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WEEK 5 – JANUARY 6
 
SCRIPTURE
REVELATION 21:3-4

Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.
 
THE FINAL ADVENT OF CHRIST
Excerpt from "The Heart of Christmas" by Hank Hanegraaff

 
As there is a First Advent and a daily advent, so too there is a final Advent. Just as the focus of the First Advent is Christ coming in flesh, so too the focus of the Second Advent is Christ coming in flesh. This time, however, He will not come as a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manager; this time He will come as a bridegroom carrying His bride over the threshold of Jordan into the New Jerusalem. As Canaan provided temporal rest for the physical descendants of Abraham, the coming Christ will provide eternal rest for His spiritual descendants….
 
I don't know about you, but the more I think about the new heaven and the new earth, the more excited I get! It is simply incredible to think that one day soon we will not only experience the resurrection of our carcasses, but we will experience the renewal of the cosmos and the Final Advent of our Creator. We will literally have heaven on earth. Not only will we experience God's fellowship as Adam and Eve did, but we will see the Second Adam face-to-face. God in flesh will live in our midst. And we will never come to the end of exploring the infinite, inexhaustible I AM or the grandeur and glory of His incomparable universe.
 
Those who die in Christ will experience the new heaven and the new earth as both a physical place in creation and as the personal presence of the Creator.
Fix your focus with eager anticipation on the Final Advent of the Babe of Bethlehem-now a Bridegroom returning with His Bride.
 
POETRY
SAVIOR OF THE NATIONS, COME
A 4th Century text by Ambrose of Milan, translated into German by Martin Luther and into English by Calvin Seerveld.

 
Savior of the nations, come,
Show yourself, the virgin's son
Fill with wonder, all the earth,
That our God chose such a birth.
 
Not by human power or seed
Did the woman's womb conceive;
Only by the Spirit's breath
Was the Word of God made flesh.
 
Mary then was found with child,
Still a virgin, chaste and mild.
God had favored her with grace
To receive the Prince of Peace.
 
Christ laid down his majesty,
Passed through dark Gethsemane.
Though he left his Father's home
Christ now sits on God's own throne.
 
Since the star at Bethlehem
Brought new light to earth again,
May our faith shine bright each day;
Faithful God, keep sin away.
 
Christ in glory, intercede
For your creatures' suffering need.
Let your resurrecting power
Soon complete the victory hour.
 
Praise to you, O Lord, we sing.
Praise to Christ, our newborn King!
With the Father, Spirit, one,
Let your lasting kingdom come.
 
PRAYER
Lord, our deep desire is to make space for your Spirit to become incarnate in the circumstances of our own lives, yet we know that this is not simply for our own sakes, but for the love and service of all your creation. We have entered into the mystery of your birth, each in our own way, and now we ask you to send us out into another new year, to carry the light of your love into a darkness that often frightens and overwhelms us.
 

QUOTE
Faith…involves trusting in the future promises of God and waiting for their fulfillment. – RC Sproul

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WEEK 5 – JANUARY 5

ARTWORK:  Cordoba, Spain.THE ADORATION OF MAGI Fresco in church Iglesia de San Agustin by Cristobal Vela (1588-1654)

SCRIPTURE
ISAIAH 60:1-6(NIV)

“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
2 See, darkness covers the earth
    and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
    and his glory appears over you.
3 Nations will come to your light,
    and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

4 “Lift up your eyes and look about you:
    All assemble and come to you;
your sons come from afar,
    and your daughters are carried on the hip.
5 Then you will look and be radiant,
    your heart will throb and swell with joy;
the wealth on the seas will be brought to you,
    to you the riches of the nations will come.
6 Herds of camels will cover your land,
    young camels of Midian and Ephah.
And all from Sheba will come,
    bearing gold and incense
    and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.

In western Christian tradition, January 6 is celebrated as Epiphany.  Epiphany is the climax of the Advent/Christmas Season and the “Twelve Days of Christmas, which are usually counted from the evening of  December 25th until the morning of January 6th, which is the Twelfth Day.

In traditional Christian churches Christmas, as well as Easter, is celebrated as a period of time, a season of the church year, rather than just a day. The Season of the Church Year associated with Christmas actually begins with the first Sunday of Advent, four Sundays before Christmas Day. Advent is marked by expectation and anticipation in preparing to celebrate the coming of Jesus. Christmas begins with Christmas Day December 25 and lasts for Twelve Days until Epiphany, January 6, which looks ahead to the mission of the church to the world in light of the Nativity. The one or two Sundays between Christmas Day and Epiphany are sometimes called Christmastide.

The term epiphany means “to show” or “to make known” or even “to reveal.” In Western churches, it remembers the coming of the wise men bringing gifts to visit the Christ child, who by so doing “reveal” Jesus to the world as Lord and King.

On Epiphany (January 6), the celebration of Christmas comes to an end. “Twelfth Night” (as all lovers of Shakespeare know) is the ultimate celebration of Christmas madness (Shakespeare’s play features one of his many “wise fools” who understand the real meaning of life better than those who think they are sane). Epiphany commemorates the beginning of the proclamation of the gospel-Christ’s manifestation to the nations, as shown in three different events: the visit of the Magi, the baptism of Jesus, and the turning of water into wine. In the Western tradition, the Magi predominate.

As the true end-point of the Christmas season, Epiphany sends us into the world to live out the Incarnation, to witness to the light of Christ in the darkness.

PRAYER

We are drawn to your feet in worship
Your creation facing its creator
Hearts laid bare by your light
Humbly asking for your mercy.
We come to you as a people in need
of assurance and forgiveness.
We come to you as a people in need
of healing and wholeness.
We come dependent upon your love.
Draw us close.
Enfold us in your arms.
Fill us with your Spirit
that we might reflect your light
within this dark world,
speak your Word with boldness
and draw others to your feet.
We ask this through your dear Son Jesus Christ.
Amen


WEEK 5 – JANUARY 4
 
ARTWORK:
Rome, Italy – The Flight to Egypt fresco in Basilica di Sant Agostino (Augustine) by Pietro Gagliardi – 19th Century

 
SCRIPTURE
MATTHEW 2:13-14 (NIV)

 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt,
 
POETRY
NATIVITY by John Donne (1572-1631)


Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb,
Now leaves His well-belov’d imprisonment,
There He hath made Himself to His intent
Weak enough, now into the world to come;
But O, for thee, for Him, hath the inn no room?
Yet lay Him in this stall, and from the Orient,
Stars and wise men will travel to prevent
The effect of Herod’s jealous general doom.
Seest thou, my soul, with thy faith’s eyes, how He
Which fills all place, yet none holds Him, doth lie?
Was not His pity towards thee wondrous high,
That would have need to be pitied by thee?
Kiss Him, and with Him into Egypt go,
With His kind mother, who partakes thy woe.
 
PRAYER
God, your eternal Word took flesh on our earth when the Virgin Mary placed her life at the service of your plan. Lift our minds in watchful hope to hear the voice which announces his glory and open our minds to receive the Spirit who prepares us for his coming. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen. 

QUOTE
Nothing paralyzes our lives like the attitude that things can never change. We need to remind ourselves that God can change things. Outlook determines outcome. If we see only the problems, we will be defeated; but if we see the possibilities in the problems, we can have victory. – Warren Wiersbe

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WEEK 5 – JANUARY 3
 
SCRIPTURE
Lamentations 3:22-24 (NIV)

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”
 
As we begin the New Year it is often accompanied with thoughts, plans, and new resolutions. There is one thing for sure that should be in our hearts, and that is our relationship with God.  As you seek the Lord... He will be found!. Each time you reach out to Him, He will be reaching back to you and drawing close to you. 
 
The text in Lamentations has three distinct parts:

First is that God's great love for us keeps us from perishing due to His compassion for us.
 
Second is that we will find God's faithfulness continually fresh and new, and He will always surprise us with His Grace.
 
Thirdly God has promised to be our portion forever.  When we have the Lord we have "EVERYTHING"
 
Of all the New Years resolutions you could make, the best one would be drawing closer to the God who loves you and gave all that you could know His love and grace.
                                                               Pastor Kevin Ledbetter
 
PRAYER
Loving God, may our faith in your ultimate plan make us not only optimists but also eager workers for the great harvest that is to come.
 

QUOTE
Faith never knows where it is being led, but it loves and knows the One who is leading. – Oswald Chambers

 

POETRY
Somehow not only for Christmas
But all the long year through,
The joy that you give to others
Is the joy that comes back to you.
And the more you spend in blessing
The poor and lonely and sad,
The more of your heart’s possessing
Returns to make you glad.
John Greenleaf Whittier, 1866


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TUESDAY – JANUARY 2

SCRIPTURE
Philippians 3:13(NIV)

13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,

PRAYER
This prayer from Billy Graham, written for The Saturday Evening Post in 2008, is just as relevant this year.


Our Father and our God, as we stand at the beginning of this new year we confess our need of Your presence and Your guidance as we face the future.

We each have our hopes and expectations for the year that is ahead of us—but You alone know what it holds for us, and only You can give us the strength and the wisdom we will need to meet its challenges. So help us to humbly put our hands into Your hand, and to trust You and to seek Your will for our lives during this coming year.

In the midst of life's uncertainties in the days ahead, assure us of the certainty of Your unchanging love.

In the midst of life's inevitable disappointments and heartaches, help us to turn to You for the stability and comfort we will need.

In the midst of life's temptations and the pull of our stubborn self-will, help us not to lose our way but to have the courage to do what is right in Your sight, regardless of the cost.

And in the midst of our daily preoccupations and pursuits, open our eyes to the sorrows and injustices of our hurting world, and help us to respond with compassion and sacrifice to those who are friendless and in need. May our constant prayer be that of the ancient Psalmist: "Teach me, O Lord, to follow your decrees; then I will keep them to the end" (Psalm 119:33).

We pray for our nation and its leaders during these difficult times, and for all those who are seeking to bring peace and justice to our dangerous and troubled world. We pray especially for Your protection on all those who serve in our armed forces, and we thank You for their commitment to defend our freedoms, even at the cost of their own lives. Be with their families also, and assure them of Your love and concern.

Bring our divided nation together and give us a greater vision of what You would have us to be. Your Word reminds us that "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord" (Psalm 33:12).

As we look back over this past year we thank You for Your goodness to us—far beyond what we have deserved. May we never presume on Your past goodness or forget all Your mercies to us, but may they instead lead us to repentance, and to a new commitment to make You the foundation and center of our lives this year.

And so, our Father, we thank You for the promise and hope of this new year, and we look forward to it with expectancy and faith. This I ask in the name of our Lord and Savior, who by His death and resurrection has given us hope both for this world and the world to come.  Amen

HYMN FOR THE NEW YEAR
Glory To God In The Highest

Glory to God in the highest!
Glory to God! Glory to God!
Glory to God in the highest!
Shall be our song today;
Another year's rich mercies prove
His ceaseless care and boundless love;
So let our loudest voices raise
Our glad and grateful song of praise.

QUOTE
A.W. TOZER'S NEW YEAR'S MESSAGE

A.W. Tozer, a long-time editor of the Alliance Witness once penned this greeting for the cover of the January 1, 1938, edition of his magazine, and it was reprinted on the cover for the New Year's edition in 1979. It read in part:

While all the promises of God are true and precious, yet it is good to take them one by one and especially commit ourselves to them. If you ask God to give you a special message for the opening year, one that will be made seasonable and real in every exigency of the unknown future, you will be surprised how faithfully He will fulfill His word, and how fittingly the Holy Spirit will speak to you of things to come, and anticipate the real needs and exigencies of your life.



MONDAY, JANUARY 1, 2018
 
MUSIC: CHRISTMAS ORATORIO – PART VI By J.S. BACH

Listen To Christmas Oratorio
 
The Christmas Oratorio (BMV 248) is an oratorio by Johann Sebastian Bach intended for performance in church during the Christmas season. It was written for the Christmas season of 1734 and incorporates music from earlier compositions, including three secular cantatas written during 1733 and 1734 and a now lost church cantata, BMV 248a.  The date is confirmed in Bach’s autograph manuscript. The next performance was not until 17 December 1857.
 
The Christmas Oratorio is in six parts, each part being intended for performance on one of the major feast days of the Christmas period.  The piece is often presented as a whole or split into two equal parts. The total running time for the entire work is nearly three hours.
 
The first part (for Christmas Day) describes the Birth of Jesus, the second (for December 26) the annunciation to the shepherds, the third (for December 27) the adoration of the shepherds, the fourth (for New Year’s Day) the circumcision and naming of Jesus, the fifth (for the first Sunday after New Year) the journey of the Magi, and the sixth (for Epiphany, the adoration of the Magi.
 
