Jesus is Here


“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children.” Revelation 21:1-7

Jesus is Here

By Cynthia Ownby

This very day, a child is born. Not just any child, for this child had been foretold by an angel. Our Savior enters the world in the only human way: as a tiny baby, a miracle to Mary.

Today is a day to be celebrated, for today is the day when God chose to walk on earth with us. The divide between what is Godly and what is worldly is gone, for the heavenly has become human. Our Creator, YAHWEH, sent Jesus to live and walk among us. This baby boy we celebrate is God in human form, God among us, choosing to dwell among us and live as we live.

With the birth of this newborn, our Lord and King, we are being renewed. Humanity is reconciled to God. It is done. All things are new, even as God is renewing them minute by minute. As we are renewed, we have hope for what the future holds.

And this is our hope: that this broken world is not the end. God is renewing it. There will be a day with no mourning, no pain, and no darkness. A day when our tears make sense. A day when you and I are completely renewed, living as the beloved children of our Father. A day where God’s reconciliatory work is complete. And all of this because of a tiny baby. A time when God chose to show up on earth. A reminder for you and me that God will continue to show up.

Jesus is here to renew the world. Jesus is here to renew you and me. He is here to take all the fallen pieces of ourselves so that we can be made whole in God alone. Our hope is here. Our hope has come, in the birth of a tiny newborn.

They Followed the Star

Wise Men

“Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was.  When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.  On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.” Matthew 2:7-12

They Followed the Star

By Clay Harryman

“When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.”

The Star. Yeah, that Star. It had appeared and a few astrologers knew what it meant. These were not rabbis, trained in the Torah. These were not Pharisees who enforced God’s law.

They followed the star for days, weeks, some would even suggest years. These were Gentiles, pagans who, contrary to God’s law, sought guidance from the celestial bodies. They were sinners by any definition of the word. Yet they understood something that many people of faith could not grasp. They understood Jesus’ deity.

They followed the star from somewhere back east to this place. They met the man in charge and he wined and dined them. He even gave them a place to sleep! And he offered to go and worship the baby king.

They followed the star to this palace. And they rejoiced at seeing the star again. They knew this simple point of light in the sky would lead them to the light of the world. They knew the entire purpose of their lives was about to change.

They followed the star as it led them to their Savior. And they rejoiced.

Let us all rejoice when we see what God is doing in our lives. Let us be wise, like these average, everyday people, and find the one thing that makes it all worthwhile. And let us act as they did, leaping out in faith to find God holding His net.

Emmanuel’s Star Has Risen

Magi Star

“In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” Matthew 2:1-6

Emmanuel’s Star Has Risen

By Jim Harrod

The people who saw them said, “Look!  Who are these travelers who have come from so far to our town?  It’s a group of wise men from the East!  The Magi have come to Jerusalem!”  The excitement of seeing these royal looking travelers arriving must have been a great sight.  Who were these men from a faraway and strange land and what brought them to Jerusalem at this specific time?  It’s really not hard to imagine all of the children looking upon them, and the gifts they carried with them, with great wonder.  These men had to be powerful and important because they were going to see the king.

But the peoples’ excitement would quickly turn from wonder to concern because they knew their king was a harsh and jealous king.  The word got around that these travelers had come to see and worship a newborn king.  A king whose star had risen in the sky announcing his coming and showing them the way.  They were following a sign sent by God that the heavens could not hide.  A star that shines God’s light into a dark and broken world.  A guiding star to help his people find their way home to him.  A star of new and unending life as only God can provide through his son.  The star guided them, but they needed his Word to show them the final way.  The Magi are God’s messengers to his people of the glorious arrival of his only son.

“Praise be to God!  Emmanuel’s star has risen for all mankind!
Praise the Lord from the heavens,
praise him in the heights above.
Praise him, all his angels,
praise him, all his heavenly hosts.
Praise him, sun and moon,
praise him, all you shining stars.” Psalm 148: 1-3

Let Us Go and See

Shepherds watch their flocks by night

“In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. 

After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” Luke 2:8-21

Let Us Go and See

By Jonathan and Lauren Clinger

Advent is an invitation for us to witness for the kingdom of God.

In the black of night, God’s awesome power shone in the sky as the heavenly hosts invited the shepherds to witness the Good News–the birth of Jesus. The shepherds were among the first witnesses of the gospel, going and seeing the Christ child in a manger according to the instructions of the angel. Once they had, they spread the gospel to anyone who would listen, who marveled at what they had been told.

