Joy to You!

Luke 2:1-21 (KJV)

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, 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, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called Jesus, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.


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A Christmas Eve Prayer

Dear Lord, as the sun sets on this day, may we once again be astonished by a tale that has become almost too familiar. It can become something we take for granted, a story neatly tucked away among the trees and tinsel, the presents and the food. Help us to remember today why we celebrate this evening:

JESUS CHRIST HAS COME!

Our promised Savior came humbly, as an infant, to the poorest and least important of families. He arrived with no obvious path to power, yet angels declared his glory. He grew up in a place barely worth noting on a map, yet the most learned people of his day traveled from afar to see him, the skies declaring the arrival of a king.

He grew. He loved us. He died for our sins. He has taken his proper place in heaven, and we rejoice that we will be in his presence for all eternity.

May the Holy Spirit guide us through this day, keeping us in a state of worship.

We pray all this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Expect Christ: Day 27

Today is Friday, Dec. 23, our last day praying together in the Advent season. Tomorrow, we will celebrate Christmas Eve, entering a celebration of the incarnation!

Morning

Praise and Thanksgiving.

Our final psalm of anticipation as we pray, Psalm 110, is warlike and brutal, a sharp contrast to the baby in the manger we will celebrate tomorrow night. This is a psalm of power and conquest, a declaration of God’s sure triumph over evil. God comes among us in love to save us, but let’s never forget that the divine power and plan are absolute. Jesus will return with full authority one day.

Let’s also pray this together:

“Lord, your glory is eternal, existing before creation and beyond creation. As the created, we once again praise you and look forward to the day when we live in your eternal light. May our celebrations of the incarnation appropriately honor you and open us to a deeper understanding of your magnificence. Amen.”

What other words of thanks and praise might we lift up?

Confession. As we anticipate meeting the Christ child, let’s quietly search our hearts once again for what is opposed to God, recognizing our propensity to sin and trusting in God’s grace.

Petitions. As we move toward celebrating the great truth that changes the world, let’s once again pray from global concerns down to personal concerns, seeking how we might be the answer to some of the problems around us.

Scripture: Hebrews 1

Silence.

Noon

Let’s pray this prayer together one more time:

“Lord, we have passed through a season of expectation. We remember the Israelites’ past desire for a savior to arrive, and we mirror what they felt as we long now for the return of Jesus Christ. Come Lord Jesus, come! We pray this with some trepidation, knowing we never feel completely ready for such a day, and that loved ones around us may not be ready. And yet we continue to pray, Come Lord Jesus, come! We trust that your grace at your return will so overwhelm sin and death that all will be set right. As we pray for your full arrival, teach us how to make ourselves ready, living as watchful people. Amen.”

Night

At a minimum, let’s spend some significant time in a quiet, reflective state before retiring for the night. Embrace the day’s spiritual victories and release the failures.

Sleep well. Having lived and prayed in anticipation, may Christmas fill your hearts.

Expect Christ: Day 26

Today is Thursday, Dec. 22, the twenty-sixth day in the Advent season.

Morning

Praise and Thanksgiving.

As we draw closer to Christmas, let’s pray with Mary, lifting up Luke 1:46-55 and expressing our belief that mercy is truly shown from one generation to the next, so long as we honor God.

Let’s also pray this together:

“Lord, your grace and mercy are evident in the story we move toward celebrating, the birth of Jesus Christ. Thank you for your overwhelming, powerful love. Continue to sustain us with the Holy Spirit until such time as we we see the fiery, wooly-haired Christ before us, injecting truth into a false world in need of remaking. Amen.”

What other words of thanks and praise might we lift up?

Confession. Let’s quietly search our hearts once again for what is within us that is not of God.

Petitions. As we move toward celebrating the great truth that changes the world, let’s once again pray from global concerns down to personal concerns, seeking how we might be the answer to some of the problems around us.

Scripture: Revelation 22:6-20.

Silence.

