Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

I hope you've enjoyed hearing the story of God's plan as much as I've enjoyed retelling it. The story, of course, doesn't end at Jesus' birth, but continues through his life, his death, his resurrection, and his continuing life in his people. The story goes on...

Now turn off your computer and go enjoy a day of love and sharing with the people you care about. And if you don't have someone like that around, go find someone you can care for.

Photo credit: fruity monkey via Visual hunt / CC BY

Thursday, December 24, 2009

In the Fullness of Time

December 25
The time had come. The stars were aligned. God came to earth.
He didn’t come to thrash and punish, but to love and save. He came as a baby and grew through all the stages we’ve all been through. His life wouldn’t be easy, but it began with great fanfare, with visitors bearing gifts from the east, a flock of shepherds, and the beautiful welcome of the heavenly host.
What a blessed moment, the moment when God put on skin and started his life among us.
Today’s Ornament – The Manger
Today’s Bible Verse – Luke 2:14
"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Hard Truth

December 24
If you think it was hard for Mary to believe she was having God’s baby, imagine how her fiancĂ© Joseph, a humble carpenter, must have felt. Pregnant? By the Holy Spirit?
But when an angel of God appeared to him and told him the drill, Joseph didn’t get rid of Mary quietly. He married her. He loved her. And he raised the child with her for God.
Today’s Ornament – The Hammer
Today’s Bible Verse – Matthew 1:21-22,24
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Write It Down

December 23
A baby was born to Elizabeth and Zechariah, their promised son. Everyone expected them to name the unlikely baby after his father – Zech Jr. But God’s instructions were clear. The boy would bear the name John and he would prepare the people to receive Jesus. Zechariah, unable to speak unless he obeyed God’s instructions, wrote the name JOHN on a tablet. Zechariah regained his voice, but John’s voice would one day be much louder.
Today’s Ornament – The Tablet
Today’s Bible Verse – Luke 1:63
“John is his name.”

Monday, December 21, 2009

Mother and Child

December 22
Don’t you think Mary and her cousin Elizabeth shared a special bond from then on? The young unwed mother and the woman too old to be pregnant…but who was indeed pregnant? Mary, after she found out she was pregnant, rushed off to visit Elizabeth. From within his mother’s womb, John the Baptist recognized his Lord. Jesus had that effect on a lot of people.
Today’s Ornament – The Mother and Baby
Today’s Bible Verse – Luke 1:41-42
When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!”

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Favor Found

December 21
If we had to design the family God would choose to be born into, we might pick a royal family, or perhaps a nice middle class couple. But God, as you might have noticed by now, likes to use unexpected people to fulfill his promises. And so he chose Mary, a young unmarried woman, probably only a teenager. It wasn’t about her pedigree or her accomplishments. It was about her heart.
When God told her, through the angel Gabriel, that she would conceive a baby by the Holy Spirit, she didn’t scream or laugh or pinch herself. She asked a couple of questions and then she agreed to be obedient. Just like God knew she would.
Today’s Ornament – The White Lily
Today’s Bible Verse – Luke 1:30-38
But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name 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 the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end." "How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?" The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God." "I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

He's Coming Soon!

December 20
The time drew near. God’s people had returned to their homeland (yay!) but their land was occupied by the Roman empire (boo!). Everything was in place for God to come to earth. But how would the people recognize him? He needed a messenger to let people know he would arrive soon. He chose to bless an old barren couple, Elizabeth and Zechariah, with a son who would announce the coming of the Lord.
John the Baptist he’d be called, and he’d be a bit of a weirdo, hanging out in the desert, living on bugs and wild honey. But the people would flock to him, for he would promise them the answers they had been looking for.
Today’s Ornament – The Grasshopper
Today’s Bible Verse – Luke 3:4-6
As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: "A voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all mankind will see God's salvation.' "

