Advent Tree Family Devotions – December 22

Shell

Genesis 1; Job 38-39; Jonah 1

Life on earth would not exist without seas.  Seas modulate temperatures on the earth’s surface, provide water, supply food, and function in a million different ways to make our earth what it is.  The sea is also a source of amazing power.  According to the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, a fully developed hurricane can release heat energy at a rate of 5 to 20×1013 watts. The heat release is equivalent to a 10-megaton nuclear bomb exploding every 20 minutes. According to the 1993 World Almanac, the entire human race used energy at a rate of 1013 watts in 1990, a rate less than 20% of the power of a hurricane.  The Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 killed over 200,000 people, more than the atomic explosions at Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.  80% of the world’s population lives within 50 miles of the sea. 

Shells are common symbols of the sea, and scallop shells, familiar worldwide and for all of recorded history, are commonly used as representative of all shells. 

For all of the breathtaking power of the sea, the power of God is far more.  He made the seas, the land, the sun, and even the universe.  He controls everything in His perfect sovereignty.  Scripture tells us that God set the limits of the sea, that He is the great Creator, and that He commands the sea and the creatures therein to do His will.  Jesus, God the Son, calmed a raging storm on the Sea of Galilee with just His word. 

Mankind prates about our seemingly amazing power.  Armies wreak havoc across the globe, scientific advances come at dizzying speeds, and medicine tempts with the promise of enormous life spans.   Nuclear energy, the same energy that runs the stars, seems the most promising, and the most terrifying, force in the universe.   Man stands at the summit of learning gained over more than 6000 years of human history and proudly proclaims the death of god and the supremacy of humankind in the universe. 

How quickly we forget that God made these things, and gave us the knowledge to use them for our needs and pleasures.  He can continue to bless us, or He can withhold His blessing, but what He does will be influenced by our pride, which He hates, or our humility, which He loves.  Our evil deeds will condemn us, but our good works, rooted in knowledge and the love of Jesus, will be richly rewarded.

Even as seashells remind us powerfully of the sea, let the sea remind us of the amazing power and love of the Lord.  The sea’s bounty provides water, food, oxygen, work, recreation, and many other needs and wants of life, and the sea’s anger can result in terrifying carnage and destruction.  God is infinitely more powerful, and He is always good. 

 

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 thee, 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.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
And order all things, far and nigh;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And cause us in her ways to go.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind.
Bid envy, strife, and quarrels cease;
Fill all the world with heaven’s peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee O Israel.

 

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Advent Tree Family Devotions – December 21

Butterfly 

I Corinthians 15 

Butterflies, among the most beautiful of insects, are found almost everywhere on earth.  Since they fly during the day, are so plentiful and so approachable, mankind has long known about their intriguing lives.  Thus butterflies provide a wonderful example of the transition to eternal life for those who believe in Jesus.    

Beginning as an egg, the caterpillar stage, which signifies the mortal life of man, is slow, bulky, and unattractive.  Vulnerable to birds and other predators, caterpillars poignantly remind us of our weaknesses and limitations in this earthly frame.   As the caterpillar becomes a chrysalis or pupa, which gives the appearance of no life, we see an illustration of death, with the cocoon serving to remind of the grave lying just ahead of each of us.  But what looks dead to us is alive to our Lord. Almost imperceptibly the cocoon weakens and then suddenly bursts. The butterfly soars forth in the sky with a new body and beautiful wings. So our human body after death is committed to the earth, and our spirit emerges into life everlasting. Eventually our bodies, too, are raised in eternal glory.  Thus the butterfly is the special symbol of the resurrection.

In many ways, these stages symbolize life on earth as well.  From the ugliness of lives enslaved to sin to the exquisite beauty of the butterfly, we too change as we accept new life in Christ.

The most awesome fact in history is that a man, Jesus Christ, rose from the dead.  The Bible, extrabiblical writings, archaeology, and many other sources support beyond reasonable doubt the genuine life, unquestionable death, and the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.   As Paul tells us in Corinthians, the greatest promise in all the ages is that since Jesus Christ rose from the dead, since He escaped the final power of the grave, so we who love Him will do the same.  Can there be any better news than this?

Christmas has no meaning without the rest of the story, that God became man on earth, lived a sinless life of service, was killed by His enemies, and rose again in a glorified body to eternal life.  This fact changed His disciples from cowering after the Crucifixion to towering after the Resurrection.  All other facts, accomplishments, and glories of the earth become very small in light of this amazing story. 

In some parts of the world we can see butterflies at Christmas, and in others we cannot.  Either way, let us remember how this simple creature so demonstrates our lives in many different ways.  And let us also remember that Christmas is the time to understand how this blessed holiday fits into the overall scheme of God’s redemption. 

Joy to the World

 

Joy to the world! the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let ev’ry 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.

Joy to the earth! the Savior reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

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.

Advent Tree Family Devotions – December 20

Triquetra

I Peter 1:2

The Triquetra is a design consisting of three equal arcs, and has a long history of use in religious rituals.  It has been found on rune stones in Northern Europe and on early Germanic coins, and resembles the three equal and interlocking triangles of the Valknut (Knot of the Slain Warriors) associated with the God Odin of Old Norse mythology.  The Triquetra was used in Celtic art, and is associated with the modern Neopagan movement including the Wiccan “Book of Shadows”.

Symbols have great power to communicate, and groups from time immemorial have used one another’s symbols to share their messages with themselves and others.  The Swastika, for example, is Sanskrit, used by Hindus and Buddhists in religious ceremonies for thousands of years before being appropriated by the Nazis before World War 2.  As we have seen so many times in these Christmas devotions, Christians have also taken symbols and changed their meaning to communicate the awesome power and love of God.   The Triquetra is another example of this practice.

The Triquetra is considered to be one of the most beautiful and satisfying of the symbols of the Trinity because of its intricacy. The three equal arcs of the circle denote equality of the three Persons of the Godhead. The lines run continuously and therefore express their eternal existence. They are interwoven which expresses their unity. The center forms an equilateral triangle, which is itself a symbol of the Trinity. Each pair of arcs combines to form a “vesica pices” or fish bladder which is taken to be indicative of glory in many traditions. The Carolingian Cross is a cross made of four Triquetras.  So in the Triquetra there is the complex expression of equality, eternity, unity and glory in this essentially simple form.

We have looked at many symbols related to the Triune God this Christmas season because understanding His nature is so important as we live our lives.  God is our Father, our Friend, our Comforter, our Healer, our Creator, our Sustainer, our Judge, our Advocate, our Teacher, our Provider, and everything else we need, both now and in eternity.  The three persons of the Trinity help us understand and communicate how God truly is everything to us.

During the Advent season, we seem to think that we need so many things, presents, decorations, and treats, in addition to our normal needs, to be truly happy.  We must remember, and help each other remember, that if we have a relationship with our Lord, we have everything already.

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.