Advent Tree Family Devotions – December 19

Heart

Deuteronomy 6:5; 1 Samuel 16:7; 2 Chronicles 12:14; Psalm 9:1; 51:10; Proverbs 16:23; Jeremiah 17:9; Matthew 5:8; Hebrews 3:15

The Hebrew word for heart (לב leb) is used 593 times in the Hebrew Old Testament.  It is a masculine noun which can mean “the center of a thing” (i.e. the heart of the earth) or the physical blood pumping organ.  Most often, however, it refers to the inner nature of a person, including his thoughts, fears, and innermost feelings.  “Leb” also refers to the place where a man’s wisdom and understanding reside, and to the seat of the will.  “Hardening one’s heart” is willful disobedience to the command of God.  The Greek word (καρδία kardia) is found 160 times and has similar meanings in the New Testament.

In our Scripture readings today, we discover that we are to love the Lord our God with all of our hearts, that God searches our hearts, that the heart controls the will, that we should thank the Lord with our hearts, and that we need the Lord to create in us a clean heart. We also learn that the heart can speak out wisdom, the heart is desperately wicked, we should be pure in heart, and we should not harden our hearts against God.     

Popular culture tells us that we have no control over the “affairs of the heart”.  We “fall in love”, completely beyond our ability to resist.  We tell our adolescent children that since they are unable to resist the temptation to sexual sin, they should use “protection”.  We tolerate theft, greed, murder, sexual impropriety, gluttony, and all other types of sin because “he was desperate”, “that’s just the way he is”, “she was mentally ill”, “he had a bad environment”, or “the system drove her to it”.   We refuse to acknowledge that medical diagnoses can have moral components…and causes.  Rejecting the truth that a holy God has absolute power and authority and will judge our thoughts, words and deeds, punishing us for our disobedience, we struggle to explain the world in ways that will let us behave the way we want.

Mankind has no more power to forestall the judgment of God than we do to change the rotation of the planets.  He is sovereign, and our efforts to break His laws only result in us breaking ourselves and those around us.

Jesus, fully God and fully man, understands our nature, our weakness, and our sin.  He died and rose again so that by following Him, we can be free from the tyranny of wickedness that defines us.  He will surely judge, and those who do not accept His love will bear the full responsibility for their sin.  But in His grace, God has given us a way out.  He will create in us a clean heart.  He will search out our hearts and root out the evil within them.  He will bring those who love Him to eternal life.  This Christmas season, let us remember to control our hearts, and to worship and enjoy Him who will finally make them clean.

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, goodwill to men
From heav’ns all gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay
To hear the angels sing. 

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long,
Beneath the angel strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love song which they bring:
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing!

All ye beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
O rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.

For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophets bards foretold,
When with the ever-circling years
Comes round the age of gold,
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.

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Advent Tree Family Devotions – December 18

Crown 

Matthew 27:29; John 19:2; Psalms 8:5; 2 Timothy 4:8; James 1:12; Revelation 4:4-11; 14:14

Distinctive head ornaments have been used as rewards for prowess, and as signs of authority and dominion, for millennia.  Laurel wreaths were given in Greece and Rome to victorious athletes and conquering generals.  The word “Laureate” used in such terms as “Nobel Laureate” refers to have received the laurel wreath.  Chieftains in barbarian tribes typically wore a distinctive helmet, which served in battle to identify the ruler and inspire the troops by his presence.  In an English coronation over 1000 years ago, the king was given a helmet, not a traditional crown.   The Jewish kings David and Joash, and many non-Jewish kings in the Old Testament, had decorative crowns of gold and precious stones.  Both beautiful and visible to all around, crowns set the wearer apart, and worldly authority itself is communicated by the word “Crown”. 

Jesus, Creator and Ruler of all the Universe, wore only one crown during His earthly sojourn, a crown of thorns (στέφανον ἐξ ἀκανθῶν – stephanon (crown) ez akanthon (thorn)).  This wreath was either woven out of the Syrian Christ-thorn (zizyphus – spina-christi), or the Christ-thorn (paliurus spina-christi), both of which have long, sharp, stiff thorns.  Rather than reward or glory, this revealed contempt, mockery, and shame. 

In the Bible, crowns are also used to signify victory. Christians will receive a crown of life to signify their victory over death, and a crown of righteousness to signify their victory over sin, both a result of Christ’s work.  The ultimate destiny of followers of Jesus is to rule with Him in unimaginable glory over the new heaven and the new earth, serving Him forever. 

