Jesus is Emmanuel

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Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign; the young woman, pregnant and about to bear a son, shall name him Emmanuel.

Isaiah 7:14

What signs have you seen that show you God is here with us, not just watching from a distance?

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Going Deeper

Read Matthew 1:18-25.

The name Emmanuel means God with us. Truly, when Jesus came to earth, we were aware that God was right there with us in a way we hadn’t experienced since the Garden of Eden. Even though Jesus no longer walks among us, we know that God is still with us. During the Last Supper, Jesus promised that, after his death, the Holy Spirit would be sent by the Father, in Jesus’ name, to remain with us (John 14:26).

Imagine that Jesus was walking the earth today. He holds a rally in your town. You attend because, well, it’s Jesus Christ. When will you ever get that close to someone who is that famous? As Jesus enters the stadium, he spots you and walks right up to you. “I’m coming to your house for supper today,” he says with a warm smile.

Sitting together at the dinner table, what would you say to Jesus? What questions would you ask him? If he decided to stay for a few days, how would that change your routine? What would you do differently in your work? Your home life? Your free time?

God is that close to us. All the time. How does that knowledge change how you live your life?

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How will you respond to Jesus’ arrival?

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So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about the child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.

Luke 2:16-19

During your Advent preparations and Christmas celebrations, have you learned something new about Jesus or understood something about the incarnation differently? Share that new insight with one other person.

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Going Deeper

Read Luke 2:8-20.

In this passage, we see two different responses to Jesus’ birth. The shepherds immediately told everyone about the message they received from the angel and the child they found wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, just as the angel had said. Even when they returned to their day jobs, they did so “glorifying and praising God.” How can you imitate the shepherds? Can you tell a friend or family member how you have experienced Christ in your life? Maybe you can share the story on social media. After you’ve had an experience of God’s presence, do you go back to business as usual? How can you glorify and praise God in and through your daily routine?

In contrast, Mary “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” In order to hear and recognize God’s voice and action in our lives, we have to take time to be quiet and reflect. Can you spare fifteen minutes? Turn off the radio and the television. Find a quiet spot with few distractions. Think back over the events of the past two days—both in your life and in the lives of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. Then spend five minutes resting in the presence of God. You don’t have to do or say anything. Just be with God.

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Merry Christmas! Is there room in the inn?

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While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Luke 2:6-7

Is there room for Christ in your Christmas celebration? In your life? In your heart?

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Going Deeper

Read Luke 2:1-7.

The Bethlehem innkeeper often gets a bad rap for turning away the young couple and the unborn Savior of the world. How often have we turned God away or given him our second-best, just like the innkeeper?

  • Have I packed my schedule so full that I don’t have time to pray or to notice God working in my life?
  • Do I avoid making eye contact with the person holding the “will work for food” sign?
  • Am I happy to give God an hour on Sunday morning, but reluctant to invite him into my home or workplace?
  • Am I holding onto resentment, refusing to forgive someone in my life?

There are many things that can keep us from making room for Jesus in our hearts. As you reflect on what might be blocking Christ from permeating every part of your life, listen to “While You Were Sleeping.”

Choose one thing you will do to welcome Jesus more fully into your life.

(Click here to receive these reflections in your inbox throughout the Christmas season.)

Christmas Eve: Jesus, the Word Become Flesh

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And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.

John 1:14

Tonight we remember the incarnation, the amazing moment when Jesus Christ, fully God and fully human, came to live among us. Jesus desires not only to live among us, but also to live within us. “But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God.” (John 1:12a) Have you made room for Jesus in your heart? Invite him in!

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Going Deeper

Slowly and reflectively, read John 1:1-14.

John’s Gospel begins like the book of Genesis: “In the beginning.” Jesus was there from the very beginning. During all of the events we’ve discussed this Advent, Jesus, the Word, was present, along with God the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Tonight we celebrate the mind-blowing moment when “the Word became flesh.” God took on a human body and experienced the fullness of life on earth—the good, the bad, and the very, very ugly. He walked with us, touched us, and taught us. But he did so much more than tell us how to live—he showed us.

The image of the baby Jesus in a manger has become so familiar to us, that we sometimes forget how truly remarkable that first Christmas was. As you reflect on this, listen to “How Many Kings.”

(Click here to receive these reflections in your inbox throughout the Christmas season.)

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Advent Reflection: A Strange Way to Save the World

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Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.”

Luke 1:30-31

Why do you think God chose to enter our world in humble circumstances? If the incarnation occurred today, where do you think Jesus would live? Who would his mother be? Who would he call as his apostles?

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Going Deeper

Read Luke 1:26-38.

The words “You’re going to have a baby” can elicit all kinds of emotions: excitement, fear, contentment, anxiety, anticipation, worry, or joy.

What if the words “You’re going to have a baby” were followed by “He will be called Son of the Most High” and “Of his kingdom there will be no end”? Luke tells us that Mary was troubled. I imagine she also felt confused, overwhelmed, and maybe a little scared. It must have been hard for her to understand why God would enter the world as the son of a single teenage girl in a working class family.

When the Father chose to send his Son into our world, he had his choice of locations and circumstances. Jesus could have entered the world as the son of royalty, living a comfortable life and using the resources of the palace to spread his message. Jesus could have descended from heaven as a grown man, shared his wisdom, and then ascended back to heaven, skipping all the messiness of the stable and the cross.

As you reflect on how God chose to enter our world, listen to “Strange Way to Save the World.”

Prepare Your Heart to Celebrate Christ’s Birth

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There are several places in the Bible that call us to reflect on God’s faithfulness to his people throughout history (for example, Psalm 136). I am offering daily meditations this Advent based on the Jesse tree. As we remember how God showed his love for us from the moment of creation, I invite you to reflect on how God has been moving in your life.

What is a Jesse tree?

Isaiah wrote:

But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse,

And from his roots a bud shall blossom.

The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him:

A spirit of wisdom and of understanding,

A spirit of counsel and of strength,

A spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord.

Isaiah 11:1-2

A tradition that began in the Middle Ages, the Jesse tree reminds us that Jesus is the shoot that sprouted from the stump of Jesse, King David’s father.

How can I use these reflections?

I invite you to read the Bible verse and reflection question in the morning, so you can think about it throughout the day. Later in the day, maybe over your lunch hour or just before bed, you can read the full Bible passage and meditation. If you enjoy journaling, take time to write down your thoughts or compose a letter to God. If you express yourself through art, you can make your own Jesse tree ornament based on the Bible passage. To share this experience with your family, read the Bible story from a children’s Bible and have the kids color their own Jesse tree ornaments.

Click here to join me on this Advent journey!

As we frantically decorate our homes, purchase and wrap presents, cook and bake, it can be hard to find time and space to reflect and prepare our hearts for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. I hope these reflections help you to take a moment each day to remember what the season of Advent is all about.

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