Noon

Let’s continue to pray this prayer together daily:

“Lord, we are in a season of expectation. We remember the Israelites’ past desire for a savior to arrive, and we mirror what they felt as we long now for the return of Jesus Christ. Come Lord Jesus, come! We pray this with some trepidation, knowing we never feel completely ready for such a day, and that loved ones around us may not be ready. And yet we continue to pray, Come Lord Jesus, come! We trust that your grace at your return will so overwhelm sin and death that all will be set right. As we pray for your full arrival, teach us how to make ourselves ready, living as watchful people. Amen.”

Night

At a minimum, let’s spend some significant time in a quiet, reflective state before retiring for the night. Embrace the day’s spiritual victories and release the failures.

Sleep well. May visions of Christ in the manger and Christ to come pervade your dreams.

Expect Christ: Day 25

Today is Wednesday, Dec. 21, the twenty-fifth day in the Advent season.

Morning

Praise and Thanksgiving.

Let’s begin our prayers today with Psalm 109. It is another psalm closely associated with the Messiah, and along with other truths it predicts Jesus Christ’s betrayer.

Let’s also pray this together:

“Savior God, your presence among us was no easy task for you. You experienced the worst humanity has to offer, yet you demonstrated the best possibilities in your sacrificial life and death. Praise be to the one who gave so much so that we might gain eternal life! May we learn to live in similarly sacrificial ways. Amen.”

What other words of thanks and praise might we lift up?

Confession. When we pray regularly, we have little difficulty identifying sin. Let’s dig to the roots of sin in our lives, uprooting it and freeing ourselves for the joyous Christmas celebration to come.

Petitions. Again, as we move close to the Christmas season, let’s pray in particular for those needing to know the truth that God has intervened in this world through Jesus Christ. There also are so many who are sick right now. A hospital visit yesterday astonished me. I witnessed full rooms in the emergency department, with additional beds lined up in the halls outside those rooms, each holding a suffering soul. Pray for the sick; pray for the medical professionals who tend to them.

Scripture: Matthew 1:1-17. At first glance, this looks like a boring old genealogy, but there’s much going on here. Do you recognize the brokenness in Jesus’ lineage? Look for deception, prostitution, adultery and murder in the stories behind some of these people. Trust me, there’s a whole sermon here. Christ arrived in the midst of a mess to make salvation possible, and we pray he returns in the midst of our mess to set creation fully and completely right.

Silence.

Noon

Let’s continue to pray this prayer together daily:

“Lord, we are in a season of expectation. We remember the Israelites’ past desire for a savior to arrive, and we mirror what they felt as we long now for the return of Jesus Christ. Come Lord Jesus, come! We pray this with some trepidation, knowing we never feel completely ready for such a day, and that loved ones around us may not be ready. And yet we continue to pray, Come Lord Jesus, come! We trust that your grace at your return will so overwhelm sin and death that all will be set right. As we pray for your full arrival, teach us how to make ourselves ready, living as watchful people. Amen.”

Night

At a minimum, let’s spend some significant time in a quiet, reflective state before retiring for the night. Embrace the day’s spiritual victories and release the failures.

Sleep well, knowing the story of the Christ child to come begins the story of our salvation.

Expect Christ: Day 24

Today is Tuesday, Dec. 20, the twenty-fourth day in the Advent season.

Morning

Praise and Thanksgiving.

Let’s return to Psalm 22 as we begin our prayers today. It is a psalm closely associated with the Messiah; also, pay attention to the birth imagery. And of course, Jesus quoted it while on the cross. Try praying these words while reflecting on the “mind of Christ,” understanding that we are called to exhibit similar humility.

Let’s also pray this way:

“Dear Lord, you are unimaginably powerful and glorious, and yet you were willing to set aside obvious evidence of your magnificence so as to live among us, diapered and dependent on mere humans for your care. In this truth, we see that love is at the core of divine glory. As we move toward the story of the baby in the manger, help us to remember the full story of salvation. Amen.”

What other words of thanks and praise might we lift up?

Confession. Release all that is not of God to God for divine destruction, knowing the Holy Spirit will fill any void we may experience.