God invites us in our own lives to come and see the glory of His kingdom. He invites us to see the Good News, Christ the Lord. To come and meet this Jesus through whom God reconciles his creation. In so doing we cannot keep this gospel to ourselves, we cannot help but spread the good news like wildfire. We go forth witnessing to the Kingdom of God, just like those shepherds did so long ago.

Today, the invitation to witness the glory of God still stands, just like it did that night so long ago. Let us go and see, as the shepherds did.


God of Paradoxes


“In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Luke 2:1-7

God of Paradoxes

By Tamara Thompson

God has many names, but one I believe that is often appropriate is “God of Paradoxes.” So many times Jehovah does the opposite of what we might think is the rational or expected choice.

Take, for example, the reading today. Adonai chose to enter his creation in the body of an infant—not an adult, but a helpless infant. Immanuel, who could have chosen birth in a grand palace, is born instead in a primitive place—a crude stable or, as some believe, a cave. The parents of the infant-God live in Nazareth, but prophecy said he would be born in Bethlehem. Although Elohim could have chosen a couple in Bethlehem, he did not. Not coincidentally, a government official called a census, and the couple had to travel to Bethlehem in the final days of Mary’s pregnancy, just in time for her to deliver.

Clearly, the birth of Jesus is a study in paradox. As Ambrose writes in the third century: “He was a baby, a child, so that you may become a complete, mature person. He was wrapped in swaddling clothes, so that you might be freed from the bonds of death. He was in a manger so that you may be on the altar. . . . He had no place in the inn so that you may have in heaven many mansions. He, being rich, became poor for your sakes, that through his poverty you might become rich.”

The God of Paradoxes still lives in the world today—maybe even through you and me.

Zechariah’s Song

Zechariah's Song

Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
    for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty savior for us
    in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
    and has remembered his holy covenant,
 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
    to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness
    before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
    by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
    the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1:67-80

Zechariah’s Song

By Mark Goode

Humanity tells us that our time has come and gone. God tells us He is ready to begin. Our time belongs to God for whom no amount of waiting is too great, no biological clock too constricting, no challenge insurmountable. Zechariah knew God’s promises and never gave up. Zechariah waited. In the midst of long waits, of nervous anticipation, of wild expectation, Zechariah’s song reminds us of God’s mercy, of unquestionable salvation, of the coming of the Lord. We have hope, for through waiting we are prepared, our place in the world is given context, and the scene is set for us as His children.

In our house, the Christmas season is about anticipation, mercy, faith, hope, and love. We eagerly await the faces of joy and surprise as gifts are opened Christmas morning. We are grateful that painful conflicts are mercifully cast aside as we turn our focus to Jesus, to family. Christmas brings love to a world full of hate, renewing our faith, giving us hope.

This season never seems to get here fast enough. Even in life – as workers, as mothers and fathers, as spouses – we are rarely on the time-line we want. We are on the time-line we need. Zechariah’s song, sung after months of silence, of excruciating anticipation, reminds us that God’s timing is perfect, that we are being prepared, placed in context, and given the time to become strong in spirit. The military has a saying, “hurry up and wait.” With these things in mind, we can wait graciously. So we will wait, content where we are, eager for where we are going, and confident in the timing of God, His Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Let us pray: Father, thank you for making us wait. Thank you for helping us prepare for our role, for giving us an understanding of how we fit in to your kingdom. Thank you for your Son, who we celebrate this Christmas season. Amen.By believing in God’s promises to sustain us, to prepare a way for us, we maintain our faith.

His Name is John

John the Baptist

“Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.

On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father.  But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.” They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.” Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And all of them were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.” Luke 1:57-66

His Name is John

By Kathy Straker

So, there we were, friends and family, celebrating with Cousin Elizabeth on the birth of her baby boy! It was a wonderful surprise that someone so old could even have a baby. We’d been at her house every night for the last week and tonight was the night of the circumcision.

When Elizabeth told us the baby’s name was John, we were confused. John was not a family name and we knew that Zechariah would want to follow tradition.

So, several of us acted it out and asked Zechariah what he planned to name the baby. He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.”


Don’t get me wrong, John is a good name. It means “God has been gracious” but it’s not a name our family has used before. But immediately Zechariah could speak again and begin praising God.

It was a strange evening. I’m going to have to think about all of this.

