We all need others to enter our struggles, to be part of our becoming and encourage us with the good news of the gospel. To develop these types of relationships, we need access to one another’s lives outside of Sunday morning. This is why we have Life Groups.
Christmas always provides an opportunity to give gifts. When I shop, I tend to be in and out of stores quickly. I see it, and then buy it. I have realized over the years that I can end up paying a bit more because I don’t always take the time to shop sales or start early, but there is still a budget and I can walk away without buying because something is too expensive.
In all my gift giving, I have never given to the point of becoming poor. I have spent more than I planned but it is still a long way from poverty. Then you read a verse in 2 Corinthians and it causes you to wonder.
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. 2 Corinthians 8:9
The wise men gave gifts that spoke to the worth and honor of Jesus. There was gold given because Jesus is a King. There was frankincense, an incense used in the temple because Jesus is our High Priest. Myrrh was also given and used by God’s prophets for anointing because Jesus is our great prophet. Everything bends and everyone rightly bows around Jesus and yet in He is the one that became poor. He left the glory of heaven, laid down his dignity, took the form of a servant, and obediently gave himself so that the richness of God would be shared.
Paul says, “for you know the grace of the Lord Christ.” It is the gift of Jesus that changes everything. When we discover and embrace this gift, a generosity of being is produced that allows us to live differently - to live rich. There are people that have incredible resources but are bound up in what they have and so live in a kind of prison. Christmas reminds us that Jesus has come to give you His richness. You are gifted with what you most need: life eternal, mercy overflowing, extravagant love, grace and favor, God’s presence and approval, a place in his family, and a place in God’s heart. Are you feeling rich yet?
This is the grace or gift of God that is revealed by the birth and sacrifice of Jesus and in the emptying of Himself to make us rich beyond our dreams.
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people. Ephesians 1:18
So we approach Christmas morning and every day after with the steadfast and prevailing sense that we are rich. This revelation doesn’t begin in palaces and with those content in their own wealth, but it enters into the most unlikely hearts, those looking for something better, and to their delight made rich by the generosity of our Savior, Jesus.
As we look towards the Christmas Season, this is the time of year when we begin to think a lot about giving and receiving gifts. There was barely a chance to finish eating the Thanksgiving feast before I was drawn into a conversation about what our kids want for Christmas and what we can afford to give this year. And honestly, as much as I love receiving gifts, the question I dread the most during the holidays is “what do you want for Christmas?” Doesn’t telling each other exactly what we want take some of the magic out of gift giving and receiving? Sometimes the best gifts you get at Christmas aren’t the ones you thought you wanted. They’re gifts from someone who knows you better than you know yourself.
I’m struck this morning by a passage where Jesus is giving a gift to us. It’s not something we’ve specifically asked for, but it’s something he knows we need and want more than anything. He says that he doesn’t give this gift to us in the same way that the world gives gifts. This gift is Peace. “I am leaving you with a gift - peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”
It is interesting that the most definitive teaching on peace in all of Scripture comes from Jesus on the night before he would be crucified. He knew what he was about to face, yet he still took the time to comfort his disciples with the message of peace. This is the peace that Paul speaks about in Philippians 4:7 "And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
The peace of God is not based on circumstances like the world's peace, so it doesn't always make sense to the human mind. Paul says it is a peace that surpasses comprehension. It doesn't seem reasonable that such peace could exist in the midst of the problems and troubles we go through, but this is divine, supernatural peace.
The world around us doesn’t know much peace. So much about our lives - the world, our health, the health of our loved ones, our finances, our relationships, the future - are often marked with a sense of uncertainty and void of the peace we so desperately need and want.
But every year, during this time of year, the world takes notice as we begin to celebrate an event that happened more than 2000 years ago. We celebrate that God blessed the world with peace through the Prince of Peace, Jesus. “For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end.”
This season, in the midst of the chaos of the holidays, we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace. We celebrate the gift of peace from a savior, Jesus Christ, who says “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth, you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” No matter what you might be going through during this season, or what gifts you give and receive this year, the most precious gift of all is from our Father in Heaven. Let us celebrate together that “to us a child is born, to us a son is given.” His name is the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, and his peace will never end!
Pray for Peace
Take time to pray for peace for your family, as well as your community, nation, and the world. Pray that people would be able to experience the Prince of Peace in this holiday season. Pray that despite their experiences or circumstances, they would come to know Jesus and the incredible peace he gives as a gift.
Bring a piece of paper and a pencil to the table for one of your meals as a family this week. After you have talked about any daily things you would like to share, brainstorm together about places you think are peaceful. Some ideas might be sitting on a chair at the beach, taking a walk through the woods, or sitting under a blanket while reading a book. Help your family think about places where you feel peaceful. Write each of those ideas down on the sheet of paper. If you have young children, remind them that true peace comes from God, through Jesus, no matter what our circumstances are. Ask your kids the difference between a peaceful place and the peace that God gives. Discuss the differences you see in the gifts you will give and receive this Christmas and the gift of peace from Jesus. How could you receive and value the gift of peace, even more, this year?
It’s hard to believe that the Christmas season is already here. Autumn feels like a distant memory, and as soon as the Thanksgiving meal was eaten and the dishes were put up, out came the Christmas decorations. In fact, I saw a lot of homes decorated for Christmas two weeks before Thanksgiving!