SCRIPTURE
2 Corinthians 5:17-18(NIV)

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:[a] The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:
 
PRAYER
God, thank you for a new year. May everyone in our family be willing to begin anew with a clean slate. We know that you are always ready to forgive us. Help us to be willing to forgive ourselves and to forgive one another.
As we begin a new year, remind us of our truest values and our deepest desires. Help us to live in the goodness that comes from doing what you want us to do. Help us to put aside anxiety about the future and the past, so that we might live in peace with you now, one day at a time.


QUOTE
The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul. -G. K. Chesterton


POETRY
THE OLD YEAR NOW AWAY HAS FLED
(Traditional (circa.1642)
The old year now away is fled,
The new year it is entered;
Then let us now our sins down tread,
And joyfully all appear.
Let’s merry by this day,
And let us now both sport and play
Hang grief! Cast care away-
God send you a happy new year!
 
And now with new-year gifts each friend
Unto each other they do send;
God grant we may all our lives amend,
And that the truth may appear.
Now, like the snake his skin,
Cast off all evil thoughts and sin,
And so the year begins-
God send us a happy new year!


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5TH SUNDAY OF ADVENT
December 31, 2017

 
The Christ Candle is the fifth Candle, positioned in the center of the wreath. This Advent Candle’s color is white. White is the color of the Advent representing purity and light.  Christ is the sinless, spotless, pure Savior.  He is the light come into a dark and dying world. Those who receive Jesus Christ as Savior are washed of their sins and made whiter than snow.
 
Scripture:  Isaiah 1:18; Colossians 1:13-14
 
“’Come now, let us reason together,’ says the LORD.  ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.’” (Isa. 1:18)
 
“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”  (Col. 1:13-14)
 
One of my favorite childhood toys was an Etch A Sketch.  The Ohio Art Company that produced this fabulous gizmo made a killing on sales during the mid 1960s.  In 1998, the Etch A Sketch was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame commemorating it for being one of the most memorable and creative toys of the 20th century.  And I know why.  A young person (or older person, too) could pick up this little gray-screened, red-framed unit and begin to draw lineographic images with the simple twist of one or both of its little white knobs that moved the stylus which displaced a thin line of aluminum powder on the back of the gray screen.  With this amazing contraption, anyone could create something artistic.

But the real genius of the product was not only in the invention of art, but in the artist’s ability to quickly erase any and all blemishes or pictures that were not appealing.  By simply turning the Etch A Sketch over and gently moving it side to side, all was erased.  And then it was time to begin creating again.
 
Many people go through life wishing for the opportunity to erase the blemishes or unappealing aspects of their lives.  Choices, attitudes, words or actions are all categories which often beg for the opportunity to start over—fresh.  But few people realize that only God himself can make this possible.  To have a fresh start, a clean slate and the opportunity for all things ugly to be erased, our lives must be turned over to God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ, His Son. 
 
Through the prophet Isaiah, the promise is made:  The red crimson of our sins can be made white as snow (Is. 1:18).  Later in his prophetic oracle, the one who would make this possible is identified as the one who was “pierced for our transgressions” and, “crushed for our iniquities” (Is. 53:5). There is no doubt the prophet was referring to the redemptive work of our Savior, Jesus Christ. 

The Apostle Paul echoed this truth when he declared, “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins”  (Col. 1:13-14). 
 
What better way to close out the old year and bring in a new one, than by embracing the promise of Scripture that our sins have been entirely forgiven through placing our trust in the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ!  And what better way to celebrate the last Sunday of Advent than by rejoicing that the reason Jesus came to us was to save his people from their sins (Mt. 1:21). 
 
Let’s not only embrace this reality at the start of the New Year, but every day throughout this year!                                Pastor Larry Vold, 3Crosses Church
 
PRAYER
Father, we know that we’ve made mistakes this past year, and we know that we’ve grieved Your Holy Spirit with sin that so easily entangled us. Help us to heed Paul’s call to forget what lies behind us so we can press on toward the prize You’ve set before us. Help us to live each day of the coming year with the mercy of Christ in mind so that each day can feel like Christmas. Amen.
 
POETRY
ANOTHER YEAR IS DAWNING
Words by Frances R. Havergal

 
Another year is dawning, dear Father, let it be
In working or in waiting, another year with Thee.
Another year of progress, another year of praise,
Another year of proving Thy presence all the days
 
Another year of mercies, of faithfulness and grace,
Another year of gladness in the shining of Thy Face;
Another year of leaning upon Thy loving breast;
Another year of trusting, of quiet, happy rest.
 
Another year of service, of witness for Thy love,
Another year of training for holier work above.
Another year is dawning, dear Father, let it be
On earth, or else in Heaven, another year for Thee.


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WEEK 4 – DECEMBER 30
 
RING OUT, WILD BELLS!
By Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)


Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,    
The flying cloud, the frosty light:    
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
 
Ring out the old, ring in the new,    
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:    
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
 
Ring out the grief that saps the mind    
For those that here we see no more;    
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.
 
Ring out a slowly dying cause,    
And ancient forms of party strife;    
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.
 
Ring out the want, the care, the sin,    
The faithless coldness of the times;    
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in. 
 
Ring out false pride in place and blood,    
The civic slander and the spite;    
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.
 
Ring out old shapes of foul disease;    
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;   
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.
 
Ring in the valiant man and free,    
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;   
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

SCRIPTURE
I PETER 1:3-4 (NIV)
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you,

 
PRAYER
Father, no matter how difficult our trails may be, remind us that You are our provider and sustainer while we are here, and that when our lives here on earth are finished, we will spend eternity with You. Help us to have the Christmas spirit all year long by living with eternity in mind. Amen.
 


QUOTE
“Rejoice, that the immortal God is born, so that mortal man may live in eternity.“ –John Hess

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WEEK 4 – DECEMBER 29
 
ARTWORK:  NATIVITY by HE QI
 
MUSIC: THE INFANT HOLY, THE INFANT LOWLY                   
Performed on piano by Judi Thompson

 
Infant holy, infant lowly, 
for his bed a cattle stall; 
oxen lowing, little knowing, 
Christ the babe is Lord of all. 
Swift are winging angels singing, 
noels ringing, tidings bringing: 
Christ the babe is Lord of all. 

Flocks were sleeping, shepherds keeping
vigil till the morning new
saw the glory, heard the story, 
tidings of a gospel true. 
Thus rejoicing, free from sorrow, 
praises voicing, greet the morrow: 
Christ the babe was born for you. 
 
"Infant Holy, Infant lowly" (known in Polish as "W Żlobie Leży") is a traditional Polish Christmas carol. In 1920, the song was translated into English by Edith Margaret Gellibrand Reed (1885-1933), a British musician and playwright. Reed found the carol in the hymnal Spiewniczek Piesni Koscieline (published 1908), though the song itself may date back as far as the thirteenth century. The Polish text could possibly be attributed to Piotr Skarga (1536-1612).
 
SCRIPTURE
ISAIAH 25:9
It will be said on that day, “Behold this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

 
PRAYER
Let your goodness, Lord, appear to us, that we, made in your image, confirm ourselves to it. In our own strength we cannot imitate your majesty, power, and wonder nor is it fitting for us to try. But your mercy reaches from the heavens through the clouds to the earth below. You have come to us as a small child, but you have brought us the greatest of all gifts, the gift of eternal love. Caress us with your tiny hands, embrace us with your tiny arms and pierce our hearts with your soft, sweet cries.
--Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153)
 
POETRY
CHRISTMAS CAROL by Paul Lawrence Dunbar (1872-1906)

Ring out, ye bells!
All Nature swells
With gladness at the wondrous story-
The world was lorn,
But Christ is born
To change our sadness into glory.
 
Sing, earthlings, sing!
To-night a King
Hath come from heaven’s high throne to bless us.
The outstretched hand
O’er all the land
Is raised in pity to caress us.
 
Come at his call;
Be joyful all;
Away with mourning and with sadness!
The heavenly choir
With holy fire
Their voices raise in songs of gladness.
 
The darkness breaks
And Dawn awakes,
Her cheeks suffused with youthful blushes.
The rocks and stones
In holy tones
Are singing sweeter than the thrushes.
 
Then why should we
In silence be,
When Nature lends her voice to praises;
When heaven and earth
Proclaim the truth
Of Him for whom that lone star blazes?
 
No, be not still,
But with a will
Strike all your harps and set them ringing;
On hill and heath
Let every breath
Throw all its power into singing!
 
QUOTE
“Once in our world, a stable had something in it that was bigger than our whole world.” – C.S. Lewis


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WEEK 4 – DECEMBER 28

SCRIPTURE
2 CORINTHIANS 3:17
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.


PRAYER:
Lord, remind us each day just how free we are in you. Don’t let us take for granted the magnitude of the soul-freedom you made possible through Jesus’ life and death. Amen.

Excerpts from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Christmas Sermons
Editor and Translator Edwin Robertson

On April 5, 1943, Bonhoeffer was arrested and taken to the old prison in Tegel, Berlin. He was placed in a cold and filthy cell and briefly in the solitary confinement ward, where those condemned to death were being held….

Advent Sunday, November 28, 1943, was particularly poignant for Bonhoeffer. The Advent season was, for him, always an affair for family and friends and a time of almost childlike devotion. As he wrote letters from his lonely prison cell, he revealed more than nostalgia. He tried to come to terms with what was happening to him amidst the loneliness and the heavy bombing of Berlin.

HIS LAST ADVENT
On December 19, 1944, he was able to write to his fiancée, Maria von Wedemeyer:

My dearest Maria,
I’m so glad to be able to write you a Christmas letter, and through you, to convey my love to my parents and my brothers and sisters, and to thank you all. Our homes will be very quiet at this time. But I have often found that the quieter my surroundings, the more vividly I sense my connection with you all.  It’s as if, in solitude, the soul develops organs of which we’re hardly aware in everyday life.  So I haven’t for an instant felt lonely and forlorn. You yourself, my parents-all of you, including my friends and students on active service-are my constant companions. Your prayers and kind thoughts, passages from the Bible, long-forgotten conversations, pieces of music, books-all are invested with life and reality as never before….So you mustn’t think I’m unhappy. Anyway, what do happiness and unhappiness mean? They depend so little on circumstances and so much more on what goes on inside us….

 In that letter he says he enclosed “another few verses,” as “his Christmas greeting to you, my parents, and my brothers and sisters.” It was his last poem:

By kindly powers surrounded, peaceful and true,
Wonderfully protected with consolation dear,
Safely, I dwell with you this whole day through
And surely into another year.

Though from the old our hearts are still in pain,
While evil days oppress with burdens still,

Lord, give to our frightened souls again,
Salvation, and thy promises fulfill.

And should’st thou offer us the bitter cup, resembling
Sorrow, filled to the brim and overflowing,
We will receive it thankfully, without trembling,
From thy hand so good and ever-loving.

But if it be thy will again to give
Joy of this world and bright sunshine,
Then in our minds we will past times relive
and all our days be wholly thine.

Let candles burn, both warm and bright,
Which to our darkness thou has brought,
And, if that can be, bring us together in the light,
Thy light shines in the night unsought.

When we are wrapped in silence most profound,
May we hear that song most fully raised
From all the unseen world that lies around
And thou art by all thy children praised.

By kindly powers protected wonderfully,
Confident, we wait for come what may.
Night and morning, God is by us, faithfully
And surely at each new born day.

There is little doubt that among those “kindly powers” were his family and friends, but also that great “unseen realm of whose real existence” he was in no doubt. He had a good life, full of joy and achievement. There had been agonizing times and suffering but he was sustained by music, conversations, and deep friendships within and without the family. The memory of these brought him nearer to that “great unseen realm” which he was soon to realize more clearly.  At the end, he must have recalled his own poem, “stages on the way to freedom,” and especially its last stanza:

Come now, highest feast on the way to everlasting freedom, death.
Lay waste the burdens of chains and walls which confine our earthly bodies and blinded souls, that we see at last what here we could not see.
Freedom, we sought you long in discipline, action, and suffering.
Dying, we recognize you now in the face of God.

Bonhoeffer was executed in Flossenburg in the early hours of April 9, 1945. His last words were, “This is the end - for me the beginning of life.”

QUOTE:
“The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, who look forward to something greater to come. For these, it is enough to wait in humble fear until the Holy One himself comes down to us, God in the child in the manger. God comes. The Lord Jesus comes. Christmas comes. Christians rejoice!” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

WEEK 4 – DECEMBER 27
 
MUSIC:  MESSIAH by George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
London Philharmonic Orchestra & Walter Süsskind
“For Unto Us A Child Is Born”

 
ISAIAH 9:5
For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace



An excerpt from  “IN SEARCH OF THE REAL SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS” by Dan Schaeffer
 
PRINCE OF PEACE

Almost the moment we are born, the conflicts begin. We fight with our parents, our siblings, our friends, our spouses, our children, our relatives, and our leaders. Peace is the eternally elusive pursuit of man. Peace between nations, peace between neighbors, peace between spouses, peace between family members, even peace in our own minds and hearts.  Many men and women have achieved great things, but no one can claim to have brought world peace.
 