Friday, December 18, 2009

Rebuilding the Walls

December 19
God’s people, as they have a way of doing, rose to the top. Esther, a beautiful Jewish orphan, was chosen by the king of Babylon to be his queen. She saved all the Jews from being wiped out by an evil plot by Haman, one of the king’s highest officials.
Nehemiah rose to the position of cupbearer for the king, a job of great importance, but he longed to return home to check on the remnant of Jews who remained in Jerusalem. The king allowed him to go back and even to rebuild the walls of the city. God was preparing his people to return home to worship him.
Today’s Ornament – The Wall
Today’s Bible Verse – Nehemiah 9:30-31
For many years you were patient with them. By your Spirit you admonished them through your prophets. Yet they paid no attention, so you handed them over to the neighboring peoples. But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Watching and Waiting

December 18
As the exile in Babylon stretched on, God’s people despaired. Would they ever be allowed to return to their homeland? Would God’s promise still be fulfilled? Would the Messiah ever come? Another of God’s prophets believed all of these would happen. If only the people would be faithful to God, he would give them all he promised and more. Habakkuk kept watch, waiting for God to end the violence and the suffering of his people.
Lord, come quickly!
Today’s Ornament – The Watchtower
Today’s Bible Verse – Habakkuk 2:1-3
I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint. Then the Lord replied: "Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.”

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

God Cries

December 17
Exile, as you can imagine, was miserable for the Israelites, so miserable that they could not even muster a song. Jeremiah, God’s prophet to Israel during their exile, cried rivers of tears for them. But God said that he wept even more over his people, who turned away from him and worshiped idols of clay and wood. How God mourned for his people. How he missed them when they left him.
Today’s Ornament – The Teardrop
Today’s Bible Verse – Jeremiah 9:1-2
Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears! I would weep day and night for the slain of my people. Oh, that I had in the desert a lodging place for travelers, so that I might leave my people and go away from them; for they are all adulterers, a crowd of unfaithful people.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Isaiah Speaks

December 16
Israel turned away from God again and again. He punished them for their disloyalty by allowing them to be taken into exile. During the time of these invasions, he spoke through his prophet Isaiah. Isaiah, though, didn’t feel worthy to be a spokesman for God. In a vision, he saw angels gathered around the throne of God. One of the angels took a hot ember and touched it to Isaiah’s lips, purifying him for the task of telling Israel about the coming Messiah.
Today’s Ornament – The Tongs and Coal
Today’s Bible Verse – Isaiah 9:6
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.

Monday, December 14, 2009

God Hears

December 15
Once again, the people of Israel turned away from God. The kingdom of Israel fought over who should rule it and where the throne should be. God's messenger, Elijah, grew discouraged by the lack of faith in the land, and especially by the king and queen’s wickedness. They worshiped the gods of neighboring countries. Elijah issued a challenge to this other god, Baal, and 450 of his prophets.
On Mount Carmel, the prophets of Baal spent all day trying to get their god to send down fire and got nothing. When Elijah stepped forward to ask for fire, the God of Israel sent down a fire so fierce it burned up the sacrifice, the stone altar, soil, and the water around it. In front of all the people of Israel, God proved once again that he had the power.
Today’s Ornament – The Stone Altar
Today’s Bible Verse – I Kings 18:36-39
At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: "O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again." Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, "The Lord--he is God! The Lord--he is God!"

Sunday, December 13, 2009

After God's Own Heart

December 14
King Saul sought after his own glory, directly disobeyed God, and God withdrew from him. For the second king of Israel, God chose the family of Jesse. Jesse had many regal-looking sons, but these were not who God would choose. He chose the youngest, a shepherd boy named David, not because of his height or his handsome face, but because his heart was modeled after God’s.
David was not a perfect king by any means, but every time he failed, he turned back to God for forgiveness and another chance. Through David, God would continue the promise he made to Abraham to bring a true king, not only to Israel but to the whole world.
Today’s Ornament – The Shepherd’s Staff
Today’s Bible Verse – I Samuel 16:6-7
When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, "Surely the Lord's anointed stands here before the Lord." But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Long Live the King

December 13

Now that Israel had a homeland, they wanted a king… just like all the other countries. God wasn’t too happy about his chosen people wanting to be like everyone else, but they whined and asked and whined some more, so God chose a king for them. He picked a man named Saul, a strong tall man who looked every bit the king. But Saul turned out to be an arrogant disaster of a leader, more concerned with his own power than with God's.

