Advent Tree Family Devotions – December 23

Cross

John 1

December 23 – Cross

John 1

Crucifixion, a method of execution and torture invented in the 6th century BC, was practiced for the next 700 years by the Persians, Greeks, Macedonians, Carthaginians, and Romans. First, soldiers scourged the victim until he was weak and bloody. Many victims died. Then, executioners fixed a cross beam to a tall post, attached the condemned man to it with ropes or nails, raised the cross, and anchored it in the ground.   Over the following hours to days hanging on the cross, gravity impaired blood flow to the brain and heart, breathing was nearly impossible, and birds and insects ate the torn flesh of the defenseless man. Soldiers were not allowed to leave and so they often broke the lower legs of the victim, making it impossible to support the body with the legs. Breathing became impossible and death followed in minutes.   Crucifixions, known in ancient times as the most horrid of all executions, were done in public, well-traveled places.   The body was left on the cross to be consumed by wildlife and to rot, further dishonoring the deceased and warning others against following the same path.

Jesus Christ was the Son of God and God the Son, Savior of the world. He is the one whose birth we celebrate in two days, and He was crucified. Unlike most victims of crucifixion, Jesus’ body was taken off the cross and he was buried in a borrowed tomb. He died as a sacrifice, taking the sins of His chosen ones on Himself and paying the ultimate price, in the most heinous way possible, so that we might live, now and forever, in fellowship with Him. Christmas has no meaning without Jesus’ death.

But His death was not the end of the story. Jesus Christ, the Sinless One, could not be held in the grave. Almighty God transformed Jesus’ body into a glorified, living one and Jesus left the grave, in absolute victory over sin and death. Because Jesus died and rose again, those who know him can be certain that we will do the same. After showing Himself to many people and offering many proofs of His resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven to prepare a place for us (Acts 1, John 14).

The empty cross, generally favored by Protestants, signifies the risen Lord. Worship, acknowledging and celebrating the ultimate worth and glory of God and the profound mystery of His work, is the only reasonable, and acceptable, response.   How do we worship the Lord? We trust Him to care for us, we obey Him in every way on every day, and we enjoy Him in everything He is. This manifests itself by prayer and Bible study, by working hard in our jobs, our schools, our churches, and our families, by trusting Him to work ultimate good in everything we do, by finding joy and purpose in our activities, and by enjoying rest, food, recreation, and the other wonderful gifts He has provided.

Although today’s cross is the simplest form, many of the other symbols which use the cross combine this form. The cross with Jesus’ body hanging from it, the crucifix, used in Catholic churches, reminds us of Jesus’ death. When the cross stands on three steps, it represents faith hope and love. When it is combined with a crown, it shows the victory we have over death, and when it is shown with the circle, it represents eternity. Each of these symbols represents a segment of our belief and our heritage as Christians. We have so much to be thankful for, how can we fail to worship Him each day?

 

 

 

Advent Tree Family Devotions – December 4

Anchor Cross

Jonah 1; Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25; Acts 27; Hebrews 6:19‑20

Few things are more terrifying than to be tossed helplessly in a raging storm at sea.  Capsizing, running aground, being washed overboard, and breaking up, all often fatal, are only a few of the dangers.   The crew’s best hope is to jettison cargo, find a sheltered place (if possible) and anchor firmly. 

In antiquity from Polynesia to the Mediterranean, anchors were often grooved or pierced stones.  By the first century A.D., Romans were using anchors with arms and flukes (similar to the traditional and more recent kedge anchor).  The arms allowed the anchor to dig deeply into the gravel and mud on the bottom of the Sea of Galilee, or into the lime, clay, sand and mud on the Mediterranean floor.  A properly set anchor cannot quiet the storm, but it can bring the ship and its crew safely through. 

The disciples, many who were experienced fishermen, likely had many stories of life threatening tempests.  The Apostle Paul endured storms and even shipwreck.  In every case, the Lord protected them, whether on the Sea of Galilee or in the Mediterranean off the coast of Malta.  Better than any anchor, Jesus calmed the sea, and brought them through the storm. 

How fitting, then, that this Christmas anchor is shaped like a cross.  Even as Jesus brought His people through disaster on the water, so He brings us through disasters in our lives.   Crime, sickness, injustice, and pain are inevitable on our earthly journey.   Our hearts break as parents die, children disobey, jobs are lost and health is shattered.  Our strength fades when loved ones betray, dreams are crushed, wealth fails, and our bodies wither.  Like a sailor’s, our best hope is to jettison the distractions in our lives, find a sheltered place in His word, and anchor in His love.  Sometimes the Lord “calms the sea” by taking the situation away.  If He does not, though, He always brings us through. 

Even through the ultimate and eternal storm, that of sin and death, Jesus, by His death on the cross and resurrection, has delivered those who love Him.

As we put our hope in Christ, we study and obey His word.  As we learn his word and speak to Him in prayer, He builds our faith and makes us better able to trust Him (Rom 10:17).  We know that Jesus will be faithful to His promises and work His perfect will in our lives.

While contemplating the symbolism of the anchor-cross with our loved ones this Christmas season, let us resolve to remember Christ each time we see an anchor, or a storm.  Jesus is, truly, the anchor for our souls. 

O Come all Ye Faithful

O come, all ye faithful,
Joyful and triumphant;
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him,
Born the King of Angels!
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

Sing, choirs of angels,
Sing in exultation;
O sing, all ye citizens of heaven above.
Glory to God, all glory in the highest!
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

Hail! Lord, we greet Thee,
Born this happy morning;
Jesus to Thee be all glory giv’n.
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing!
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.