It makes me wonder what little John will grow up to be.

Mary’s Song

Mary's Song

“And Mary said,

‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.” Luke 1:46-56

Mary’s Song

By Sara Pybus
It is one of those moments when God’s plans seem so vastly different from expectations. In that holy space is a young girl, a servant of God, promised by her family to marry a good man. And she is bewildered when the angel gives her the news of the blessed child she will bear. “How can this be for I am a virgin?” The other questions going through her mind can only be imagined. What will people think? How do I explain this to my parents? to Joseph? Will they believe me?

The angel continues and gives a broader story including Mary’s cousin who is also part of God’s plan. Mary accepts what is told her, “Let it be to me according to your word”. She is compelled to travel quickly to Elizabeth. And the welcome she receives fills her with the assurance that this is all true, she is chosen. Elizabeth hears Mary’s voice and, filled with the Holy Spirit, is given full understanding that Mary is carrying God’s son.

What a relief! Her older and wiser cousin verifies this miraculous thing that is happening. In that moment, Mary is filled with a deep understanding that she is blessed and is part of God’s plan. She sings this beautiful song of praise and testimony to the great ways God is at work.

Mary accepts the same thing every mother accepts. She chooses to allow her body to be used by God to create life. She will bring this innocent child into the world and walk the path of love, hope, uncertainty, and fear for this one so fully dependent upon her. But Mary also accepts what she can’t begin to understand, the divine requirements for her son and the role she will play as His mother, watching it happen.

God Guides Us to the People We Need

Mary and Elizabeth

“In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.  When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” Luke 1:39-45

God Guides Us to the People We Need

By Laurie Norris

My friend Georgia and I always room together on our church’s women’s retreat. Georgia’s sons were born when I was in middle school so she is not an entire generation older than me, as Elizabeth is to Mary, but our experiences are out of sync. Even with this age (or experience) difference, we have a strong bond and always room together. Laughter and a bit of a rebellious streak draw us to each other. In between our yearly retreats, we don’t stay in touch all that much, except on Sunday mornings at church. Spending time with Georgia, having her as home base at the retreat, is part of what is so healing about these weekends. We don’t solve the world’s problems, or even solve our own personal problems, but somehow, we always leave the weekend better women than we were when we arrived.

When I read about Mary, soon after being told she is pregnant with God’s baby, traveling ninety miles to be with her much older cousin Elizabeth – also miraculously pregnant – I wonder about the three months they spend together.  It makes me think of rooming with Georgia.  I assume Elizabeth and Mary haven’t spent a lot of time together, but the time they have spent together has bonded them so strongly, that Mary knows that to get through this scary, possibly dangerous experience, she needs the healing visit with Elizabeth. And God gives Elizabeth the supernatural knowing and the exact words that Mary needs.  God is a providential God.  God guides us to the people we need.  Like Mary and Elizabeth.  Like Georgia and Laurie.


Ordinary People

Christmas Devotional

“Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do 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 as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall name him Emmanuel,”

which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife.” Matthew 1:  1-17

Ordinary People

By David Thompson

It was a common story – an arranged marriage between an older man and a younger woman.  Maybe they didn’t know each other that well, maybe they had only met a few times.  But then a complication; the young woman is already pregnant!  The man’s first instinct is to cancel the arrangement; after all, this certainly isn’t the bargain he struck with her family.  And then the most unexpected thing happens.  God speaks into His creation, after centuries of silence.  Who would ever have guessed that the Creator would take an interest in this ordinary and unremarkable situation?  Don’t back out of the marriage, the angel tells the man; this is a special child.  And by the way, he already has a name, and it isn’t your family name!

The rest of the story is so well known to us, that maybe we sometimes skip ahead and forget how extraordinary it all really was.  Of course the man swallowed his pride and doubt, and took a young woman pregnant with a child not his own as his wife.  Of course the young woman accepted her circumstance in faith, and set off on a difficult journey with a man she hardly knew.

But what if they hadn’t?  What if they, like Moses, had asked God to choose someone else?  Would Messiah still have come at that time and place, or would God have waited for another opportunity, another couple, to bring salvation into the world?  What if, in our own time, all that is needed for Messiah to come again is for perfectly ordinary people to accept in faith God’s plan for us?

Oh God our Creator, today we are thankful for ordinary people who put their trust in You.  May we, like them, accept Your extraordinary call in our lives.  Until Messiah comes again in power, Amen!