Only one king could ever satisfy the longings of God’s people. He'd wear a crown of thorns. And he wouldn’t be born for hundreds of years.

Today’s Ornament – The Crown

Today’s Bible Verse
Revelation 19:16

On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Friday, December 11, 2009

In the Lord's Mighty Power

December 12
The Israelites gave God plenty of chances to use weak people to show God’s strength. When the Israelites were being trounced by the Midianites, God chose Gideon (who he found hiding in a wine press) to lead the charge against the enemy. With an army of only 300, Gideon must have hoped for some secret weapon, but the only weapons were a trumpet, a pitcher and a torch.
Imagine the Israelites’ surprise when these simple objects, powered by Almighty God, proved more than enough to beat the Midianites.
Today’s Ornament – The Torch
Today’s Bible Verse – Judges 6:14-16
The LORD turned to him and said, "Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian's hand. Am I not sending you?""But Lord," Gideon asked, "how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family." The LORD answered, "I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together."

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Be Strong and Courageous

December 11
It took the Israelites a lot longer to get to the promised land than they expected. In fact, it took them a whole 40 years! When they’d finally learned the lessons they needed to learn in the wilderness, God gave them a new leader – Joshua. To the Israelites, it seemed like they could never beat the Canaanites who were living in their homeland. They were too strong, their armies too powerful, their walls too tall.
But God does his best work through weak people and he had something to prove. With only trumpets and faith, the Israelites watched the walls of Jericho fall down and they (and everyone else) could see that Jehovah God was the one true god.
Today’s Ornament – The Trumpet
Today’s Bible Verse – Joshua 1:6-9
"Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Top Ten

December 10
Across the Red Sea and into Sinai, Moses led God’s people. You’d think they would be happy to be freed from slavery, but they sure did complain a lot. They were thirsty, they were hungry, but when God gave them water and food, they complained about that, too. They camped around Mount Sinai while God spoke to Moses, telling him all the laws the people should follow.
God gave a lot of laws, all of them to help the people live happy, holy lives, but there were 10 main ones that we call the 10 commandments. The Israelites proved pretty quickly that they couldn’t even keep the 10 laws. In fact, they broke the 1st commandment while God was speaking!
Even as they melted their jewelry down to build an idol to worship, God was already planning to give a better solution for his people to come back to him.
Today’s Ornament – The 10 Commandments
Today’s Bible Verse – James 2:10
For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Saved By the Blood of the Lamb

December 9

Joseph and his brothers stayed in Egypt and raised their families there. Soon, their family (called the Israelites) outnumbered the Egyptians. The Egyptians made them slaves and the Israelites lived as slaves in Egypt for about 400 years. God chose Moses to lead his people out of slavery back to the land he had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, did not want to let the Israelites go, so God sent a series of plagues to change his mind. The last plague was the worst one. Every firstborn son in every household in Egypt died one night. But the firstborn of the Israelites did not die. God passed over every household who had followed his instructions by sacrificing a lamb.
The pharaoh let the Israelites go and Moses led them out of Egypt toward the promised land.
Today’s Ornament – The Lamb
Today’s Bible Verse –Exodus 12:26-27
And when your children ask you, 'What does this ceremony mean to you?' then tell them, 'It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.' " Then the people bowed down and worshiped.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Bad Plans Turned Good

December 8
Jacob had 12 sons. One of them, the one he loved the best, was called Joseph. Jacob gave his son Joseph a beautiful coat, but he gave nothing to his other sons. They were jealous. They sold Joseph into slavery and thought they’d seen the end of him, but God had bigger plans. He used Joseph to help save Egypt from a terrible famine. In fact, Egypt had so much food that Joseph’s brothers all came there looking for relief.
They found food, they found their brother, and they found that God can take wicked plans and use them for good.
Today’s Ornament – Many-colored Coat
Today’s Bible Verse – Genesis 50:19-20
But Joseph said to them, "Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives."

