to [me] (Matthew 7:12); that is what is the most important to You. Thank you for being our Immanuel. Thank you for the unfathomable sacrifice you made for us. During this Advent Season, teach us how to be more like You; in the way You trusted Your Heavenly Father; in the way You loved and served others, both great and small. Help me to always make room for You in all that I do and say and think. I pray these things in Your Holy Name, Jesus! Amen.

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Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne
By Emily E. S. Elliott

Thou doest leave Thy throne
And Thy kingly crown
When Thou camest to earth for me;
But in Bethlehem’s home
There was found no room
For Thy holy nativity.
O come to my heart Lord Jesus
There is room in my heart for Thee!

Heaven’s arches rang
When the angels sang,
Proclaiming Thy royal decree;
But of lowly birth didst Thou come
To earth,
And in great humility.
O come to my heart Lord Jesus
There is room in my heart for Thee!

Thou camest, O Lord,
With the living word
That should set Thy people free;
But with mocking scorn
They bore Thee to Calvary.
O come to my heart Lord Jesus
There is room in my heart for Thee!

When the heavens shall ring
And the angels sing
At Thy coming to victory,
Let Thy voice call me home
Saying, “Yet there is room –
There is room at My side for thee.”
My heart shall rejoice, Lord Jesus,
When Thou comest and
Calles for me!

On the Third Sunday of Advent, three candles will be lit on the Advent Wreath: the purple Prophecy Candle, the purple Bethlehem Candle and the rose colored Shepherd’s Candle (See Luke 2:1-20). There were a handful of people who knew about the birth of Christ. We will meet some of them next time. The “Advent-ure” continues!

The First Week in “Advent-ure”

advent wreath

What does the word “ADVENT” mean any who? These are some of the definitions given in thefreedictionary.com:

ADVENT (noun)
1. The coming or arrival, especially of something important: the advent of the computer.
2. Advent:
a. The liturgical period preceding Christmas, beginning in Western churches on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and in Eastern churches in mid-November, and is observed by many Christians as a season of prayer, fasting and penitence.
b. Christianity the coming of Jesus at the Incarnation.
c. Christianity See Second Coming.

It also says that “ADVENT” is “an arrival or coming, esp one that is awaited [from the Latin ‘adventus’, from ‘advenir’, from ‘ad’ -to and ‘venir’- to come].”

The Advent Season is an exciting time. It is a time of mystery, intrigue and ADVENTURE. During the time of Jesus’ birth, Old Testament prophesy was being fulfilled right before to people’s eyes. Some had an inkling of what was happening, while others refused to believe it for fear of losing their control over the people they had control over. Try as they might, the fulfillment of Old Testament prophesies would not be thwarted. And that is why the first purple candle Christians light on the Advent Wreath is known as the Prophesy Candle. The first week is devoted to meditating on Jesus being the fulfillment of God’s promise to save His people from sin. His promise can be traced as far back as when sin first entered the world. God had always had a plan to reconcile mankind to Himself. Genesis 3:14-15 tells us this: “Then the LORD God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this…I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will crush your head, and you will strike His heel.” If any one of us were to imagine what would come next, many of us would have Jesus the Mighty Warrior riding His white steed, in front of hundreds of angels, crushing all the evil ones to oblivion. But, it didn’t happen that way.

friendly donkey

Think for a moment. What would you say is your favorite animal? It may be an animal that you will never have, but you are still drawn to them. Some of us are dog lovers. Others are cat lovers. Many are bird watchers. As for me, I am a “softy” when it comes to all animals (I have a bird-feeder and a squirrel-feeder). But, I have to say, donkeys hold a special place in my heart. I have never met a donkey I did not like. I know that some say they are very stubborn. But, just as God does with us, He uses the donkey’s stubbornness and turns it into perseverance and a never-give-up attitude. Donkeys are called “beasts of burden” because they are able to carry a lot of stuff on their backs. The donkeys I have met are gentle and very friendly and love to eat apples from my hand and they enjoy being pet and talked to. There’s one donkey I know by name. His name is Doobie and he resides at Swedish Hill Winery, in Romulus, New York (the Finger Lakes Region). I think we have seen each other two or three times. After the first time we met, I could almost swear the he recognized me the next time. He would “HEE-HAW” and look straight at me. He knew I was a softy when it came to animals, and he knew I had an apple with his name on it. When we visited for awhile and I started to walk away, he would “HEE-HAW” as if to say, “Don’t go! Please stay awhile longer.” Doobie is such a gentle soul, just like other donkeys I have met. Every donkey I met would come to the fence to say, “HEE-HAW“. How could anyone resist their big, beautiful, soft eyes and mournful cry for attention? I know I can’t.

doobie the donkey

Meet Doobie

When we think of Jesus riding on a donkey, we think of Palm Sunday: “As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to Me. If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.’ This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet: ‘Say to the Daughter of Zion, See, your King comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey’” (Matthew 21:1-5). [Also see Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-44, John 12:12-19]. The Old Testament Prophesy is found in Zechariah 9:9-10:

“Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!
Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!
See, your King comes to you,
Righteous and having salvation,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
and the war-horses from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His rule will extend from sea to sea
and from River to the ends of the earth.”

