Advent Day 15: Listen

You have seen many things, but you pay no attention; your ears are open, but you do not listen. – Isaiah 42:20

Listen. God is communicating to us messages of hope. Unfortunately, hearing is not the same as listening. At this time of year, we may hear bells in church steeples and children singing carols that stir our memories and turn our thoughts toward the Christmas story of angels and shepherds and wise men three. We can hear the story of a baby born to save the world, but it requires listening with our hearts to the angels’ song for the Child of God to be born in us, for the hope of salvation to sing its melodies of peace and joy through our lives.

The sound of hope is ancient music made new every day to soothe the soul, lift the spirit and drive away fear. The song of hope is never ending rhythm and harmony that can only be felt when we learn to really listen.

Today’s Gift

Be enveloped by the sounds of Christmas. Play holiday music on your radio, computer or iPod. Sing all the Christmas carols you know throughout the day. Google the lyrics or pick up a hymnal so you can read the words and perhaps understand old words in a new way. Then make time for silence. Perhaps that may be while taking a walk on a still, snowy night, or sitting by the fireplace in the house with all the electronics turned off. Still your thoughts and wait for God to speak to you.

Sue Breland, Worship For One: Advent Emmanuel ©

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Advent Day 14: The Gift of Forgiveness

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and remember there that another believer has something against you, leave your gift at the altar. First go away and make peace with that person. Then come back and offer your gift. – Matthew 5:23-24

The gift of forgiveness may be the greatest gift you give or receive this year. Releasing a grudge, letting go of a hurt, saying “I’m sorry” relieves a burden that otherwise only grows heavier with time. A heart that cannot forgive is a life separated from God. We are forgiven by His grace to enable us to extend that same measure of grace to others.

Before you offer your gifts to God this Christmas, offer your forgiveness to others so that your heart is worthy to kneel before the Christ who gave His all to forgive us all.

Today’s Gift

You guessed it – forgive someone today. Make that phone call or meet for coffee with someone to grant or ask for forgiveness. If that person is no longer living, write a letter to them, pray over the letter and then send it off in a balloon or burn it. If you need to forgive yourself, talk with a trusted friend, pastor or counselor who will pray with you and help you release the pain, anger or exhaustion that living with years of unforgiveness can bring.

Sue Breland, Worship For One: Advent Emmanuel ©

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Advent Day 13: From the Heart

When they entered the house, they saw the Child with His mother Mary. So they bowed down and worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasure chests and offered Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. – Matthew 2:11

Everyone loves a present, but a gift given in love, not out of obligation or compulsion, is the best gift of all. Something that comes from the heart means the most, lasts the longest and touches the deepest places in our souls. The Wise Men could afford to give costly treasures, but of greater value was the sacrifice of their time in the journey and the humility of their worship to the King of Kings. They came out of love, seeking nothing in   return, and yet received more than they could ever have imagined.

Love is the never ending gift that grows in value every time it is given, received and bestowed again. Make love your gift this season – to strangers, to your family, to God – and experience the most priceless Christmas ever.

Today’s Gift

Instead of buying some gifts this year, give of your time and/or talent. Create a
service gift card for someone promising to bake some goodies, mow their yard, wash their car once a week in the summer, or provide twelve evenings of babysitting so they can have a date night once a month. The options are unlimited. The value is priceless.

Sue Breland, Worship For One: Advent Emmanuel ©

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Advent Day 12: Shepherds

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep.  Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! – Luke 2:8-21

Shepherds were blue-collar workers, doing a dirty, smelly, solitary job; they were looked down upon by their society. Yet God knew they would be the most completely at home in a stable to celebrate the birth of His Son. God choose this location and these shepherds so that we would know today that the most common of people should feel welcome and at ease in His presence.

According to the book of James, we are to show no favoritism.  Most of us would agree with this comment, but do we really live it out in the real world? How do we provide an atmosphere of “inclusion”? Would some people feel “not good enough” to seek the Christ Child in our midst?

He is with us every day, in every place – not just in sanctuaries and “holy” places – but in our homes, on our jobs, throughout our communities and wherever we invite Him in. Find ways to prioritize grace and acceptance, so that everyone will want to share in the celebration of the Savior. In welcoming the “shepherds” of the world, we welcome God.

Today’s Gift

Befriend someone – a widowed neighbor, an “outsider” at work, a new person at church. Identify someone that you can make feel like they belong on the inside this Christmas and you may change how they feel from now on.

Sue Breland, Worship For One: Advent Emmanuel ©

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Advent Day 11: Gifts

Oh, the joys of those who are kind to the poor! The Lord rescues them when they are in trouble. – Psalm 41:1

As we are consumed with getting those special things for our loved ones and friends at this time of the year, God reminds us that His gift was given to those He didn’t know, the unloved, and the outcast. He tells us that it is by helping others – the poor and strangers – that we find help for ourselves. It truly is in giving that we receive.

How often do we walk by people on the streets – judging them, ignoring them, showing our fear or disdain for them? We may, in fact, not have a dollar to spare at that moment, but our love and empathy costs us nothing. If we have a roof over our heads, we do have the means for serving these in our community, from writing a check to a charity or mission project, providing a used coat for a teenager, dropping off a few canned goods at the local food bank, to adding one small gift to our Christmas list for someone else’s child. Jesus taught that it is not the size of the gift, but the size of our heart that matters.