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Angels Up and Down

December 7
Isaac had a son named Jacob who was a bit of a scoundrel. After he tricked his brother out of his birthright and tricked his father out of his blessing, he had to run away. While he was on the run, he had a dream. In his dream, a ladder reached from earth to heaven and angels were going up and down the ladder. God promised Jacob he would give him the land he slept on, for himself and the nation that would come from his family.
Many years later, Jesus would say that he was the ladder, the connection between heaven and earth. (John 1:51)
Today’s Ornament – The Ladder
Today’s Bible Verse – Genesis 28:12-14
He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the Lord, and he said: "I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring."

Saturday, December 05, 2009

God Provides

December 6
Abram, now called Abraham, had the son he’d always wanted. And this son, Isaac, was promised to be the son through whom God’s promise would be fulfilled. Only God put Abraham to the test again by asking him to sacrifice Isaac. Can you imagine being asked to give up the one thing you love the most? Yet God never asks his people to do anything he wouldn’t do for them.
Abraham trusted that God would provide a way for his precious son to live.
And God did. He provided a ram to be sacrificed in place of Isaac. And the promise lived on.
Today’s Ornament – The Knife
Today’s Bible Verse – Genesis 22:7-8
Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, "Father?" "Yes, my son?" Abraham replied. "The fire and wood are here," Isaac said, "but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" Abraham answered, "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son."

Friday, December 04, 2009

Can You Count the Stars?

December 5
God likes to do great things through unlikely people. To start a great nation, he chose an old man with no children. He showed the whole night sky to Abram and promised that his descendants would be more than all the stars in the sky. Abram believed God and God called him righteous.
Today’s Ornament – Field of Stars
Today’s Bible Verse – Genesis 15:5-6
He took him outside and said, "Look up at the heavens and count the stars--if indeed you can count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be." Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

A Sign of the Promise

December 4
Just as predicted, man turned to wickedness. Only Noah stood righteous before God. God could have destroyed all of mankind, but he decided to give them another chance. On God’s instructions, Noah and his sons built an ark to hold all kinds of animals during a world-wide flood. The destruction of the world and all the people in it made God sad. He made a promise to Noah that he would never destroy the world with a flood again. He set a rainbow in the sky as a reminder of his promise.
Today’s Symbol – The Rainbow
Today’s Bible Verse – Genesis 9:14-15
Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Knowledge of Good and Evil

December 3
When God made the first two people, Adam and Eve, he loved them very much. He walked in the garden with them in the cool of the evening. He only gave them one rule – do not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. But Adam and Eve, being human, could not resist the fruit, especially after Satan the serpent told them how tasty it must be. They ate it and, by doing so, incurred the punishment of death. In his mercy, God allowed them to live, but he put in motion the plan that would save Adam and Eve and their children and their children’s children from the death they all deserved.
He promised that through Eve's offspring, Satan would be crushed.
Today’s Ornament – The Apple
Today’s Bible Verse – Gen. 3 :13-15
Then the Lord God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate." So the Lord God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, "Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel."

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

In the Beginning, God.

December 2
Before creation, God is. And with him, and part of him, is Jesus, God who would be flesh already prepared to take on the burden of the people he has not yet made.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and earth. And he looked at all he made and declared that it was good.
Today’s Ornament – The Earth
Today’s Bible Verse – John 1:1
In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God and the Word was God.