We want peace, but we also want our own way. We desire peace, but we can’t remove all the peace-disturbing things in our life.  I can feel at peace toward you, but what happens if you don’t feel at peace toward me? A true and lasting peace in our world is simply beyond our reach. How appropriate then, that as the names of Messiah are listed, the last one we hear echoing in our minds is Prince of Peace.
 
Peace is more than the absence of war, conflict, stress, or turmoil. To achieve true peace, we have to remove the ultimate cause of all these things, which is sin. Sin destroys both our personal peace and the peace of this world….
 
Real lasting peace, for nations or individuals, is not something we achieve; it is something we receive through the Son. It is part of the gift.
 
Vance Havner once wrote, “Christmas is based on an exchange of gifts: the gift of God to man-His Son; and the gift of man to God-when we first give ourselves to God.” He gives Himself to us daily, moment by moment. And we give ourselves to Him not just once, at conversion, but a hundred times a day.
 
The true Christmas spirit reminds us again of His gift and of the proper response to that gift. He gives, and we give back. What can we give that would be appropriate for such a gift as His? Gratitude. It seems so small, and yet there is nothing greater we can give. To simply take time from our busy schedules and remember this tremendous gift He gave to us and to be overwhelmed all over again by His love. Tears of gratitude are pearls and diamonds we can offer Him, more precious to Him than all the money in the world.
 
He will forever be the child born to us, the Son given to us, the perfect governor, our Wonderful Counselor, our Mighty God, our Everlasting Father, our Prince of Peace.
 
PRAYER
Let us all continue to pray for peace in our world.  Let's pray that hearts might be transformed, to find the path of peace together.  But, as we pray, let peace have a chance in our own hearts, in our own world, close at home. The peace-making begins with God's work in us.  This is truly Advent longing. Let there be peace on earth, 
and let it begin with me!


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WEEK 4 – DECEMBER 26
 
SCRIPTURE
1 John 4:9-11 (NIV)
9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
 
PRAYER
Dear Jesus, may the light of your love always shine in our hearts. At Christmas we marvel at your great love for us. Let your love transform every aspect of our lives and touch everyone we encounter. Our hearts are open to you, Jesus. Amen.
 
QUOTE
“God came as a baby, giving and entrusting Himself to me. He expects my personal life to be a “Bethlehem.” Am I allowing my natural life to be slowly transformed by the indwelling life of the Son of God?  God’s ultimate purpose is that His Son might be exhibited in me.” – Oswald Chambers

 
POETRY
Somehow not only for Christmas
But all the long year through,
The joy that you give to others
Is the joy that comes back to you.
And the more you spend in blessing
The poor and lonely and sad,
The more of your heart’s possessing
Returns to make you glad.
 
John Green leaf Whittier 1866
 
Excerpt from ONE INCREDIBLE MOMENT, Celebrating the Majesty of the Manger by Max Lucado
 
Looking for the Savior
Once there was a man whose life was one of misery. The days were cloudy, and the nights were long. Henry didn’t want to be unhappy, but he was. With the passing of the years, his life had changed. His children were grown. The neighborhood was different. The city seemed harsher. He was unhappy. He decided to ask his minister what as wrong.
 
“Am I unhappy for some sin I have committed?”
“Yes,” the wise pastor replied. “You have sinned.”
“And what might that sin be?”
“Ignorance,” came the reply. “The sin of ignorance. One of your neighbors is the Messiah in disguise, and you have not seen him.”
 
The old man left the office stunned. “The Messiah is one of my neighbors?”  He began to think whom it might be.
 
Tom the butcher? No, he’s too lazy. Mary, my cousin down the street? No, too much pride. Aaron the paperboy? No, too indulgent. The man was confounded. Every person he knew had defects. But one was the Messiah. He began to look for Him.
 
He began to notice things he hadn’t seen. The grocer often carried the sacks to the cars of the older ladies. Maybe he is the Messiah. The officer at the corner always had a smile for the kids. Could it be? And the young couple who moved next door. How kind they are to their cat. Maybe one of them…
 
With time he saw things in people he’d never seen. And with time his out look on life began to change. The bounce returned to his step. His eyes took on a friendly sparkle. When others spoke he listened. After all, he might be listening to the Messiah. When anyone asked for help, he responded; after all this might be the Messiah needing assistance.
 
The change of attitude was so significant that some asked why he was so happy. “I don’t know,” he answered. “All I know is that things changed when I started looking for God.”
 
Now, that’s curious. The old man saw Jesus because he didn’t know what he looked like. The people in Jesus’ day missed him because they thought they did.
 
How are things looking in your neighborhood?


WEEK 3 – DECEMBER 25
 
MUSIC: AWAY IN THE MANGER
Christmas With The Academy
Academy and Chorus of St. Martin in the Fields


CHRISTMAS HYMN
AWAY IN THE MANGER

Away in a manger, no crib for a bed
The little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head;
The stars in the sky looked down where he lay
The little Lord Jesus asleep in the hay

The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes
But little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes
I love Thee, Lord Jesus, look down from the sky
And stay by my cradle 'til morning is nigh

Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever, and love me, I pray
Bless all the dear children in thy tender care
And fit us for heaven to live with Thee there
 
SCRIPTURE
JOHN 3:16
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

 
PRAYER
Father, we reverently believe that Jesus was, is, and always will be the Everlasting Father; the first and the last, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. With a sense of awe this Christmas we worship the baby Jesus who was both fully human and fully God. Amen.
 
POETRY ON THE MORNING OF CHRIST’S NATIVITY
By John Milton (1608-1674)

 
I
This is the month, and this the happy morn,  
Wherein the Son of Heaven’s eternal King,  
Of wedded maid and Virgin Mother born,  
Our great redemption from above did bring;  
For so the holy sages once did sing,  
That he our deadly forfeit should release,  
And with his Father work us a perpetual peace.
 
II   
That glorious Form, that Light insufferable,  
And that far-beaming blaze of majesty,  
Wherewith he wont at Heaven’s high council-table
To sit the midst of Trinal Unity, 
 He laid aside, and, here with us to be,    
 Forsook the Courts of everlasting Day,  
And chose with us a darksome house of mortal clay.    
 
 III
Say, Heavenly Muse, shall not thy sacred vein
Afford a present to the Infant God?  
Hast thou no verse, no hymn, or solemn strain, 
To welcome him to this his new abode,  
Now while the heaven, by the Sun’s team untrod,    
Hath took no print of the approaching light,
And all the spangled host keep watch in squadrons bright?    
 
 IV
See how from far upon the Eastern road  
The star-led Wizards haste with odors sweet!  
Oh run; prevent them with thy humble ode,  
And lay it lowly at his blessed feet; 
Have thou the honor first thy Lord to greet,     
And join thy voice unto the angel quire,  
From out his secret altar touched with hallowed fire.   

 
QUOTE
Who can add to Christmas? The perfect motive is that God so loved the world. The perfect gift is that He gave His only Son. The only requirement is to believe in Him. The reward of faith is that you shall have everlasting life. ~Corrie Ten Boom
 

MERRY CHRISTMAS from the Music & Arts Ministry at 3Crosses Church!


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WEEK 4 – DECEMBER 24
4TH SUNDAY OF ADVENT

 
The 4th Sunday of Advent symbolizes Peace with the “Angel’s Candle” or the “Candle of Love”.  This candle reminds us of the message of the angels: “Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men.”
 
SCRIPTURE
ISAIAH 9:6

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

JOHN 16:33
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
 
PRAYER

Dear Jesus, may the light of your love always shine in our hearts. As Christmas draws closer, we marvel at your great love for us. Let your love transform every aspect of our lives and touch everyone we encounter. Our hearts are open to you, Jesus. Amen.
 
POETRY
I AM SO GLAD EACH CHRISTMAS EVE
by Inger M. Wexelsen

 
I am so glad each Christmas Eve,
The night of Jesus’ birth!
Then like the sun the Star shone forth,
The Angels sang on earth
 
The little Child in Bethlehem,
He was a King indeed!
For He came down from Heaven above
To help a world in need.
 
He dwells again in heaven’s realm,
The Son of God today;
And still He loves His little ones
And hears them when they pray.
 
I am so glad on Christmas Eve!
His praises then I sing;
He opens then for every child
The palace of the King.
 
When mother trims the Christmas tree
Which fills the room with light,
She tells me of the wondrous Star
That made the dark world bright.
 
And so I love each Christmas Eve
And I love Jesus, too;
And that He loves me every day
I know so well is true.
 
CHRISTMAS HYMN
O HOLY NIGHT
O holy night the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior's birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth
 
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new glorious morn
Fall on your knees
O hear the angels' voices
O night divine
O night when Christ was born
O night divine O night
O night divine

 QUOTE
“It is impossible to conceive how different things would have turned out if that birth had not happened whenever, however it did … for millions of people who have lived since, the birth of Jesus made possible not just a new way of understanding life but a new way of living it. It is a truth that, for twenty centuries,there have been untold numbers of men and women who, in untold numbers of ways, have been so grasped by the child who was born, so caught up in the message he taught and the life he lived, that they have found themselves profoundly changed by their relationship with him.” ~Frederick Buechner  

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WEEK 3 – DECEMBER 23

MUSIC: IT CAME UPON A MIDNIGHT CLEAR and SILENT NIGHT
Performed by Marianne & Marsha Beeler

MATTHEW 1:23

“The Virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means God with us”).

STORY BEHIND SILENT NIGHT

A CLASSIC NATIVITY compiled by James Stuart Bell

If the church organ had not broken down and if the organist had not been able to strum a few chords on a guitar in an emergency, the loveliest Christmas carol of them all might never have been written.

Twenty-six-year-old Father Joseph Mohr, assistant priest at the newly erected Church of St. Nicholas in Oberndorf, in the Austrian alps, was far from happy when his organist friend, Franz Gruber, told him that the pipe organ could not be used for the special Christmas Eve Mass scheduled for December 24, 1818. Although he trained the choir and played the organ at Arnsdorf as well as at Oberndorf, thirty-one-year old Gruber had neither the talent nor the time to repair broken connections, restore shattered pipes, or replace worn-out bellows. While Father Mohr was not desperate, he was a bit peeved at the prospect of a Midnight Mass without the traditional organ music.

To relieve his tension, he bundled himself up in his warmest winter clothes and went visiting among his humble people. Shortly after arriving at the home of one of his faithful families, a new baby was born to the poor laborer and his wife.  The pastor compared that event with the birth of Christ Child centuries earlier, and, upon arriving home a few hours later, conquered his fatigue and weariness long enough to pen four simple stanzas describing the wonder and the majesty of the first Christmas. His initial stanza contained these beautiful lines:

Silent night, Holy night!
All is calm, All is bright
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child,
Holy Infant, so tender and mild;
Sleep in heavenly peace!
Sleep in heavenly peace!

When Gruber burst into the room a few moments later with the news that the organ was hopelessly beyond repair, Father Mohr handed him the slip of paper on which he had written the new stanzas. While the choir-master read them, the priest picked up a guitar in an adjoining room,  and handed it to him, saying “If we can’t have the organ, at least we can have a new song. Try your hand at this.”

The more Gruber protested, the stronger Mohr insisted. To quiet his friend, Gruber strummed a few simple chords on the guitar, and soon was humming an original melody that seemed to express the sentiments of the poem perfectly. At midnight the new carol was sung for the first time.

If might have remained there at Oberndorf had not Karl Mauracher come from the valley of Zillertal to repair the organ early in 1819. Mohr asked Gruber to play the new carol for the famous organ builder and repairman, when the job was finally completed, and Mauracher fell in love with it right away.  About ten years later he felt that the four gifted Strasser children, Caroline, Joseph, Andreas, and Amalie, were just the ones to give the new song to the world. They renamed the carol “The Song From Heaven” and sang it wherever they went.

On Christmas Eve 1832, they were invited to introduce it in the Royal Saxon Court Chapel in Pleissenburg Castle for the King and Queen of Saxony. The Director General of Music, Mr. Pohlenz, had heard the children singing at one of the great fairs in Leipzig where their parents went every year to sell their famous gloves. The unusual music had created an immediate sensation, and word spread rapidly that “the four Strasser children sing like nightingales.” It was at his request that the four were invited to sing for the Royal family  at this special Christmas Eve celebration. Shortly thereafter, “Silent Night” took its rightful place among the most beautiful Christmas carols in the Christian world, and the passing of time has only added to its luster.

“Silent Night” is one of the most beautiful Christmastime hymns ever written, and it is also a demonstration of how God uses simple events, such as a broken musical instrument, to bless his people with a beautiful song of celebration and praise for the birth of our Lord.

PRAYER

Loving God, may our faith in your ultimate plan make us not only optimists but also eager workers for the great harvest that is to come. Amen.