Zechariah’s prophecy talks about Jesus’ “Triumphant Entry” into Jerusalem, a week before His death and Resurrection. Also, as some prophecies do, Zechariah foretells Christ’s Second Coming when He ends all war and reigns in Peace over all nations. Zechariah’s prophecy speaks to me about yet another time when Jesus rode a donkey. It was the time He was in Mary’s womb, and both Joseph and Mary obeyed God and started off on a mysterious and miraculous “Advent-ure.” Not knowing all the details, they trusted God in every step of their journey. It happened like this:

mary on donkey

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world…And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped Him in cloths and placed Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:1, 3-7).

beast of burden

Even though Luke does not state that Mary rode on a donkey, tradition and common sense says she most likely had to. Mary was nine-months pregnant and the trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem was ninety miles and would take four to six days. People back then traveled on foot or on animals or on carts. Mary and Joseph were poor, judging by the burnt offering they could afford when they took Jesus to the temple to be circumcised (“a pair of doves or two young pigeons” -Luke 2:24). Considering all this, Mary most likely traveled in the least expensive way – by donkey. Whenever I see a donkey, I picture Mary with Jesus in her womb, riding one of these gentle creatures, with Joseph guiding him during the Christmastime. It always gives me “goose bumps” when I think of this Child not yet born, yet always existed (See John 1:1-5 and Colossians 1:15-20).

me writing

We were all meant to be animal lovers. Our “job” in God’s creation was to take care of the animals and the land which God so richly gave us (Genesis 1:29-31). And we were also to enjoy intimate fellowship with God our Maker. But, mankind’s desire to be our own God and know everything for ourselves, without God’s help, ruined it all. But, even before time began, God had a plan to get all things back to how He first created them to be. That plan was Jesus. Read one of Isaiah’s many prophesies concerning Christ the Child, yet the King of kings and Lord of lords:

THE VINE

“A shoot will come up from Jesse [David’s father]; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him – the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD – and He will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what He sees with His eyes, or decide by what He hears with His ears; but with righteousness He will judge the needy, with justice He will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth; with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be His belt and faithfulness the sash around His waist. The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and lion and the yearling together; and a little Child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all My holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the water cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:1-9).

praying hands

Dear Lord Jesus,
All of creation groans for Your return, to turn its bondage to decay to the glorious freedom we have in You. Jesus, You are our hope. And in this hope we are saved. Forgive me for the times I doubt, the times I am afraid that things will never change for the better. Keep my hope alive for the things I do not yet see. Help me to wait patiently for You. Thank You Jesus, the Creator of all things great and small. Thank You for the joy we receive from Your creation. Thank you for the many lessons animals teach us -lessons in working hard, lessons in loyalty and trust and unconditional love. Lord, help me to be faithful in caring for all your creation because I love the Creator most of all. Thank you Lord for donkeys.
In Your precious Name Jesus, I pray. Amen.
Lydia

(The above prayer came from praying over Romans 8:19-25.)

sunris

All Creatures of Our God and King
By St. Francis of Assisi
(First, Fourth and Fifth Stanzas)

All creatures of our God and King, Lift up your voices and with us sing
Alleluia, Alleluia! Thou burning sun with golden beam,
Thou silver moon with softer gleam, O praise Him, O praise Him,
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

And all ye men of tender heart, Forgiving others, take your part,
O sing ye, Alleluia! Ye who long pain and sorrow bear,
Praise God and on Him cast your care, O praise Him, O praise Him,
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

Let all things their Creator bless, And worship Him in humbleness,
O praise Him, Alleluia! Praise, praise the Father praise the Son,
And praise the Spirit, Three in One, O praise Him, O praise Him,
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia! Amen.

sunset

There are many other Old Testament prophesies that point to Jesus as the Messiah, the Savior of the World. Here is a list of some of them with their fulfillment in the New Testament: Genesis 12:3 and 17:7 and Romans 9:5; Psalm 72:10 and Matthew 2:11; Isaiah 60:3, 3, 9 and Luke 2:4-6; Isaiah 40:3-5 and Matthew 3:1-3; Malachi 3:1 and 4:5 and Matthew 11:7-14; Psalm 69:8 and John 1:11 and 7:5; Isaiah 6:9-10 and Matthew 13:10-15 and Romans 1:3; Isaiah 53:4 and Matthew 8:16-17; Isaiah 9:1-2 and 42:1-3 and Matthew 4:13-16; Psalm 41:9 and Matthew 26:14-16 and Zechariah 11:12-13 AND Matthew 26:21-25; Jeremiah 18:1-4 and Matthew 27:9-12; Zechariah 13:7 and Matthew 26:31,56; Psalm 22 and Mark 15:25; Zechariah 12:10 and John 19:28; Isaiah 50:6 and Matthew 27:39-44; Isaiah 53:5 and John 3, Exodus 12:46 and Numbers 9:12 and John 19:33-36; Psalm 16:10 and Mark 16:19 and Luke 24:51; Psalm 110:10 and Matthew 22:44 and Hebrews 10:12-13; Daniel 2:44 and 7:14,27 and Micah 4:7 and Luke 1:33.

glasses on Bible

This Sunday is the Second Sunday in Advent. Along with the Prophecy Candle, another purple candle, known as the Bethlehem Candle, will be lit. The Bethlehem Candle is pointing us to Christ becoming a man in Bethlehem, Israel (See Micah 5:2 and Matthew 1:18-2:6). The “Advent-ure” continues!