Petitions. Again, as we move close to the Christmas season, let’s pray in particular for those needing to know the truth that God has intervened in this world through Jesus Christ.

Scripture: Galatians 4:21-5:1.

Silence.

Noon

Let’s continue to pray this prayer together daily:

“Lord, we are in a season of expectation. We remember the Israelites’ past desire for a savior to arrive, and we mirror what they felt as we long now for the return of Jesus Christ. Come Lord Jesus, come! We pray this with some trepidation, knowing we never feel completely ready for such a day, and that loved ones around us may not be ready. And yet we continue to pray, Come Lord Jesus, come! We trust that your grace at your return will so overwhelm sin and death that all will be set right. As we pray for your full arrival, teach us how to make ourselves ready, living as watchful people. Amen.”

Night

At a minimum, let’s spend some significant time in a quiet, reflective state before retiring for the night. Embrace the day’s spiritual victories and release the failures.

Perhaps tonight we can dream of holy Christmases past and celebrations to come.

Expect Christ: Day 23

Today is Monday, Dec. 19, the twenty-third day in the Advent season.

Morning

Praise and Thanksgiving.

Today, rather than beginning our time of guided prayer with a psalm, we are going to begin with Hannah’s Prayer, found in 1 Samuel 2:1-10.

Let’s also pray these words:

“Dear Lord, like Hannah we seek signs and make promises, but we know the great promises have already been made by you, ensuring us a path out of sin and death. Glory be to our God, who gave up so much to give us eternal life! Continue to guard the feet of your faithful ones. Continue to drive back evil. Amen.”

What other words of thanks and praise might we lift up?

Confession. Sin always blocks our ability to grow in Christlike love. Let’s think not only of what we lose when we repent, but what we gain.

Petitions. As we move close to the Christmas season, let’s pray in particular for those needing to know the truth that God has intervened in this world through Jesus Christ.

Scripture: Galatians 4:8-20. It’s not hard to discern Paul’s concern for the people of Galatia. Would he have similar concerns for us today?

Silence.

Noon

Let’s continue to pray this prayer together daily:

“Lord, we have entered a season of expectation. We remember the Israelites’ past desire for a savior to arrive, and we mirror what they felt as we long now for the return of Jesus Christ. Come Lord Jesus, come! We pray this with some trepidation, knowing we never feel completely ready for such a day, and that loved ones around us may not be ready. And yet we continue to pray, Come Lord Jesus, come! We trust that your grace at your return will so overwhelm sin and death that all will be set right. As we pray for your full arrival, teach us how to make ourselves ready, living as watchful people. Amen.”

Night

At a minimum, let’s spend some significant time in a quiet, reflective state before retiring for the night. Embrace the day’s spiritual victories and release the failures.

Remember how important controlled breathing can be as we settle ourselves into our relationship with God. He breathed into us the breath of life; the Spirit came as wind and a life-altering fire.

May a good night’s rest prepare us for a holy and inspired day tomorrow.

Expect Christ: Day 22

Welcome to the fourth Sunday of Advent. Next Sunday is Christmas Day! As part of your Sabbath, I pray you are able to attend or participate in group worship in some way. Proper formal worship will incorporate all the aspects of our daily prayers. As I’ve said before, the prayer patterns established over six days of the week lead us to a Sabbath of constant spiritual communion with God.

Here’s a text for today, one you may hear in worship:


Luke 1:46-55

Mary said,

“With all my heart I glorify the Lord!
    In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.
He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant.
    Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored
        because the mighty one has done great things for me.
Holy is his name.
    He shows mercy to everyone,
        from one generation to the next,
        who honors him as God.
He has shown strength with his arm.
    He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.
    He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones
        and lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things
    and sent the rich away empty-handed.
He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,
        remembering his mercy,
    just as he promised to our ancestors,
        to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”

What a joy for Mary, full of the Spirit that has conceived the divine child inside her. She is able to glimpse the effects Jesus will have on the world. Some of these effects we still anticipate today.

Where has God met us in our lowliness and meekness?