QUOTE
 “The greatest and most momentous fact which the history of the world records is the fact of Christ’s birth.” ~Charles H. Spurgeon 

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WEEK 3 – DECEMBER 22
 
ARTWORK: The Angel of the Lord visited the Shepherds and informed them of Jesus’ birth, Bethlehem Church, Church at the Shepherds’ Fields. (Fresco-Bethlehem, Israel)

 
LUKE 2:13-15
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
 

The angels certainly made a profound proclamation in declaring that there was now,"peace on earth", but the real key is the last part of that verse...."to those on whom His favor rests".  We should ask the question...who does God's favor rest upon? It rests upon those who have believed God's message about His Son Jesus, and have entrusted their salvation to Him. This brings eternal peace to our souls and imparts to us the desire to live at peace with others.  This is an amazing gift that our Father has given us.... let’s share it with others.  – Pastor Kevin Ledbetter
 
Excerpt:  FROM HEAVEN ABOVE
Written by Martin Luther for his family’s Christmas devotions and first published in 1535. This English text is a translation by Roland Bainton.
 
AN ANGEL

From heaven high I come to earth.
I bring you tidings of great mirth.
This mirth is such a wondrous thing
That I must tell you all and sing.
 
A little child for you this morn
Has from a chosen maid been born,
A little child so tender, sweet
That you should skip upon your feet.
 
He is the Christ, our God indeed,
Who saves you all in every need.
He will himself your Savior be.
From all wrong doing make you free.
 
He brings you every one to bliss.
The heavenly Father sees to this.
You shall be here with us on high.
Here shall you live and never die.
 
Look now, you children, at the sign,
A manger cradle far from fine.
A tiny baby you will see.
Uphold of the world is he.
 
ALL
To God who sent his only Son,
Be glory, laud and honor done.
Let all the choir of heaven rejoice,
The new ring in with heart and voice.
 
CHRISTMAS HYMNS:
HARK THE HERALD ANGELS SING – Charles Wesley

Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”
Refrain:
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”
 


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WEEK 3 – DECEMBER 21

ARTWORK – The Adoration of Shepherds by Antonio Vassilacchi nickname l’Aliense (1556-1629) from Chiesa di San Zaccaria church.

SCRIPTURE

LUKE 2:8-20 (NIV)

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Out of the whole Jerusalem society, God picked a band of shepherds to hear the news of Jesus’ birth. This is intriguing because shepherds were among the lowest and most despised social groups. The very nature of their work kept them from entering into the mainstream of Israel’s society. They couldn’t maintain the ceremonial washings and observe all the religious festivals and feasts, yet these shepherds, just a few miles from Jerusalem, were undoubtedly caring for sheep that someday would be used as sacrifices in the temple. How fitting it is that they were the first to know of the Lamb of God!

More significantly, they came to see Him the night he was born. No one else did. Though the shepherds went back and told everyone what they had seen and heard, and though “all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds” (v.18) not one other person came to see firsthand….

The shepherds might have knocked on several doors and seen other newborn babies before they found the special Child lying in the feeding trough. At that moment, those humble men knew for certain that the angels’ announcement was a word from God. After their encounter with Joseph and Mary and Jesus, the shepherds couldn’t help but tell others about what the angels had told them….

May God grant you the life-changing spiritual experiences and the ongoing attitude of enthusiasm and responsiveness that cause you to tell others that you, too have seen Christ the Lord.”

Excerpts from John MacArthur “God’s Gift of Christmas”

CHRISTMAS HYMN

WHILE SHEPHERDS WATCHED THEIR FLOCKS

Text: Nahum Tate, 1652–1715; based on Luke 2:8-14

 Music: Yorkshire carol, ca. 1800

While shepherds watch’d their flocks by night,
All seated on the ground,
The angel of the Lord came down,
And glory shone around.
“Fear not,” said he, for mighty dread
Had seized their troubled mind;
“Glad tidings of great joy I bring
To you and all mankind.”

“To you, in David’s town this day,
Is born of David’s line
The Savior who is Christ the Lord,
And this shall be the sign:
The heav’nly Babe you there shall find
To human view displayed,
All meanly wrapped in swathing bands,
And in a manger laid.”

PRAYER

Father, thank You for the rich heritage we have of music that honors and glorifies You. We especially thank You for Christmas carols that cause us to think deeply about Your incarnation. Use the truths found in these songs not only to bring honor to Your name in heaven but also here on earth. Amen


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WEEK 3 – DECEMBER 20

MUSIC:  THE FIRST NOEL
Pastor Kevin Ledbetter, 3Crosses Music & Arts

CHRISTMAS HYMN
The First Noel, the Angels did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay
In fields where they lay keeping their sheep
On a cold winter's night that was so deep
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!

They Looked up and saw a star
Shining in the east beyond them far,
And to the earth it gave great light,
And so it continued both day and night.

Then let us all with one accord
Sing praises to our Heavenly Lord;
That hath made Heaven and earth of naught
And with the blood mankind hath bought.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!

Each lifetime has its share of "firsts," First steps in babyhood, first day of school, first best friend, first heartache…

Jesus' birth two thousand years ago marked a huge "first" for more than just the growing family he was born into. Life on earth would never be the same again. From the moment God entered the world as a baby, every life was given the opportunity to know God in a personal way.

The first Christmas is a memory to be cherished, and "The First Noel" celebrates that gift and acknowledges that the greatest gifts are yet to come. Abundant life is ready to be lived because of one memorable day so long ago.
Excerpt from the Gifts of Christmas
Tyndale House Publishing, Inc.


SCRIPTURE
PSALM 77:11

I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes I will remember your miracles of long ago.

PSALM 111:4
Who can forget the wonders He performs? How gracious and merciful is our Lord!

PRAYER
Father God, we rejoice in the season of your Son's birth! By your grace may we always remember how dearly you paid for our salvation. Through Jesus we pray, Amen.

QUOTE
"To get full value of joy, we must have somebody to divide it with." – Mark Twain

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WEEK 3 – DECEMBER 18

POETRY   

THE THREE KINGS by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Three Kings came riding from far away,
Melchior and Gaspar and Balthazar;
Three Wise Men out of the East were they,
And they travelled by night and they slept by day,
For their guide was a beautiful, wonderful star.

The star was so beautiful, large and clear,
That all the other stars of the sky
Became a white mist in the atmosphere,
And by this they knew that the coming was near
Of the Prince foretold in the prophecy.

Three caskets they bore on their saddle-bows,
Three caskets of gold with golden keys;
Their robes were of crimson silk with rows
Of bells and pomegranates and furbelows,
Their turbans like blossoming almond-trees.

And so the Three Kings rode into the West,
Through the dusk of the night, over hill and dell,
And sometimes they nodded with beard on breast,
And sometimes talked, as they paused to rest,
With the people they met at some wayside well.

“Of the child that is born,” said Balthazar,
“Good people, I pray you, tell us the news;
For we in the East have seen his star,
And have ridden fast, and have ridden far,
To find and worship the King of the Jews.”

And the people answered, “You ask in vain;
We know of no King but Herod the Great!”
They thought the Wise Men were men insane,
As they spurred their horses across the plain,
Like riders in haste, who cannot wait.

And when they came to Jerusalem,
Herod the Great, who had heard this thing,
Sent for the Wise Men and questioned them;
And said, “Go down unto Bethlehem,
And bring me tidings of this new king.”

So they rode away; and the star stood still,
The only one in the grey of morn;
Yes, it stopped—it stood still of its own free will,
Right over Bethlehem on the hill,
The city of David, where Christ was born.

And the Three Kings rode through the gate and the guard,
Through the silent street, till their horses turned
And neighed as they entered the great inn-yard;
But the windows were closed, and the doors were barred,
And only a light in the stable burned.

And cradled there in the scented hay,
In the air made sweet by the breath of kine,
The little child in the manger lay,
The child, that would be king one day
Of a kingdom not human, but divine.

His mother Mary of Nazareth
Sat watching beside his place of rest,
Watching the even flow of his breath,
For the joy of life and the terror of death
Were mingled together in her breast.

They laid their offerings at his feet:
The gold was their tribute to a King,
The frankincense, with its odor sweet,
Was for the Priest, the Paraclete,
The myrrh for the body’s burying.

And the mother wondered and bowed her head,
And sat as still as a statue of stone,
Her heart was troubled yet comforted,
Remembering what the Angel had said
Of an endless reign and of David’s throne.

Then the Kings rode out of the city gate,
With a clatter of hoofs in proud array;
But they went not back to Herod the Great,
For they knew his malice and feared his hate,
And returned to their homes by another way.

SCRIPTURE

Matthew 2:1-12 (NIV)

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: 

‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ”

 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.  When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.  On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

JOHN 8:12

Jesus said to the people, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t be stumbling through the darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”

PRAYER

Lord God, thank you for your precious gift of eternal life, guide us each day of our lives, and help us remember to seek the things that please you.

CHRISTMAS HYMN

WE THREE KINGS  by John Henry Hopkins, 1857

We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts we traverse afar.
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.

O star of wonder, star of night,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect Light.

Glorious now behold Him arise,
King and God and Sacrifice;
Alleluia, Alleluia!
Earth to heav’n replies.                   

QUOTE
“As we acquire good things in our lives we do not become more and more independent. We do not build larger storehouses in order to preserve our riches; we find new outlets for sharing, for helping, for giving.” – Eugene H. Peterson

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WEEK 3 – DECEMBER 17

The 3rd Sunday of Advent symbolizes Joy with the  "Shepherd's Candle" reminding us of the Joy the world experienced at the coming birth of Jesus.

Pink or rose is also one of the colors of Advent used during the third Sunday of Advent, also known as Gaudete Sunday.  This candle represents joy or rejoicing and reveals a shift in the season away from repentance and toward celebration.

"Let there be jubilation, celebration, and festivity!  Our hope is sure, we have peace with God, and the Messiah is coming to set everything right in our sin-drenched world. Every tear will be dried, every hurting heart mended, every broken body healed, every torn relationship restored. We are treasured sons and daughters of the Most High God.  The only reasonable response to God's lavish love and goodness is joy-pure joy!"  - Max Lucado (Because of Bethlehem)

Luke 2:9-12(NIV)
An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

PRAYER
Dear Jesus, help us focus on you during this busy season. May we stay aware of the joy you bring into our lives. We want to find you in the everyday moments and come with hearts of gratitude to your manger on Christmas.
Come, Lord Jesus. Be my joy. Amen.

CHRISTMAS HYMN
GOD REST YOU MERRY GENTLEMEN

God rest you merry, gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay,
Remember Christ our Savior
Was born on Christmas Day
To save us all from Satan's pow'r
When we were gone astray.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy;
O tidings of comfort and joy.

QUOTES
"Joy is nurtured by anticipation….Just as joy builds on the past, it borrows from the future. It expects certain things to happen"
Eugene H. Peterson, A long Obedience in the Same Direction
"True joy, happiness and inner peace come from the giving of ourselves to others. A happy life is a life for others"
Henri J.M. Nouwen, Life of the Beloved

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WEEK 2 – DECEMBER 16

ISAIAH 9:6-7

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.”

JESUS, WHO IS HE?  By Tim LaHaye

No person other than Jesus has been addressed by the following titles, because no other person qualifies for them. Some of these titles were given to Him by angels, others by disciples or followers, or even by Hebrew prophets. No one title fully describes Him. To understand who he really was and who He is in His Second Coming, all must be considered together.  One thing is certain: No one else comes close to deserving even one of these titles.

THE ALMIGHTY

THE MIGHTY GOD

THE WORD WAS GOD

MY LORD AND MY GOD

OUR SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST

WONDERFUL

COUNSELOR

THE FATHER OF ETERNITY

THE PRINCE OF PEACE

ALPHA AND OMEGA

FIRST AND LAST

GOD BLESSED FOREVER

THE CHRIST

JEHOVAH

THE BEGINNING AND THE ENDING

THE LORD SAVIOR

THE HOLY ONE

LORD OF ALL

EMMANUEL

THE WAY, THE TRUTH, THE LIFE

KING OF KINGS

LORD OF LORDS

In the history of the world, no one has ever risen from a carpenter’s shop to assume such lofty titles.  His life can only be explained by the fact that He was indeed “the Son of God” in a unique sense.

