What a gift we have to read this week before Christmas, this last week of Advent. Jessica Russell from SMC is writing for us today sharing how this Christmas season is like no other to her this year. Thank you, Jessica for taking the time in this busy month to write and give us this gift of your Christmas story.
ADVENT… emergence, dawn, the arrival of a notable person, thing or event.
A few weeks ago, I didn’t know what to expect from SMC’s Women’s Advent Bible Study. To be perfectly honest, I’d never really given Advent much thought outside of dully anticipating the lighting of the Advent candles for four Sundays leading up to Christmas. Just another tradition in the little church I grew up in. Just another something else to check off the list.
But, giving it proper time for reflection and study, I’ve discovered that Advent is so much more than that—so much more than another to-do item scratched through, and certainly so much more than just another present not-so-gingerly unwrapped in the haste and excitement of Christmas morning.
Advent is the time in our faith life when we celebrate the arrival of God come to Earth, God in flesh, God gifting himself to us forever and ever. Oh what a gift!
The most moving thing about this gift for me is that I’ve come to know, without doubt, He’s so real…He is, He was, He will always be. This man, our Jesus, and that place called Bethlehem, and the gift of them and that night, spoken down through ages and ages before and after, and continuing to speak into us today. So far away in time and space, yet so close you can feel it. A ribbon through time that connects us all.
This shared heritage…one of peace, one of guidance from our loving Shepherd, one of love. The transcendence of His message and His greatness, the gift of Himself, all that came before Him and all that continued after His earthly life – that connectedness is what takes me over and calms my spirit when I take time to stop and think on it. I know He is here, near to me. I know I can find Him in the most subtle places and subtle ways. Turning my eyes and heart to Him means I can detect His presence just under the surface, when so many other things or people distract me away from Him or drowns Him out.
The eagerness we pick up on when the angels arrive to announce His birth to the shepherds, the eagerness of the Wise Men to get there and honor Him, is the same eagerness I feel for Him today. Now more than ever, should we be eager for Him, with an unquenchable thirst. If we are truly His light in this ever darkening world, what better time than this time of year to outwardly yearn for Him and yearn to be more like Him as we remember His coming, the start of His great rescue plan?
Like moths to the flame of His light, as His followers may we ever draw nearer to Him. Wherever we are in our faith walk, He lets us choose. He’s not a dictator. He gives us the choice because He loves us. If we are awakened in Him, then we will choose Him. We will be His light to our world for folks much farther away from His flame. If we can do that, then we will help them draw nearer and know our Heavenly Father. I can feel that warmth around me, when I’m attentive to it. My hope is that others can pick up on that warmth radiating from me to them, and that they will be eager to seek it out as well, flittering ever closer to light ahead.
Immanuel, God with us, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace:
I pray that we all will feel the connection to You and to each other that this Advent season reminds us of. I pray that these connections will give us strength to pursue you, despite the many distractions swirling around us, so that like moths on a darkened night, we can clearly see your flame shining forth and we will pursue it with an eagerness and zest that is contagious to those around us or following behind us.
Thank you for the gift of Jesus. Merry Christmas! Amen.
I wish Jesus had not said that…
…Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required.
(Luke 12:48, ESV)
If ever there was a statement I wish Jesus had not said, it would be this one. When I first read it, I was absolutely terrified! I immediately began to ponder… “what will Jesus require of me?!” I started making a mental inventory of what I thought had been given to me. “I can do this…or I can do that…but, PLEASE do not ask me to do that…!” Jesus quickly reminded me that He was the Giver of the talents (gifts, abilities) and ultimately, they belonged to Him. Whatever He would “require” was at His discretion. It was not up to me.
I knew one thing for certain…it called for personal action and accountability on my part. Not excuses!
The present day usage of the word “talent,” to indicate an ability or gift, is actually derived from the “Parable of the Talents” found in Matthew 25:14-30. In this story, we read of a wealthy individual who is going away on a long journey and entrusting three of his servants with His property. He knew them well enough to know what they were capable of, in that he gave to each according to their ability. They knew that one day the master would return and they would have to give an account for how they managed what had been entrusted to them.