Expect Christ: Day 21

Today is Saturday, Dec. 17, the twenty-first day in the Advent season.

Morning

Praise and Thanksgiving.

Let’s begin our prayers with Psalm 102. In our weakness, God’s strength becomes most evident to us.

Let’s also pray these words:

“Dear Lord, may our living generations and generations to come always exalt your name, with praises going up until the day when all generations are brought together before you. Some generations may seem more blessed in worldly ways than others, but we all are offered the gift of eternal life, putting us on equal footing as we humble ourselves and follow you. Grow us together in grace and love until eras, styles and tastes have passed, and all that remains is your holy light. Amen.”

What other words of thanks and praise might we lift up?

Confession. Let’s continue to think of God as a listening friend, one who is holy and wise.

Petitions. Let’s focus on family needs today, including our own individual needs.

Scripture: John 3:31-36. Is what we see immediately in front of us always better than what is unseen?

Silence.

Noon

Let’s continue to pray this prayer together daily:

“Lord, we have entered a season of expectation. We remember the Israelites’ past desire for a savior to arrive, and we mirror what they felt as we long now for the return of Jesus Christ. Come Lord Jesus, come! We pray this with some trepidation, knowing we never feel completely ready for such a day, and that loved ones around us may not be ready. And yet we continue to pray, Come Lord Jesus, come! We trust that your grace at your return will so overwhelm sin and death that all will be set right. As we pray for your full arrival, teach us how to make ourselves ready, living as watchful people. Amen.”

Night

At a minimum, let’s spend some significant time in a quiet, reflective state before retiring for the night. Embrace the day’s spiritual victories and release the failures.

Remember how important controlled breathing can be as we settle ourselves into our relationship with God. He breathed into us the breath of life; the Spirit came as wind and a life-altering fire.

Sleep well. May visions from God reveal something not previously seen.

Expect Christ: Day 20

Today is Friday, Dec. 16, the twentieth day in the Advent season.

Morning

Praise and Thanksgiving.

Let’s begin our prayers with Psalm 80.

Let’s also pray these words:

“Savior Like a Shepherd lead us! We give thanks for the gift of eternal life through the cross. We long for the promised life to come, a life we could experience even before our own deaths, if only we see you coming on the clouds. Lead us through the Holy Spirit now. Lead us visibly once again, ruling over all nations and peoples. Amen.”

What other words of thanks and praise might we lift up? When did we last count our blessings?

Confession. Let’s think about confession a little differently today. Imagine the perfect friend, the one you can tell anything without fearing rejection or reprisal. At worst, as you disclose your sins, your friend would say, “Don’t hurt yourself in such ways anymore.” Now go to God seeking such a relationship, trusting that understanding, forgiveness and healing will be offered.

Petitions. Using our “outside in” pattern, let’s ask God to intervene in global matters, in national needs, in our communities, schools and workplaces, in our churches and homes, and in our personal lives. Who are the specific people needing prayer?

Scripture: 2 Samuel 7:18-22. Again, we might want to take a little time to read before and after today’s verses, gaining some context as we prayerfully consider what God promised King David.

Silence.

Noon

Let’s continue to pray this prayer together daily:

“Lord, we have entered a season of expectation. We remember the Israelites’ past desire for a savior to arrive, and we mirror what they felt as we long now for the return of Jesus Christ. Come Lord Jesus, come! We pray this with some trepidation, knowing we never feel completely ready for such a day, and that loved ones around us may not be ready. And yet we continue to pray, Come Lord Jesus, come! We trust that your grace at your return will so overwhelm sin and death that all will be set right. As we pray for your full arrival, teach us how to make ourselves ready, living as watchful people. Amen.”

Night

At a minimum, let’s spend some significant time in a quiet, reflective state before retiring for the night. Embrace the day’s spiritual victories and release the failures.

Remember how important controlled breathing can be as we settle ourselves into our relationship with God. He breathed into us the breath of life; the Spirit came as wind and a life-altering fire.

Sleep well, knowing the promises made to David are fulfilled for us, too.