CHRISTMAS ORATORIO
For Unto Us a Child Is Born (From Handel: Messiah)

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government  shall be upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

PRAYER

Almighty God, you have so many names that describe your relationship to us.  During the upcoming year, grant us a more complete sense of you as our heavenly Father, provider, friend, and Savior. Amen          

QUOTE
“Let us not flutter too high, but remain by the manger and the swaddling cloths of Christ, in whom dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” – Martin Luther
 

 


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WEEK 2 – DECEMBER 15

MUSIC:  MARY, DID YOU KNOW?
Words and music by Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene
Soloist: Bud Willadsen
Pianist: Judi Thompson
3Crosses Church – Music & Arts

Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you've delivered, will soon deliver you

Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God
The blind will see, the deaf will hear and the dead will live again
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the lamb

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven's perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you're holding is the Great I Am

Luke 1:46-55(NIV)
And Mary said: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,  for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.  His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”
 

“When Mary was visited by Gabriel and told she was to have a baby - and not just a baby but the baby, the one every Jewish girl hoped she would be privileged to bear - she didn’t ask why but rather how. She could quite understandably have asked, ‘Why? And why now? Why here?’ Instead, she simply asked, ‘How?’ The answer to How can I possibly do the will of God in this incredible situation? Was quite simple, given by the angel visitor: ‘The Holy spirit….’ Immediately Mary responded with a glad ‘I am the Lord’s servant.’”

Jill Briscoe – Heartstrings

PRAYER

All-powerful God, your eternal Word took flesh on our earth when the Virgin Mary placed her life at the service of your plan. Lift our minds in watchful hope to hear the voice which announces his glory and open our minds to receive the Spirit who prepares us for his coming. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

POETRY

Hush, my babe; be still and slumber,
Holy angels guard they bed,
Heavenly blessings without number
Gently resting on they head.

                                                            Laura Ingalls Wilder

 

QUOTE
“The hinge of history is on the door of a Bethlehem stable.”
– Ralph  W. Sockman

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WEEK 2 – DECEMBER 14

NATIVITY POEM "AT SUNDOWN"
The Christmas of 1888

Low in the east, against a white, cold dawn,
The black-lined silhouette of the woods was drawn,
And on a wintry waste
Of frosted streams and hillsides bare and brown,
Through thin cloud-films a pallid ghost looked down,
The waning moon half-faced.

In that pale sky and sere, snow-waiting earth,
What sign was there of the immortal birth?
What herald of the One?
Lo! Swift as thought the heavenly radiance came,
A rose-red splendor swept the sky like flame,
Up rolled the round, bright sun!

And all was changed. From a transfigured world
The moon's ghost fled, the smoke of home-hearths curled
Up to the still air unblown.
In Orient warmth and brightness, did that morn
O'er Nain and Nazareth, when the Christ was born,
Break fairere than our own?

The morning's promise noon and eve fulfilled
In warm, soft sky and landscape hazy-filled
And sunset fair as they;
A sweet reminder of His holiest time,
A summer-miracle in our winter clime,
God gave a perfect day.

The near was blended with the old and far,
And Bethlehem's hillside and the Magi's star
Seemed here, as there and then,-
Our homestead pine-tree was the Syrian palm,
Our heart's desire the angel's midnight psalm,
Peace, and good-will to men!

John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)


LUKE 2:14 (NIV)
"Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests."
ROMANS 5: 1 (NIV)
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Biblical concept of peace is understood as all friction between God and His creation has ceased.  Due to our sinful condition all of mankind is under the curse of the law and responsible to God for our sinful actions.  Because of God's amazing and deep love He has removed our sins from us, "as far as the east is from the west", and He only sees us as His beloved children, all hostility has ended, and in its place is peace…. Peace toward God, and peace toward our fellow man.  Rest in His peace today through Christ , and know that God could not love you any more than He does right now.  All praise be to the God of Peace.

PRAYER
Dear Jesus, you entered our world on Christmas as the Prince of Peace. This Advent, as we strive to become the-best-version-of-ourselves, fill us with a deep and abiding peace. Help us share that peace with everyone we encounter, especially those who need it most. Amen.

CHRISTMAS HYMN
IT CAME UPON A MIDNIGHT CLEAR

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold:
"Peace on the earth, good will to men
From heavens all gracious King!"
The world in solemn stillness lay
To hear the angels sing.

The poem was written by Edmund Hamilton Sears (1849)
The hymn composed by Richard Storrs Willis in 1859


WEEK 2 – DECEMBER 13

CHRISTMAS HYMN:  O LITTLE TOWN OF BETHLEHEM
Dame Kiri Te Kanawa - BBC Philharmonic Orchestra

O little town of Bethlehem,
how still we see thee lie;
above thy deep and dreamless sleep
the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
the everlasting light;
the hopes and fears of all the years
are met in thee tonight.

For Christ is born of Mary,
and gathered all above,
while mortals sleep, the angels keep
their watch of wondering love.
O morning stars together,
proclaim the holy birth,
and praises sing to God the king,
and peace to all on earth!

SCRIPTURE
LUKE 2:1-7

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

MAJESTY IN THE MIDST OF MUNDANE
An excerpt from Max Lucado's "God Came Near"

"The noise and the bustle began earlier than usual in the village. As night gave way to dawn, people were already on the streets. Vendors were positioning themselves on the corners of the most heavily traveled avenues. Store owners were unlocking the doors to their shops. Children were awakened by the excited barking of the street dogs and the complaints of donkeys pulling carts.

The owner of the inn had awakened earlier than most in the town. After all, the inn was full, all the beds taken. Every available mat or blanket had been put to use. Soon all the customers would be stirring and there would be a lot of work to do.

One's imagination is kindled thinking about the conversation of the innkeeper and his family at the breakfast table.  Did anyone mention the arrival of the young couple the night before?  Did anyone ask about their welfare? Did anyone comment on the pregnancy of the girl on the donkey? Perhaps some raised the subject. But, at best, it was raised, not discussed. There was nothing that novel about them. They were, possibly, one of several families turned away that night….

No, it was doubtful that anyone mentioned the couple's arrival or wondered about the condition of the girl. They were too busy. The day was upon them. The day's bread had to be made. The morning's chores had to be done. There was too much to do to imagine that the impossible had occurred. God had entered the world as a baby."

PRAYER
Lord God, thank you for the peace you brought to the earth on the night of Jesus' birth-may we experience that more and more as we seek your heart. Amen.

POETRY
Once in royal David's city
Stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her Baby
In a manger for His bed.
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ her little child.
                 Cecil Frances Alexander, 1848
 


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WEEK 2 – DECEMBER 12

I HEARD THE BELLS ON CHRISTMAS DAY
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

    I heard the bells on Christmas Day
    Their old, familiar carols play, 
        And wild and sweet
        The words repeat
    Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 

    And thought how, as the day had come, 
    The belfries of all Christendom
        Had rolled along
        The unbroken song
    Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 

    Till ringing, singing on its way, 
    The world revolved from night to day, 
        A voice, a chime, 
        A chant sublime
    Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 

    Then from each black, accursed mouth
    The cannon thundered in the South, 
        And with the sound
        The carols drowned
    Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 

    It was as if an earthquake rent
    The hearth-stones of a continent, 
        And made forlorn
        The households born
    Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 

    And in despair I bowed my head; 
    "There is no peace on earth," I said; 
        "For hate is strong, 
        And mocks the song
    Of peace on earth, good-will to men!" 

    Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: 
    "God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; 
        The Wrong shall fail, 
        The Right prevail, 
    With peace on earth, good-will to men."

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was an American Poet and educator.  He was one of the five fireside poets from New England.

As with any composition that touches the heart  “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” flowed from the experience of Longfellow—involving the tragic death of his wife Fanny and the crippling effect of his son Charles’ wounds from the Civil War.

The first Christmas after Fanny's death, Longfellow wrote, "How inexpressibly sad are all holidays." A year after the incident, he wrote, "I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace." 

On Christmas Day of 1864, he heard the bells and the singing of  “peace on earth” (Luke 2:14“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”) and wrote the words of the poem, "Christmas Bells."

Longfellow's Christmas bells loudly proclaimed, "God is not dead, nor doth He sleep.” The message that the Living God is a God of Peace is proclaimed in the close of the carol: "Of peace on Earth, good will to men." Longfellow needed the peace that only God can give to his children.

Although not a hymn writer, the poem that he wrote on that day was later set to music by Englishman John Calkin. The result is one of our most popular Christmas carols today.

JOHN 14:27

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

PRAYER

Lord God, thank you for the peace you brought to the earth on the night of Jesus’ birth-may we experience that more and more as we seek your heart. Amen.

QUOTE:
“Peace was the first thing the angels sang.
Peace is the mark of the sons of God.
Peace is the nurse of love.
Peace is the mother of unity.
Peace is the rest of blessed souls.
Peace is the dwelling place of eternity.” – Pope Leo the Great

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WEEK 2 – DECEMBER 11

ARTWORK:  ANGEL APPEARS TO JOSEPH IN A DREAM
Gaetano Gandolfi (1790)

MATTHEW 1:18-21
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. But when he had considered this, behold an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins."

"You can imagine how great Joseph's feelings of amazement, relief, and gratitude must have been once he realized what the Lord, through the heavenly messenger, had told him. Not only could he go ahead and take Mary as his wife with honor and righteousness, but he also could rejoice at the privilege of being allowed to bring up God's own Son.

Here we see the tremendous depth and firmness of Joseph's faith. When he awoke from the dream, he took Mary as his wife. They had the huppa, the wedding ceremony, and he spared her the shame, disgrace, and loneliness of having to bear the child alone and in anonymity. Joseph must have been a good man. Can you imagine the Almighty God of the universe depositing His only Son in the home of a man who wasn't?

Although to external appearances they were husband and wife. Joseph kept Mary a virgin until after Jesus was born (Matthew 1:25). Thus Isaiah's prophecy was literally fulfilled."

Excerpt from John MacArthur's
God's Gift of Christmas

WHAT CHILD IS THIS?
What child is this, who, laid to rest
On Mary's lap, is sleeping?,,,
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary!
Traditional English Carol

PRAYER
Loving and powerful God,
Some days I can only be in awe of your power and love.
You never tire of supporting me.
I constantly ask for help
knowing you will always be there.

From some place deep in my soul,
I hear you calling me by name
and I prepare with a joyful heart for your coming.

Grant me the gift of hope, patience and waiting in these Advent days
because I want the focus of my waiting to be on you.
I want to praise and glorify you with my life.
Let me live my gratitude to you, rejoicing!

QUOTE
"God came as a baby, giving and entrusting Himself to me. He expects my personal life to be a 'Bethlehem.' Am I allowing my natural life to be slowly transformed by the indwelling life of the Son of God? God's ultimate purpose is that His Son might be exhibited in me" – Oswald Chambers

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WEEK 2 – DECEMBER 10

The second candle of the Advent Wreath is called the “Bethlehem Candle” reminding us of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem.  This candle also represents the “preparation and peace” that Christ’s first Advent brought to mankind that fateful night in an almost forgotten stable in Bethlehem.  

Bethlehem is a story about a humble couple on an unwanted journey, at an inconvenient time, to visit a tiny insignificant town.

God’s plan for humanity unfolded in the town of Bethlehem, the birthplace of the Messiah, joyously fulfilling a long-awaited promise.  Today we confidently wait for the Messiah’s triumphant return.

In Micah 5, we read a prophecy that occurred 735 years before the birth of Christ and yet it’s as specific as if it were spoken today. Micah tells us several things. He tells us where the Messiah will be born, that He will come from a tribe of Judah, He will rule in Israel, Jesus is eternal and divine but will rule on earth and He will be a shepherd to His People.  This One will be our peace.

MICAH 5:2
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

PRAYER
Father, we see the intricate plan You put in place to redeem us. We are overwhelmed by Your love. We know that Israel deserved judgment-much like we do-and that, in Your righteousness, You delivered them over to Babylonia. In your mercy, though, You told them that one day You would deliver them with a Savior “from of old.” We worship the Christ child today, knowing Him to be the perfect fulfillment of Your servant Micah’s prophecy. Amen

POETRY
O GLADSOME LIGHT

O gladsome light, O grace
Of our Creator’s face,
The eternal splendor wearing:
Celestial, holy, blest,
Our Savior Jesus Christ,
Joyful in your appearing.

As fades the day’s last light,
We see the lamps of night
Our common hymn outpouring;
O God of might unknown,
You, the incarnate Son,
And Spirit blest adoring.

To you of right belongs
All praise of holy songs,
O Song of God, Life-giver;
You, therefore, O Most High,
The world does glorify
And shall exalt forever.

A third century Greek hymn for evening prayer, this English text is base on a translation by Robert Seymour Bridges (1899)

QUOTE
“The birth of Christ is the central event in the history of the earth—the very thing the whole story has been about.”
- C.S. Lewis

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WEEK 1 – SAT DEC 9

"As we continue our journey to the heart of Christmas, let's pause for a moment to consider a common concern raised each year regarding the validity of celebrating Christ's coming - namely, that when Christmas was originally instituted, December 25 was a pagan festival commemorating the birthday of a false god.

While this is indeed a historical fact, what is frequently overlooked is the reason the early Christian church chose December 25 as their day of celebration. The purpose was not to Christianize a time of pagan revelry, but to establish a rival celebration. As such, Christmas (from Old English Crĩstes+moēsse "Christ's festival") was designated as a spiritually edifying holiday (holy day) on which to proclaim the supremacy of the Son of God over superstitions concerning such gods as Saturn, the god of agriculture, and Sol Invictus, the unconquerable sun god.