Men throughout history have killed and died for crowns of gold and precious stones, and the temporary riches and power over others that they entail.  Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon, Qin Shi Huang in China, Julius Caesar in Rome, Shaka in Zululand,  Hitler in Germany, Stalin in the USSR, Pol Pot in Cambodia, and many others caused untold suffering with their dreams of glory. Yet they died, and their empires with them.  But those who know and love the Lord bring goodness and mercy to others in this life, and themselves receive perfect, everlasting life in the world to come. 

In our lives, it is so tempting to strive for the crowns of fame, money, power and success.  We fritter our moments in petty conflicts, trivial insults, and imagined wrongs.  Even the heartbreaking real tragedies that we all eventually face pale in comparison to the abundant life which is available to us now, and the magnificent eternity that we have ahead.  Christ is the greatest gift, freely available to each person, if we only believe.  Comfort, love and peace are in His right hand, and power, purpose, and victory in His left.  He is our King, so let us rejoice in Him.

 

We Three Kings

 

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

 

Chorus

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

Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain:
Gold I bring to crown Him again,
King forever, ceasing never,
Over us all to rein

Chorus

Frankincense to offer have I,
Incense owns a Deity nigh;
Pray’r and praising, all men raising,
Worship Him, God most high.
Chorus

Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume,
Breathes of life of gathering gloom –
Sorrow’ng, sighing, bleeding, dying,
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb

Chorus

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

Chorus

Advent Tree Family Devotions – December 17

Seven Pointed Star

Revelation 5:12-13; Acts 1:8; Romans 8:18; 1 Corinthians 2:14-16; Philippians 3:7-8, 4:7-8; Revelation 2:4-5

The number seven has had many different meanings over the centuries. The heptagram, or seven pointed star, is considered a sacred symbol in the Wiccan tradition and a symbol of magical power in other pagan beliefs. The Navajo tribal police use a heptagonal badge. Alchemists throughout the Middle Ages used the seven-pointed star to symbolize the seven planets in our solar system known at that time.

The God of the Bible, who alone is God, made all things, including the seven pointed star. Christians have used this symbol to refer to the seven days of Creation, and to God’s perfection. The seven pointed star is known as the emblem of the seven characteristics of Christ as recorded in Revelation.

Power…riches…wisdom…might…honor…glory…and blessing. These seven attributes are inherent in Jesus who was slain for us. In the final days, every created thing, whether animals, people, or anything else, in heaven and earth will sing of our blessed Lord and His marvelous acts. We will recognize His glory, and respond in the only way appropriate…in praise.

One of the great mysteries of the Gospel, and the greatest joy to all true believers, is that in the most real sense, we get Christ in us, in the person of His Spirit, when we come to know Him. Thus we have all of these amazing attributes of the Son of God. Christians have the mind of Christ, the power of Christ, the peace of Christ, and the glory of Christ.

As followers of Jesus, we have everything we could ever wish for already, because we have Him. During this Advent season, when wishes and plans fill our thoughts, let’s remember that we already have everything that is valuable in the universe. Money, possessions, esteem, beauty, and every other thing for which man strives is only good insofar as we use it to serve Him. Getting these things for our own selfish purposes is a curse, not a blessing.

During your time of devotion today, think for a few minutes about what it means to have Christ in us. Do we have the joy of Christ in our own lives? If so, how can we share it with others? If not, let us return to our First Love (Revelation 2:4-5).

Angels from the Realms of Glory

Angels from the realms of glory,
Wing your flight o’er all the earth;
Ye who sang creation’s story,
Now proclaim Messiah’s birth:
Come and worship,
Come and worship,
Worship Christ, the newborn King!

Shepherds, in the fields abiding,
Watching o’er your flocks by night,
God with man is now residing,
Yonder shines the infant Light;
Come and worship,
Come and worship,
Worship Christ, the newborn King!

Sages, leave your contemplations,
Brighter visions beam afar;
Seek the great desire of nations,
Ye have seen the Infant’s star;
Come and worship,
Come and worship,
Worship Christ, the newborn King!

Saints before the altar bending,
Watching long in hope and fear,
Suddenly the Lord, descending,
In His temple shall appear:
Come and worship,
Come and worship,
Worship Christ, the newborn King!