Today’s Gift

 Help a child discover the joy of giving. Whether with your own children, a niece, a nephew, a neighborhood kid or one borrowed from church, take a child to the store to buy a gift for a needy child or to fill a Christmas box for a missionary family. Have them collect canned goods from the neighborhood for the food bank. Take them with you to deliver toys to a children’s shelter. Help them understand how good it feels to give.

Sue Breland, Worship For One: Advent Emmanuel ©

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Advent Day 10: The Star

When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! – Matthew 2:10

Seeing the Star of Bethlehem brought great joy to the angels who brought it, the wise men who sought it, and the shepherds who were caught off guard by it. Thousands of years later, the real Star – Jesus – still brings joy into our lives. He said. “I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

A life of joy comes from an abundance of the unchanging love and grace of the Christ.  Open your heart to the Star and be filled with joy – not just for today – but forever!

Today’s Gift

Read Matthew chapter 2 in any version of the Bible and examine how the star of Bethlehem was the intersection of science, history and faith. Consider these questions:

  • How do you think the star affected the lives of the Magi / Wise men in both the short and long term?
  • How did the star’s rising impact Herod personally and politically?
  • This chapter covers an extended period of time. How does this knowledge affect your thoughts about the impact of the star in your own life today?

Sue Breland, Worship For One: Advent Emmanuel ©

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Advent Day 9: Christ in a Real World

This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. – Luke 2:12

Can you imagine the smell of the stable where Jesus was born? If the shepherds expected to find the Messiah in the sweet smell of heaven, they were likely surprised to find Him amid the odor of their own very familiar world. The Savior of mankind was not surrounded by the incense of perfumed priests, but the smell of hard working common men and lowly beasts. He would be a carpenter with calloused hands and burdened with the responsibility for this widowed mother and siblings when work was plentiful or scarce.

He is one of us, albeit the best of us, and He knows what it means to give until it hurts. He did. May we follow His example.

Today’s Gift

Be sure to visit the “real world” this season, a world that may be uncomfortable or unknown to you. Connect with a local nonprofit that will enable you to step into a new experience such as feeding the homeless, delivering blankets or coats to those in need, making cards or small gift bags for seniors in a nursing home. Walk in the shoes of someone less fortunate than yourself today and begin to understand how Jesus felt in our skin.

Sue Breland, Worship For One: Advent Emmanuel ©

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Advent Day 8: The Smell of Hope

Then Mary took a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. – John 12:3 (NIV)

Science tells us that the sense of smell is our most powerful conveyance into the past. The scent of warm bread or freshly mown grass can send us immediately back to a place and time that seem real enough to touch. The fragrance of Christmas especially retrieves memories, both sweet and painful, which surface to be met in the present and enhance or hinder our future.

When Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume, the sweet smell of her sacrifice would soon remind them of the sting of His sacrifice, as the same oils would be used to prepare His body for burial.  The same scent would again drive out the stench of death and usher in our hope of a glorious eternity with the risen Lord. So, take a deep breath and fill your life with the fragrance of hope – Jesus.

Today’s Gift

 Engage your sense of smell today to help you experience a wonderful Christmas memory. For me, it is the sweet smell of homemade caramels boiling on the stove that became gifts for family far from home. What is it for you: evergreen, peppermint, ancient paper that wrapped family ornaments? Make time to find the aroma of Christmas that will warm your heart in a special way. Add the experience to your Blessing Journal.

Sue Breland, Worship For One: Advent Emmanuel ©

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Advent Day 7: Picture Perfect

Then young women will dance and be glad, young men and old as well. I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow. – Jeremiah 31:13

Expectations of a “perfect” Christmas are unrealistic. An ideal family in a picture perfect holiday around the hearth is a fantasy that does little more than set us up for disappointment and depression. We are flawed people with human failings, in times that are certain only to change from one moment to the next.

It is in our imperfection that Jesus came to show us what we could become, to save us from ourselves and to inspire joy even in our inevitable disappointments. So rejoice! All we are, all we have, is enough for the only One who is truly the picture of perfection.

Today’s Gift

Look through old photographs of happy holidays past. Enjoy the memories of family and friends, feel the warmth of those moments, laugh, cry, let the emotion come out and envelop you. Write down any expectations for this current holiday season that may be making you feel sad or that you know are unattainable. Perhaps you have lost a loved one this past year, or your financial situation has worsened, or you are simply separated from family. Write it all down, pour out your sorrow, fears, anger onto the paper. Pray over it, asking that God would take it into His hands and give you peace. Then find a safe place to burn your list (a fireplace or outdoor chimenea or grill). As those expectations melt away, thank God for the joys of the past and pray for new traditions and experiences that will make your future just as special in a different way.

Sue Breland, Worship For One: Advent Emmanuel ©

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Advent Day 6: The Invitation

Be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is good and acceptable and the perfect will of God. – Romans 12:2b

In the Christmas story, God sent many invitations: to Mary and Joseph to raise His Son, to shepherds and wise men to come to the manger, to the innkeeper to make room for a tired couple late one night… It was an invitation that would change their lives and the course of history.

Today, God still sends out the invitation – to YOU!  Come as you are, let His light into your heart and be transformed!

Today’s Gift

Make an invitation list. With whom will you begin to share the Christ of Christmas? There is no greater gift than leading someone to the joy of salvation. It may take a long time for them to accept Christ, but someone needs to start them on the path. You might invite them to a Christmas program or party at your church, or include them in a family celebration in your home. You can help another person understand that “Emmanuel” means “God with us” every day not just once a year.

Sue Breland, Worship For One: Advent Emmanuel ©

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