While the world has all but forgotten the Greco-Roman gods of antiquity, it is annually reminded that two thousand years ago Christ, the hope of humanity, invaded time and space. But as Christians we perceive an even greater reality. Each year as we celebrate the First Advent of Christ, we are simultaneously reminded of the Second Advent in which the old order of things will pass away and Christ our Lord will put all things to right. As the prophet Zechariah put it, "Shout and be glad, O Daughter of Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you,' declares the Lord. 'Many nations will be joined with the Lord in that day and will become my people. I will live among you and you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you'"(Zechariah 2:10-11)

If you cannot celebrate this, pray tell, what can you celebrate?"

xcerpt from The Heart of Christmas by Hank Hanegraaff


CHRISTMAS HYMN
GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN


Go, tell it on the mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere;
Go, tell it on the mountain,
That Jesus Christ is born.

While shepherds kept their watching
O'er silent flocks by night,
Behold, throughout the heavens
There shone a holy light.

The shepherds feared and trembled,
When lo! above the earth
Rang out the angel chorus
That hailed the Savior's birth.

Down in a lowly manger
The humble Christ was born,
And God sent us salvation
That blessed Christmas morn.

SCRIPTURE
Luke 2:17-18

When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.

PRAYER
Father, when we read about the shepherds' encounter with an angel in Luke 2, we rejoice in knowing that You are a God who makes Himself available to all kinds of people. Just as the shepherds were unable to keep the good news about the birth of the Messiah to themselves, we, too, long to make Your saving power known in our community. And we long to see people marvel over You. Help us to share the Christmas experience with others this season. Amen.
 

QUOTE:
"Take Christ out of Christmas, and December becomes the bleakest and most colorless month of the year."
– A.F. Wells

ADVENT REFLECTIONS
WEEK 1 – FRIDAY DECEMBER 8

CHRISTMAS HYMN:
IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER: Choir of Kings College, Cambridge

Christina Georgiana Rossetti (1830-1894) gives us one of the most beloved Christmas hymns. The author of three collections of mostly religious poetry and four devotional books, she came from a family steeped in the arts. Her deep faith is thought to be partially the result of the solace that she found in writing as a result of her poor health from age sixteen.

Her most famous hymns are the Christmas texts, "Love Came Down at Christmas" composed in 1885 (UM Hymnal No. 242) and "In the Bleak Midwinter," the latter first published as the poem "A Christmas Carol" in Scribner's Monthly in January 1872. It first appeared as a hymn in The English Hymnal (1906), where it was paired to a tune by the famous English composer Gustav Holst (1874-1934). Now, over 100 years later, we sing this hymn in virtually the same form as it appeared in 1906.

The writer invites us to offer our own gift to the Christ Child just as the shepherds and wise men did. Rather than the present of a lamb or expensive gifts, however, we offer the most important gift -- our hearts.


POETRY
A CHRISTMAS CAROL by Christina Rosetti (1830-1894)

In the bleak mid-winter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter, long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign:
In the bleak midwinter a stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day
A breastful of milk and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss
Worshipped the Beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb,
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part,—
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

GALATIANS 4:4-5
But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.

QUOTE
"The very purpose of Christ's coming into the world was that he might offer up his life as a sacrifice for the sins of men. He came to die. This is the heart of Christmas." -Rev. Billy Graham

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WEEK 1 – THURSDAY DECEMBER 7

ARTWORK
THE ANNUNCIATION by Domenico Beccafumi (1545)


SCRIPTURE: LUKE 1:26-33

The Birth of Jesus Foretold
In the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob's descendants forever; his kingdom will never end."


Have you ever pondered how amazing and mind boggling this story is?  Think about it, God coming to Earth in human form, being born as a baby, and all this taking place in a humble family setting far apart from all wealth, power, or political status. Our Savior was and is the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, yet He humbled Himself and took on human flesh and became a man. No author could ever pen a story as amazing as the one we can read in Luke, and no act of love will ever be as sweet as God sending His Son to be our Savior, the one who would ultimately bring Peace on Earth.
                                                                                                                        - Pastor Kevin Ledbetter


PRAYER
Dear Jesus, you are the hope in our messy world. This Advent, help us slow down, listen to your voice, and focus on what's really important. We place our hope in you as we prepare our hearts to celebrate your birth on Christmas. Amen.

CHRISTMAS HYMN
JOY TO THE WORLD


Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heav'n and nature sing,
And heav'n and nature sing,
And heav'n, and heav'n, and nature sing.
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

QUOTE
"The Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as this truth of the Incarnation." 

- J. I. Packer
 

WEEK 1 – WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 6

"One of the most treasured qualities of the Christmas season is anticipation. For weeks ahead of time, hearts everywhere reflect the glow of expectation, knowing that wonderful happenings are right around the corner.

From our vantage point, the first Christmas seems eons ago. Think for a moment, through, what it might have been like to live before Jesus' birth. What an awesome sense of anticipation those days and years must have held for so many people who lived each moment awaiting the promised Messiah.

'O come, O come Emmanuel"'brings to life the longing of a nation  - the longing for freedom and healing - not so very different from the yearnings of today.

Whatever you have been waiting for or hoping to find, set your mind on the true meaning of the holiday. Nothing else measures up to the joy of knowing Jesus."

Excerpt from the "Gifts of Christmas" Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

CHRISTMAS HYMN
O COME, O COME, EMMANUEL

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
shall come to you, O Israel.

O come, thou dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death's dark shadows put to flight,

O come, thou Key of David, come
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
and close the path to misery

O come, O come, great Lord of might, who to
Thy tribes on Sinai's height.
In ancient times once gave the law
in cloud and majesty and awe

O Come, O come, Emmanuel (with Camille Saint-Saëns' "Aquarium")
Latin Hymn, Plainsong: McKinney Music, In.  Arranged by Keveren

SCRIPTURE
Isaiah 9:6 (NIV)

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

PRAYER
Lord, what wonderful blessing you have in store for us! Please help us pray with expectation fully trusting that you are in control. In Jesus' name, Amen.

QUOTE
Dearer than memory, brighter than expectation is the ever returning now of Christmas. – Elizabeth Bowen

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WEEK 1 – TUESDAY DECEMBER 5
The Advent wreath is a circular garland of evergreen branches representing eternity.  On that wreath, four or five candles are typically arranged.

The circular shape of the wreath, without beginning or end, symbolizes God's complete and unending love for us - a love that sent his Son into the world to redeem us from the curse of sin.
It also represents eternal life, which becomes ours through faith in Jesus Christ.

The wreath is made of various evergreens signifying continuous life.  Even these evergreens have a traditional meaning which can be adapted to our faith: The laurel signifies victory over persecution and suffering; pine, holly and yew, immortality; and cedar, strength and healing.  Holly also has a special Christian symbolism: The prickly leaves remind us of the crown of thorns. Any pinecones, nuts or seedpods used to decorate the wreath also symbolize life and resurrection.  All together, the wreath of evergreens depicts the immortality of our soul and the new, everlasting life promised to us through Jesus Christ, who entered our world becoming true man and who was victorious over sin and death through His own passion, death, and resurrection.

SCRIPTURE
JOHN 1:14

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

JOHN 3:16
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

PRAYER
Father God, we rejoice in the season of your Son's birth! By your grace may we always remember how dearly you paid for our salvation.  Through Jesus we pray, Amen

POETRY
THE HOLLY AND THE IVY
A traditional poem – Author Unknown

The holly and the ivy,
When they are both full grown,
Of all the trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown:

The holly bears a blossom,
As white as the lily flower,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To be our Saviour:

The holly bears a berry,
As red as any blood,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To do poor sinners good:

The holly bears a prickle,
As sharp as any thorn,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
On Christmas day in the morn:

The holly bears a bark,
As bitter as any gall,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
For to redeem us all:

The holly and the ivy,
When they are both full grown,
Of all the trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown.

QUOTE
"You can never truly enjoy Christmas until you can look up into the Father's face and tell him you have received his Christmas gift." – John R. Rice
 

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WEEK 1 – MONDAY DECEMBER 4

"Come, people of Israel, let us walk in the light of the Lord." Isaiah 2:5

"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light -- on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned." Isaiah 9:2

The prophet Isaiah describes how God was preparing to bring His great light to the dark confusion of the world. Darkness in the Bible describes a society in chaos and rebellion. Throughout the Bible, we see that God's light heralds His presence and His truth.
In this passage, Isaiah invites the people of Israel to "walk in the light of the Lord." The prophecy was fulfilled through Jesus who boldly declared, "I am the light of the world"  John 8:12. Therefore the invitation is no longer just for the people of Israel, but for all humanity.

PRAYER
Father God, let the light of Christ shine in our lives so that we may glorify you. Help us to walk in the light of the Lord. Daily teach us the truth in your word. Amen.

HYMN
THE PEOPLE THAT IN DARKNESS WALKED
Words by John Morrison 1781
Music by Thomas Ravenscroft (1592-1635)

The people that in darkness walked
Have seen a wondrous light,
A light that beamed afar,
The bright and morning star,
And those that dwelt in death's dark vale
Have felt their joy increase,
Their constant theme shall be,
"All hail the Prince of Peace."

Wonderful, Counselor!
The everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace,
Wonderful, Counselor!
The everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace.

For unto us a child is born,
To us a Son is giv'n:
His kingdom shall increase,
And never, never cease.
Upon the throne of David shall
He reign forevermore,
Till ev'ry knee shall bow
And ev'ry heart adore.

POETRY
A SONG WAS HEARD AT CHRISTMAS
By Timothy Dudley-Smith


A song was heard at Christmas
To wake the midnight sky
A Saviour's birth and peace on earth,
And praise to God on high.

The Angels sang at Christmas
With all the hosts above
And still we sing the newborn King
His glory and his love.

QUOTE
"And then, just when everything is bearing down on us to such an extent that we can scarcely withstand it, the Christmas message comes to tell us that all our ideas are wrong, and that what we take to be evil and dark is really good and light because it comes from God. Our eyes are at fault, that is all. God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in darkness, succor in abandonment. No evil can befall us; whatever men may do to us, they cannot but serve the God who is secretly revealed as love and rules the world and our lives." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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WEEK 1 - SUNDAY, DECEMBER 3
Advent prepares us for the celebration of the birth of Christ and reminds us that we are eagerly waiting for Jesus' return to glory.

The first Sunday in Advent focuses on the prophecies of the Bible describing the coming of Christ.  Prophecies prepared, taught, warned and encouraged the people about God, His ways and His plans.

This week we will look at how God revealed His plan to His people. Over 2,000 years ago, He fulfilled His plan by sending His Son, Jesus and now we are anticipating the fulfillment of the final prophecies describing His return.

The first candle of the Advent represents the Prophecy Candle or Candle of Hope. We light one candle in the midst of all the darkness in our lives and in the world.  It symbolizes our longing, our desire, our hope. We want to be renewed in a sense that Jesus came to save us from our sin and death.  We want to experience his coming to us now, in our everyday lives, to help us live our lives with meaning and purpose. We want to prepare for his coming to meet us at the end of our lives on this earth.  So we begin with our longing, our desire and our hope.

SCRIPTURE
Isaiah 7:14(NIV)

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

PRAYER
To God our Father, who has given us the grace to wait in graceful hope for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, let us make our prayer: Show us your mercy, Lord. Sanctify us in mind and body, keep us without sin until the coming of your Son. Make us walk this day in holiness, and live upright and devout lives in this world. May we be clothed in our Lord Jesus Christ, and filled with the Holy Spirit. Lord, help us to stand watchful and ready until your Son is revealed in all his glory.

CHRISTMAS HYMN
COME THOU LONG EXPECTED JESUS    Charles Wesley - 1744


Come, Thou long-expected Jesus,
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel's Strength and Consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

In 1744, Charles Wesley considered Haggai 2:7 and looked at the situation of orphans in the areas around him. Through this train of thought, he wrote "Come, Thou long expected Jesus" based upon Haggai 2:7 and a published prayer at the time which had the words:


"Born Your people to deliver, born a child and yet a King, born to reign in us forever, now Your gracious kingdom bring. By Your own eternal Spirit, rule in all our hearts alone; by Your all sufficient merit, raise us to Your glorious throne. Amen."


Wesley adapted this prayer into a hymn in 1744 and published it in his "Hymns for the Nativity of our Lord" hymnal.

QUOTE
"The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God. " – C.S. Lewis

 

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Thank you for celebrating with us a season of thanksgiving!
 
ADVENT begins on December 3rd.  Please join us for a season of reflection as we prepare for Christ’s Birth. 

