Advent – The Gift

Readings for this week November 20 – 24
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

Day 1 – Advent: Time to Prepare

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Isaiah 11:1-10

As Christians, when our major festivals arrive (like Easter or Christmas), the church calendar encourages us to not just jump straight into celebrating these events. As important as they are as times of remembrance and celebration, of recalibration and commemoration, one thing the church has in its wisdom seen fit to do is to introduce a period of preparation, a lead-in time to our great festival events. This is a chance to stop, collect ourselves, shed unnecessary distractions and encumbrances and turn ourselves towards God. The lead-in to Easter we call Lent. The lead-in to Christmas is called Advent.

Advent is a time of preparation, a time of expectant waiting for the Nativity celebration of the birth of Jesus. The word ‘Advent’ itself means ‘arrival,’ something coming into place, or into view, into being. The birthing or beginning of something. But Advent is not just about the coming of Jesus as a baby. Christian tradition often speaks of the coming of Christ from three different perspectives: in the flesh in Bethlehem, in our hearts daily, and in glory at the consummation of all things. Advent is more than just the annual marking of an event that occurred over 2,000 years ago. It is the celebration of a deep truth about God, the God who came to us as one of us so that all creation might be reconciled to him. We celebrate that process, we participate in it, and we anticipate his future coming in glory.

Questions to Consider
What does Advent mean for you? What changes in your life during Advent? Why is it so important that we prepare ourselves for it?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, help me prepare for the season of the coming of the king. Calm me, focus me; help me not get caught up in the distractions of the season. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – The Season of the Gift

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Ephesians 2:8-9

In this Advent season, one of the things we will be focussing on is the idea of ‘gift’, and the ways in which Advent and Christmas are about the giving of various gifts. This is, after all, the season of the ultimate gift ever given and so it makes sense to spend some time examining this idea of ‘gift’ more closely, to see what it tells us about God and about ourselves.

There are many ways to look at the idea of gifts. The most obvious one is, of course, the gift of Jesus himself as God’s good gift to us. There is no greater gift than this, and no gift more widely offered than the gift of God’s own son offered to the entire world. But there are other aspects to the idea of gift that we can also examine; some of the ways we look at gifts this Advent season will be familiar and obvious, others might not be.

The Christmas story is full of gifts, both given and received. Angels came to give messages of hope and warning. The wise men came bearing gifts. Shepherds came to give praise and worship. Elizabeth and Mary became loving, supporting gifts for each other. But there is one very important question that is always raised by the giving of gifts, even if we don’t consciously think of it: as with any gift given to us, the question that we must ask ourselves is: will we accept the gift?

Questions to Consider
What is the best gift you have ever received? What is the best gift you have ever given? What thought goes into giving someone a gift? How is the way God gives gifts similar to us? How is it different?

Prayer
Gracious Lord, thank you for being so generous to us. You have given us so much; help us to be just as generous to others with what you have given us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – The Start of the Story

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 1:1-17

The beginning of Matthew’s gospel doesn’t seem very promising as far as an exciting account of the coming of God goes – certainly not an exciting story to share with others! It’s just a long – a very long – list of names, showing the genealogy of Jesus, right back through King David all the way to Abraham. But this is where Matthew starts his telling of the story, way back, with the lives of some of the people who came before Jesus. Some of these people are kings; some are ordinary people; some are the type of people you would least expect to see in a genealogy of the Son of God. But all had their part to play, all had their gift to give to the story of God – just as we all do.

For a world that is awash with stories, all vying for attention, all trying to claim the allegiance of whomever they can, one of the gifts we can offer people is a chance to connect with the real story, the ultimate story, the story that makes sense of all of our own stories: God’s story.

The Advent season is perhaps the key time when we can naturally connect people with the story of Jesus. We don’t have to preach or harangue then with our message. We can simply tell the story as straightforwardly and honestly as we can, and let people make their own decision about whether to accept the gift Jesus offers.

Questions to Consider
How can you connect with people who don’t know Jesus this Advent season? In what ways can you use the Christmas story as a way to reach out to others and share the love of Jesus with them?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, thank you for sending your Son to us. Thank you for becoming one of us to show us how much you love us and want a relationship with us. Help me to share you with others. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – Choosing to Prepare

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Luke 2:25-38

We all know that Christmas can be an incredibly hectic, busy time, a season of madness unlike any other. There are so many ways in which the people, institutions and society around us can crowd into Christmas, demanding we do this and buy that and organise this and attend that event and so on and so on. So busy can December become that these days our crowded Christmas calendar seems to leak backwards into November too, as people seek to get a lot of the season’s busyness out of the way early. The Christmas season can be a massive stressful strain on us. If we let it.

Advent is a reminder to prepare ourselves for the coming of the king. But being prepared for something doesn’t just magically happen. We actually have to choose to prepare! We need to make a conscious decision – perhaps many conscious decisions – to choose what to focus on, to prioritise what we will devote our attention and time to; to prepare ourselves. The season of the king is a time of celebration and joy. But surely the most momentous event imaginable requires us to be ready. Simeon and Anna were prepared people, awaiting the king’s coming. They heard God’s promptings, they made themselves ready. When Jesus came, they were all set to meet him. Perhaps in this day and age the counter-cultural, Christian thing to do at this time is to cut back, to simplify, to refocus on the king who makes the season possible in the first place.

Questions to Consider
How are you choosing to prepare this year? What will you do to focus more on the coming of Jesus and all that this promises?

Prayer
Lord God, work in me by the power of your Spirit to prepare myself this Advent season. Speak to me again; renew my strength this season. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – Openness and Trust

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Luke 1:26-38

From the point of view of her contemporaries, Mary had many strikes against her that automatically made her completely unsuitable for use as an instrument of God; surely He couldn’t possibly have meant for this poor, young, female to be the vehicle for the coming of Israel’s long promised Messiah? But regardless of Mary’s (socially) perceived shortcomings, God chose her for this most staggering of tasks. Mary’s response was the important thing, not society’s views. She was open and obedient, questioning Gabriel not out of disbelief or a lack of faith, but more out of a desire to know more about what was going to happen.

Whatever your ability or experience, regardless of how supportive or difficult your background, whatever the extent of your education or connections, you are a beloved child of God, and one that is more than capable of faithfully serving God in whatever capacity He may choose. It isn’t God’s love for you or His desire to include you in His plans that stops Him working through you. Are you able to trust him? Do you believe his plans for his creation include you? Will you step up and be found ready?

It won’t necessarily be easy, either to step up or to then do what God may ask of you. Though God may have chosen Mary for this immensely important task, that didn’t automatically mean that success was assured, or that the road ahead for Mary (and those around her) would be easy. But she still stepped forward, offered herself, and trusted God to be with her.

Questions to Consider
Has God ever asked something difficult of you? How was God with you? What tends to hold you back at these times?

Prayer
Loving Father, you know everything about me inside and out, my strengths and weaknesses, my joys and fears. Help me hear you both when you call me and when you say “do not fear.” Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)