I don’t mind, though. I love Christmas. I love the nostalgia it brings. I love the lights and the decorations. I love getting together with family and friends. I love the giving of gifts and the excitement of Christmas morning that I see in my children. It’s warm. It’s cozy. It’s familiar.
But most of all, I love celebrating and remembering how God lavished on us the greatest Christmas gift of all time in Jesus. I love telling and hearing the story of God’s love. The story of a journey that began at creation. The story of hope that God gave to His people in a coming Messiah. The story of hope fulfilled in the birth of a baby.
That’s what Advent is about. It’s a time to slow down in the midst of what the world has made into a very busy season, and remember. To marvel again at the mystery of the ages revealed in the most unlikely of places to the most unlikely of people. The fulfillment of ages of hoping and waiting is ushered in by an ordinary couple and a group of sheep herders on a quiet Bethlehem night. It’s the stuff movies are made of, but it’s not a great fictional drama played out on the big screen; it’s the simple, beautiful truth.
I love Advent because it’s where our stories intersect. You may not share the same sentiment as I do about Christmas. In fact, you might dread Christmas each year. I have friends for whom Christmas is an annual reminder of something painful in their lives.
Advent represents something different. It’s a reminder of what’s real, no matter what circumstances we may experience during this season. It’s a reminder of Emmanuel - God With Us. The Creator of the universe, the King of Kings has entered into His creation; our humanity. He’s fulfilling a history long promise of restoration. He’s drawing us near. He’s holding out hope to you and to me.
So, what are you hoping for this Christmas? My prayer is that through the celebration of Advent this season, you’ll find renewed hope in the Good News of Great Joy that the angels heralded so many years ago. That you’ll draw near to the God of hope, who has drawn near to you in Jesus.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."
Advent at Home
Whether you’re single, newlyweds, empty nesters or a family with lots of kiddos, you can celebrate Advent at home. Here are a few ideas to help you engage in the season.
1. Make an Advent wreath. It’s a simple wreath of evergreens (real or artificial) with four colored candles (traditionally 3 purple and 1 pink) and one white candle. (you can use any color you have on hand, though). Each purple candle represents the first three weeks of Advent (Hope, Peace, Joy), and pink the fourth (Love). The white candle is lit on Christmas Eve or Day and it represents Christ, the Light of the World. Light a candle at the beginning of each week of Advent as a visual reminder of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love all of which are fulfilled in Christ
(Side note: There’s nothing magical or mystical about an Advent wreath. It won’t make you fly or give you good luck. It will, however, reinforce your remembrance. Any time we engage more than one sense while we’re learning, it reinforces that teaching. It makes a greater impression on us, and we retain it. I think we’d all agree that the Good News is something we all want to remember.)
2. Read the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah in Luke Chapter 1. Use it as an opportunity to reflect on and/or discuss hope. What were Elizabeth and Zechariah hoping for? Had they given up hope? How did God show himself faithful. What are you hoping for? Have you given up hope? How is God showing himself faithful, even as you wait? Pray that God will open your eyes to what He is doing in the waiting.
3. For deeper study here are a few options for daily Advent devotionals (click the titles to visit these resource sites):
With the diversity of backgrounds in our community at Rivertree, the topic of baptism periodically comes up during our Discover Lunch, baptism services or as new families connect with our church. Having experienced a "believer's baptism" is also part of our membership process. So, what is baptism? What does it mean, and why do we practice it?
What is baptism?
Baptism is a beautiful and important aspect of Christian devotion and outward display of a commitment to Christ. The practice of baptism in the New Testament was administered only to those who made a profession of faith in Jesus. This is what we mean by "believer's baptism", that the person getting baptized believes that "Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead" (Romans 10:9). People in the New Testament were baptized by being immersed or put completely under water and brought back up. The Greek word baptizo means "to plunge, dip or immerse" something in water. So, this is how we practice baptism at Rivertree- by immersion.
What does baptism mean?
There are several different meanings, symbols and things of which we are reminded when we think about baptism. First, it is an act of obedience to Jesus' command and follows his example. Jesus himself was baptized and instructed his disciples to baptize those who would come to faith after his ascension in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Baptism is also a symbol of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Baptism represents death of our old man and our new life in Christ. So, baptism is also a symbol of what God has accomplished in the life of a believer through the cleansing of sin. Baptism is a symbol of the spiritual change that God has worked in our lives, the transition from spiritual and eternal death to spiritual and eternal life. It is moving from hopelessness into hopefulness, from darkness into light, and from slavery to sin to freedom in Christ. In baptism, we symbolically express our acceptance of death with Christ, putting an end to our old way of life and rising with Christ to begin a new kind of life in Him. In doing so, baptism expresses our new identity in Christ.
Why do we still practice baptism?
Baptism is a public declaration of faith in Jesus Christ. In baptism, we express, with our whole body, our heart’s acceptance of Christ’s Lordship. Becoming a Christian involves the body as well as the heart. In conversion, the heart is freed from sin to be enslaved to God. Since the Lordship of Christ lays claim to our whole body, it is fitting for us to express our surrender to His Lordship with our whole body. Baptism gives expression to the fact that we belong to God and that we are part of his body, the church. We still practice baptism because Jesus taught that it is part of discipleship, it gives believers the opportunity to publicly declare faith in Christ, and it edifies the entire church when they hear the story of the one getting baptized and witness his or her faith in Jesus.
If you are interested in talking more about baptism, please select one of the age appropriate buttons below.