Experience this season of expectation, hope and anticipation as we celebrate Advent. Each day we will be sharing artistic expressions through Art, Music, Photography, Poetry, Prose and Scripture to focus our minds and thoughts on the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
 
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” 

(Luke 2:11, ESV)

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HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Colossians 3:15-17

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

 

Happy Thanksgiving from the Music & Arts ministry team at 3Crossess!

 

QUOTE:
“I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that, I still possess.” –Corrie ten Boom
 

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THE FIRST THANKSGIVING

Psalm 107:8-9 (NIV)

Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds for mankind,
for he satisfies the thirsty
    and fills the hungry with good things.

Isaiah 12:4-5 (NIV)

In that day you will say:

“Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
    make known among the nations what he has done,
    and proclaim that his name is exalted.
Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things;
    let this be known to all the world.

ARTWORK:  First Thanksgiving, 1621, Pilgrims and natives gather to share a meal, oil painting by jean Louis Gerome Ferris, 1932.

In November 1621, after the Pilgrims’ first corn harvest proved successful,  Governor William Bradford organized a celebratory feast.  The Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies.  The festival lasted for three days.  For all the pilgrims this was a time of sharing and giving thanks to God. For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn’t until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.

Although the American concept of Thanksgiving developed in the colonies of New England, its roots can be traced back to the other side of the Atlantic. Both the Separatists who came over on the Mayflower, and the Puritans who arrived soon after, brought with them a tradition of providential holidays—days of fasting during difficult or pivotal moments and days of feasting and celebration to thank God in times of plenty.

In addition, historians have noted that Native Americans had a rich tradition of commemorating the fall harvest with feasting long before Europeans set foot on their shores.

 

Quotes:
“The Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts. No Americans have been more impoverished than these who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving.” – H.U. Westermayer
“Cultivate a thankful spirit! It will be to thee a perpetual feast. There is, or ought to be, with us no such thing as small mercies; all are great, because the least are undeserved. Indeed a really thankful heart will extract motive for gratitude from everything, making the most even of scanty blessings.”  -John Ross Macduff,  The Words and Mind of Jesus

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THE PUMPKIN

PSALM 106:1
Praise the LORD. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.

Psalm 7:17 New International Version (NIV)
I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness;
I will sing the praises of the name of the Lord Most High.

"The Pumpkin" by John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)

Oh, greenly and fair in the lands of the sun,
The vines of the gourd and the rich melon run,
And the rock and the tree and the cottage enfold,
With broad leaves all greenness and blossoms all gold,
Like that which o'er Nineveh's prophet once grew,
While he waited to know that his warning was true,
And longed for the storm-cloud, and listened in vain
For the rush of the whirlwind and red fire-rain.

On the banks of the Xenil the dark Spanish maiden
Comes up with the fruit of the tangled vine laden;
And the Creole of Cuba laughs out to behold
Through orange-leaves shining the broad spheres of gold;
Yet with dearer delight from his home in the North,
On the fields of the harvest the Yankee looks forth,
Where crook-necks are coiling and yellow fruit shines,
And the sun of September melts down on his vines.

Ah! on Thanksgiving day, when from East and from West,
From North and from South come the pilgrim and guest;
When the gray-haired New Englander sees round his board
The old broken links of affection restored,
When the care-wearied man seeks his mother once more,
And the worn matron smiles where the girl smiled before,
What moistens the lip and what brightens the eye?
What calls back the past, like the rich Pumpkin pie?

Oh, fruit loved of boyhood! The old days recalling,
When wood-grapes were purpling and brown nuts were failing!
When wild, ugly faces we carved in its skin,
Glaring out through the dark with a candle within!
When we laughed round the corn-heap, with hearts all in tune.
Our chair a broad pumpkin,-our lantern the moon,
Telling tales of the fairy who travelled like steam
In a pumpkin-shell coach, with two rats for her team!

Then thanks for they present! none sweeter or better
E'er smoked from an oven or circled a platter!
Fairer hands never wrought at a pastry more fine,
Brighter eyes never watched o'er its baking, than thine!
And the prayer, which my mouth is too full to express,
Swells my heart that they shadow may never be less,
That the days of thy lot may be lengthened below,
And the fame of thy worth like a pumpkin-vine grow,
And thy life be as sweet, and its last sunset sky
Golden-tinted and fair as thy own Pumpkin pie!

Whittier was a Quaker and a poet who lived from 1807-1892 in New England.  He was a part of a small group of poets called the Fireside poets which also included Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Oliver Wendell Homes Sr. They were so named because people would read their poetry while gathered together by the fireplace.  They were the popular poets of the day who wrote about everyday life, nature and politics.

When the author begins to speak of Thanksgiving Day, he gets to the heart of the matter: family and memories.

Whittier concludes on a high note of thankfulness. He says that "the prayer, which my mouth is too full to express…" is for sweet and long lives for those around his table.  As we take time to gather around our own family tables this season, won't we wish for the same

QUOTE
"Careful for nothing, prayerful for everything, thankful for anything." – Dwight L. Moody

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THANK YOU!

Philippians 1:3

I thank my God every time I remember you.

1 Thessalonians 5:18

In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

One of the finest qualities that a Christian can possess is that of thankfulness.  When you think of church, family, friends and all that God has blessed us with, there is so much for which we can be thankful.  We give thanks to God for surrounding us with people who support us and encourage us to continue in our ministry. Each year we have so many volunteers who sacrifice of their time, talent, and resources, so that the glorious Gospel of Christ can be proclaimed.

Let us today give God thanks in the name of Jesus who has,  "blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.

Kevin Ledbetter - Pastor of Music & Arts


COUNTLESS GIFTS

 2 Chronicles 5:13

The trumpeters and musicians joined in unison to give praise and thanks to the LORD. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the LORD and sang: “He is good; his love endures forever.” Then the temple of the LORD was filled with the cloud.

NOW THANK WE ALL OUR GOD

By Martin Rinckart; translated by Catherine Winkworth
Arranged by John Rutter and Sung by the Cambridge Singers

Now thank we all our God,
With heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done,
In whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms
Has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love,
And still is ours today.

 

PRAYER OF THANKS by Ralph Waldo Emerson

For each new morning with its light,

     For rest and shelter of the night,

                    For health and food,

                   For love and friends,

For everything Thy goodness sends.

                       Father in heaven,

                          We thank thee.

 

QUOTE:
When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” – G.K. Chesterton

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PERSEVERANCE AND THANKSGIVING

2 Corinthians 4:15-16
All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.  Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.

ARTWORK:  Pilgrims leaving England
In September 1620, a small ship called the Mayflower left Plymouth, England, carrying 102 passengers - an assortment of religious separatists seeking a new home where they could freely practice their faith, and other individuals lured by the promise of prosperity and land ownership in the New World. After a treacherous and uncomfortable crossing that lasted 66 days, they dropped anchor near the tip of Cape Cod, far north of their intended destination at the mouth of the Hudson River.

Mayflower – 102 pilgrims; 41 Separatists, also called saints wanting freedom of religion. 61 Strangers - those who wanted to buy land, soldiers, etc. (30 Sailors making a total of 132 aboard)

July 22, 1620 - Prepare for first Departure – As they boarded the Ship Speedwell –A description of that scene was given by William Bradford in his journal later made into a book, Of Plymouth Plantation.


"That night was spent ashore, "with little sleep by ye most, "and early the next morning they and their friends boarded the Speedwell to exchange a last farewell, and truly doleful was ye sight of that sad and mournful parting, to see what sighs and sobs and praises did sound amongst them, what tears did gush from every eye, and pithy speeches pierce each heart."  Falling upon his knees, and everybody with him, Pastor Robinson (who stayed behind) gave them his blessing and "with watery cheeks commended them with most fervent prayers to ye Lord….and then with mutual embraces and many tears, they took their leaves one of another, which proved to be ye last leave to many of them."


July 22, 1620 – First attempt to depart. They left from Leiden and returned after 15 days due to water leakage.

August 5, 1620 – Second attempt to depart on Mayflower & Speedwell.  They left from Southampton, England but the Speedwell, after a few days, was once again returned due to water leakage.

September 6, 1620 – Third departure.  The pilgrims leave from Plymouth, England. This time the Mayflower goes solo.

The Pilgrims endured fierce storms, sickness, starvation and dreadful living conditions.
Storms will come whether in the form of an illness, persecution, financial distress, family problems or in other situations.  Sooner or later your faith will be tested and you will need peace that transcends understanding.  This peace is available to all believers.  Through the Holy Spirit, there's an assurance of the peace of God in any storm.  Thank God today that you can have peace in the midst of great stress and trials.

Philippians 4:7 "And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus"

QUOTE:
"As we pause to thank Him for the blessing of the past year, we must not forget to thank Him for the lessons we have learned through our difficult times. We are not to be thankful for just the pleasant, easy things, but ALL things." – Millie Stamm


PRAISE-SEEK-WORSHIP-THANK

Ephesians 5:20
"always giving thanks always to God the father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."

Today, you can hum "Give Thanks" at almost any church in the world, no matter the country or the language, and someone will recognize this simple song of thanksgiving and trust.  "Give Thanks" continues to be one of the most popular songs during the Thanksgiving season - used in churches worldwide.

GIVE THANKS lyrics:

"Give thanks with a grateful heart;
Give thanks to the Holy One.
Give thanks because He's given
Jesus Christ, His Son."
"And now let the weak say, "I am strong!"
Let the poor say, "I am rich
Because of what the Lord has done for us."
Give thanks!"

This worship song was written in l978 by Henry Smith.  The young seminary graduate penned it during a difficult time in his life when he was struggling to find work and coming to terms with a degenerative eye condition that would eventually leave him legally blind.  Smith's inspiration was the scripture "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. He was moved by this description of God becoming human to save man, he penned this simple song of thanksgiving and trust.

Following the introduction of the song during a worship service at the Williamsburg New Testament Church in Virginia, a military couple reintroduced it to a congregation in Germany.  It eventually caught the attention of executives at Integrity Music, which is known for producing praise and worship music series under the label, Hosanna! Music.

In 1984 a young worship leader named Don Moen was hired by Hosanna! Music. This song was recorded as the title track of his debut album, which was laid down during a live worship service at Covenant Church of Mobile, Alabama in July 1986.  "Give Thanks" was a tremendous success becoming the Hosanna! Music's bestselling release, with more than one million copies sold worldwide.  Church congregations around the world picked up on this song, and it is was then recognized as one of the most popular contemporary hymns.

When Moen originally recorded the song in l986, the author was unknown, so Hosanna! Music copyrighted it.  After the "Give Thanks" album came to the attention of Smith, he contacted the label with authorship information.  His name was included on the songwriting credits for all the subsequent releases.

QUOTE:
"In happy moments, PRAISE GOD. In difficult moments, SEEK GOD. In quiet moments, WORSHIP GOD.  In painful moments, TRUST GOD.  Every moment, THANK GOD." – Rick Warren

A HEART OF THANKSGIVING
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 (NIV)
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.

Hebrews 13:15 (NIV)
Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.

Lord, teach me to offer you a heart of thanksgiving and praise in all my daily experiences of life. Teach me to be joyful always, to pray continually and to give thanks in all my circumstances.

SAINT FRANCIS OF ASSISI'S PRAYER OF THANKSGIVING

You are holy, Lord, the only God,
and Your deeds are wonderful.
You are strong.
You are great.
You are the Most High.
You are Almighty.
You, Holy Father are King of heaven and earth.
You are Three and One, Lord God, all Good.
You are Good, all Good, supreme Good, Lord God, living and true.
You are love. You are wisdom.
You are humility. You are endurance.
You are rest. You are peace.
You are joy and gladness.
You are justice and moderation.
You are all our riches, and You suffice for us.
You are beauty.
You are gentleness.
You are our protector.
You are our guardian and defender.
You are our courage. You are our haven and our hope.
You are our faith, our great consolation.
You are our eternal life, Great and Wonderful Lord,
God Almighty, Merciful Saviour.
 

QUOTES:
"You say, 'If I had a little more, I should be very satisfied.' You make a mistake. If you are not content with what you have, you would not be satisfied if it were doubled." – Charles H. Spurgeon
"Genuine thankfulness is an act of the heart's affections, not an act of the lips' muscles." – John Piper

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GRATITUDE

EPHESIANS 5:20
"always giving thanks to God the Father of everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."

PSALM 118:24
"This is the day that the Lord has made; le us rejoice and be glad in it."

An Attitude of Gratitude by Max Lucado

"A grateful heart sees each day as a gift. Thankful people focus less on what they lack and more on the privileges they have. I attended a banquet recently in which a wounded soldier was presented with the gift of a free house. He nearly fell over with gratitude. He bounded onto the stage with his one good leg and threw both arms around the presenter. "Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!" He hugged the guitar player in the band and the woman on the front row. He thanked the waiter, the other soldiers, and then the presenter again. Before the night was over, he thanked me! And I didn't do anything….

The grateful heart is like a magnet sweeping over the day, collecting reasons for gratitude. A zillion diamonds sparkle against the velvet of your sky every night. Thank you, God. A miracle of muscles enables your eyes to read these words and your brain to process them. Thank you, God. Your lungs inhale and exhale eleven thousand liters of air every day. Your heart will beat about three billion times in your lifetime. Your brain is a veritable electric generator of power. Thank you, God.
For the jam on our toast and the milk on our cereal. For the blanket that calms us and the joke that delights us and the warm sun that reminds us of God's love…. Thank you, Lord.

Gratitude gets us through the hard stuff. To reflect on your blessings is to rehearse God's accomplishments. To rehearse God's accomplishments is to discover his heart. To discover his heart is to discover not just good gifts but the Good Giver. Gratitude always leaves us looking at God and away from dread. It does to anxiety what the morning sun does to valley mist. It burns it up."

QUOTE
"Gratitude is an offering precious in the sight of God, and it is one that the poorest of us can make and be not poorer but richer for having made it." –A.W. Tozer
"It's one thing to be grateful.  It's another to give thanks.  Gratitude is what you feel. Thanksgiving is what you do." – Tim Keller

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THANK YOU VETERANS

Today is a day to honor all those brave Men and Women who have served and are serving their country with Bravery, Dedication and Self Sacrifice.

With Respect, Honor and Gratitude
Thank you Veterans!

SCRIPTURE
"There is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friends."  John 15:13
"The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace."
Numbers 6:24-26

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THANKSGIVING TO GOD
 
Thanksgiving is defined in the dictionary as "the expression of gratitude especially to God." The Greek word for thanksgiving is "eucharistia," which translates to "the giving of thanks for God's grace," gratitude, and giving of thanks.
 
The Bible commands believers to thank God.

 "Go into His gates giving thanks and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and honor his name."  - Psalm 100:4

The structure of this statement is not a suggestion. It is a definite command.
 
A few reasons why the Bible commands Christians to give thanksgiving to God is because it keeps us in a right relationship with God and allows us to maintain a good perspective on life. When our hearts are filled with thanksgiving, we keep the sins and temptations of greed, selfishness, and self-sufficiency away.
 
In Rory Noland's book "The Worshiping Artist: Worship on Earth as It is In Heaven" he states:
"Why does the Bible keep nagging us to give thanks? It's because we quickly forget all that God has done for us; we take him for granted. According to Romans 1:21, when we fail to honor God and give him thanks, our hearts become darkened. Indeed, if left unchecked, ingratitude leads to negativity, bitterness, cynicism, and despair." 

As Christians thank God daily, remember that everything that we have been given is from God. Thanksgiving reminds us of what we have and the blessings we have received from the LORD.
 
Bible Verses About Thanksgiving and Praise
With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord: "He is good; his love toward Israel endures forever." And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. – Ezra 3:11
 
For long ago, in the days of David and Asaph, there had been directors for the musicians and for the songs of praise and thanksgiving to God. – Nehemiah 12:46
 
I will praise God's name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving. – Psalm 69:30
 
Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. – Psalm 95:2
 
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. – Psalm 100:4
 
The Lord will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the Lord. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing. – Isaiah 51:3
 
From them will come songs of thanksgiving and the sound of rejoicing. I will add to their numbers, and they will not be decreased; I will bring them honor, and they will not be disdained. – Jeremiah 30:19
 

QUOTES:
"You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink."           G. K. Chesterton


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THANKS…giving

Psalm 79:13
So we, Your people and the sheep of Your pasture, will give thanks to You forever; To all generations we will tell of Your praise,"

2 Corinthians 9:11
You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

A Thanksgiving Day editorial in the newspaper told of a schoolteacher who asked her class of first graders to draw a picture of something they were thankful for. She thought of how little these children from disadvantaged neighborhoods actually had to be thankful for. But she knew that most of them would draw pictures of turkeys or tables with food.  The teacher was taken aback with the picture Douglas handed in-a simple drawn hand.

But whose hand? The class was captivated by the abstract image. "I think it must be the hand of God that brings us food," said one child. "A farmer, " said another, "because he grows the turkeys." Finally when the others were at work, the teacher bent over Douglas's desk and asked whose hand it was. "It's your hand, Teacher," he mumbled.

She recalled that frequently at recess she had taken his hand and walked with him here or there, as she had the other students. Or, "Let me show you how to hold your pencil." Or, "Let's do this together." Douglas was most thankful for his teacher's hand.

Perhaps this was everyone's Thanksgiving, not for the material things given to us but for the chance, in whatever small way, to give to others. ---Source Unknown

Grace for a Child by Robert Herrick, 1591-1674

Here, a little child I stand,
Heaving up my either hand:
Cold as paddocks though they be,
Here I lift them up to Thee,
For a benison to fall
On our meat,  and on us all. Amen


QUOTE:
"Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.
John Milton


SIMPLE GIFTS

EPHESIANS 5:19-20
“Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

PSALM 9:1
“I will give thanks to you, LORD, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.”

SIMPLE GIFTS
YoYoMa and Alison Krause – Classic YoYo 2001

The song “Simple Gifts” was largely unknown outside Shaker Communities until Aaron Copland used its melody for the score of Martha Graham’s ballet Appalachian Spring, first performed in l944.  Copland used “Simple Gifts” a second time in l950 in his first set of Old American Songs for voice and piano, which was later orchestrated.  Many people thought that the tune was a traditional Celtic one but both the music and original lyrics are actually the compositions of Joseph Brackett. “Simple Gifts” has been adapted or arranged many times since by folksingers and composers.

“Simple Gifts” was written by Elder Joseph while he was at the Shaker community in Alfred, Maine.  Below are the original lyrics. 

             'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free

'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained,

To bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed,

To turn, turn will be our delight,

Till by turning, turning we come 'round right. 

Several Shaker manuscripts indicate that this is a “Dancing song” or a “Quick Dance.” “Turning” is a common theme in Christian theology, but the references to “turning” in the last two lines have also been identified as dance instructions.  When the traditional dance is performed properly, each dancer ends up where he or she began, “come ‘round right.”

Additional non-Shaker verses exist for the song:

'Tis the gift to have friends and a true friend to be,

'Tis the gift to think of others not to only think of "me",

And when we hear what others really think and really feel,

Then we'll all live together with a love that is real.[12]

 

'Tis the gift to be loving, 'tis the best gift of all

Like a quiet rain it blesses where it falls

And with it we will truly believe

'Tis better to give than it is to receive

QUOTES:

"In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich." 
                                                                        Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Perhaps it takes a purer faith to praise God for unrealized blessings than for those we once enjoyed or those we enjoy now.”

                                                                        A.W. Tozer


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FREEDOM FROM WANT

I CHRONICLES 16:34 (NIV)

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.

As you gaze upon this famous Rockwell painting you can see the "eyes of delight" on all the family members gathered around the table. At this feast no-one will go hungry and even the most ferocious appetite will be satisfied.  As wonderful as a beautiful dinner with family can be, let’s take a moment and consider how our Lord satisfies the deepest desires of our hearts.

In John 4 Jesus taught the woman at the well the eternal truth that He was the well of water that could spring up in her life, and through Him she would never thirst again.

In Philippians 4:19 it says,"But my God shall supply your every need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.

Let’s enjoy this Thanksgiving holiday, but never loose sight of the larger truth that in Christ we lack nothing, but can and should always be filled with His amazing abundance and grace.

Artwork:  Freedom From Want by Norman Rockwell

In January 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered his state of the Union address in which he outlined his idea of the Four Freedoms, which include freedom of speech, of worship, from fear, and from want.  Two years later, over four consecutive issues during February and March 1943, The Saturday Evening Post published essays on each of FDR’s Four Freedoms, each accompanied by a painting by Norman Rockwell.

We all know Rockwell’s Freedom from Want by heart, even if we don’t know its title.  From the lower right corner, in the finest  Renaissance tradition of painting, a young man looks out at you directly-the classic challenge to the viewer posed by the painter and his painting.  The young man’s smile reminds us that the Thanksgiving thanks are not necessarily for abundant protein and four kinds of vegetables.  Instead, the thankfulness is for having each other and the enduring capacity of people to free one another from all kinds of want-physical, emotional, and spiritual.

QUOTE:

“God has promised to supply all our needs.  What we don’t have now, we don’t need now.” – Elizabeth Elliott


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THANKSGIVING PRAYER

COLOSSIANS 3:13-17 (NIV)

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.  And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Thanksgiving Prayer

We come, O Lord, these Autumn days,
With hymns of gratitude and praise.
Harvest of gold the plains adorn,
Rich fruits roll forth from Plenty’s horn;
Thou givest treasures from the rocks;
The little hills are clothed with flocks;
The seas are with their burden white,
And new Thy mercies day and night.

For changing seasons as they go,
For Autumn leaf, for Winter’s snow,
For the green verdure of the Spring,
For life in plant and life on wing,
For Summer with its ripening heat,
For hopes the rounded years complete,
For morn and noon, for night and day,
For light that marks our heavenward way;

For all the blessings of Thy hand,
For freedom in fair freedom’s land,
Pursuits of thrift that bring us wealth,
For schools and churches, peace and health,
For commerce, yielding up her stores,
Brought for man’s use from distant shores;
For countless gifts, O Lord, we raise
Our hymns of gratitude and praise.

Thou settest man in families,
And all his wants the earth supplies;
Of children, be they far or near,
Of children’s children gathered here,
We thank Thee for Thy gracious care,
And lift for them the secret prayer,
As clustered round each social board
We eat and drink, and praise the Lord.
[J. E. Rankin] 

QUOTES: 

“If in his gifts and benefits (God) were more sparing and close-handed, we should learn to be thankful….The greater God’s gifts and works, the less they are regarded.” 

                                                                        Martin Luther, in Table Talk

“Beautiful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the agitations of the soul; it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us.”                                                            

Martin Luther


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THE HARVEST MOON

Psalm 136:7-9 (NIV) Who made the great lights, His love endures forever. The sun to govern the day, His love endures forever. The moon and stars to govern the night; His love endures forever.

PSALM 118:1 (NIV) Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.  

PSALM 92:1-2  (NIV) It is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name, O Most High, proclaiming your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night,

THE HARVEST MOON by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

It is the Harvest Moon! On gilded vanes
  And roofs of villages, on woodland crests
  And their aerial neighborhoods of nests
  Deserted, on the curtained window-panes
Of rooms where children sleep, on country lanes
  And harvest-fields, its mystic splendor rests!
  Gone are the birds that were our summer guests,
  With the last sheaves return the laboring wains!
All things are symbols: the external shows
  Of Nature have their image in the mind,
  As flowers and fruits and falling of the leaves;
The song-birds leave us at the summer’s close,
  Only the empty nests are left behind,
  And pipings of the quail among the sheaves.

QUOTES by G.K. Chesterton: 
“When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.”
“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”


WE GATHER TOGETHER

I THESSALONIANS 5: 16-18 (NIV)
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Psalms 95:2
Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.

HYMN:  "We Gather Together"
Anonymous 17th-century Dutch, translated by Theodore Baker
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 131

“We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;

He chastens and hastens his will to make known.

The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.

Sing praises to his name; he forgets not his own.” 

In many hymnals, “We gather together” appears as a Thanksgiving hymn. Perhaps this is because of the opening line and the general idea that God is with us regardless of our circumstances. However, the hymn speaks more about God’s providence throughout the trials of life. The story behind this hymn clarifies its text. 

This hymn is a late 16th-century expression of celebration of freedom by The Netherlands from Spanish oppression. Like many older hymns, it finds its way to us through a circuitous route. 

It was first published in Nederlandtsch Gedenckclanck (1626), a collection by Adrianus Valerius in Haarlem. 

QUOTES: 

 “A spirit of thankfulness is one of the most distinctive marks of a Christian whose heart is attuned to the Lord. Thank God in the midst of trials and every persecution.” – Billy Graham

“No matter what our circumstances, we can find a reason to be thankful.”  - Dr. David Jeremiah


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GIVE THANKS

Philippians 4:6 New International Version (NIV)

6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Ephesians 5:19-21 New International Version (NIV)

19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

As Christians we have much to be thankful for in our lives. God has given us all things in Christ, both now and in eternity.  Our lives should be a reflection of the gratitude we have towards God for His continual blessings in our lives.  Even in difficult times believers trust the hand of God’s providence and His praises will be on their lips.  We celebrate “Thanksgiving” in our country once a year, but the Christ follower is thankful every day, and finds God’s mercies “new every morning”.  Let's all embrace the attitude of thanksgiving and glorify God for His amazing grace and love towards His people. 

Pastor Kevin Ledbetter

QUOTE:

God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today.  Have you used one to say ‘thank you?’

                                                      William Arthur Ward