The first two servants immediately took their allotment and worked to double it. The third servant buried his one talent in the ground and offered excuses for why he did nothing with it, when the master returned.
In Romans 12:6 (NLT), we see that, “In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well.”
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. (1 Cor. 12:4-6, NIV)
Like the servants in this parable, we have a choice. We have been entrusted by our Master (Jesus) with spiritual gifts, abilities, experiences, skills, journeys, training, etc. all of which make us unique. God has a plan for your life and invites you and me to join Him in making a difference in His Kingdom.
… To whom much has been given, much is required.
Will we make excuses that will sideline us… fear, insecurity, making comparisons, apathy, busyness, too old, dealing with our own stuff, or flat out disobey? Or will we make ourselves available…even if we do not know what it will require of us.
I can tell you this…
1) You can never out-dream God. He has a way of multiplying our efforts to do so much more than we can possibly imagine.
2) The rewards of using your “talents” for the glory of Jesus far out-weigh any sacrifices in our personal lives.
To hear these words, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much (put you in charge of many things). Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21) is the greatest reward of all!
This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. (1 Corinthians 4:1-2, NIV)
Now it’s YOUR turn! I’d love for you to share your thoughts on one or two of these questions that I’m challenging you to think about and answer. You can comment below so we can learn from and encourage one another!
What is your response to Jesus’ teaching on “to whom much is given, much is required?” Does that excite you or reveal personal anxiety/fear? Why?
Have you been like the servants who invested and multiplied the “talents” they received or like the one who hid the talent? Why?
If you’re using your talents, I’d love for you to share what it is the Lord has “entrusted” you to do.
As we continue to focus our stories on trusting God, Angela, our Groups and Missions pastor, is joining us again to share some of her thoughts about trusting in the claims of Jesus as Himself.
I still remember her sweet voice singing,
‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus, Just to take Him at His Word; Just to rest upon His promise, And to know, ‘Thus saith the Lord!’ …
She sung with such conviction and passion, I knew there was something deeper beyond her words, and I longed for that to be true of me someday. Her name was Agnes; she was a widowed senior the Lord used to nurture me in my faith when I was a child.
Oftentimes, when individuals are asked, “Who is Jesus?” their responses are all over the map. Some say Jesus was “a good man, a moral leader, a historical figure, a great teacher, or one of the prophets of the Christian Bible.”
On one occasion, Jesus asked this same question to his first disciples,
…’Who do people say I am?’ They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ (Mark 8:27-28)
Then Jesus posed this question directly to his disciples,
But what about you? ‘Who do you say I am?’
How would you respond to this question?
For those of us who have a relationship with Jesus, the response is vastly different. Like most relationships, we come to know others by spending time with them. By doing life together. By giving them space and opportunity to reveal themselves to us.
Our most reliable knowledge of Jesus comes from the Bible. Historically speaking, Jesus was a Jewish man who lived and preached a little over 2000 years ago in the region of Palestine—the modern-day country of Israel. The Bible paints an astonishing picture of this man and his works. He’s described to be of miraculous birth. His public years were spent preaching, teaching and performing miracles. He clashed with religious leaders of the day, and his life ended with a horrific, brutal death. But His story does not end there. The Bible also describes Jesus rising from the grave three days after his death!
What makes Jesus different from other religious revolutionaries? The difference lies in the claims He made about himself. He did not vie for political power or seek to establish his own religion. Instead, He made an unprecedented claim: that he was the Son of God and had come to heal, redeem, restore and reconcile man to God.
Jesus made these claims about himself:
The Bread of Life
The Light of the World
The Good Shepherd
The Son of Man
In the Father and the Father is in Me
The True Vine
Gentle and Humble in heart
The Lion of the tribe of Judah
The Rose of Sharon
A Healer, A Servant, A Sacrifice
The Almighty King
The Righteous Judge
The Living Word
Famous writer, C.S. Lewis once wrote that Jesus’ life and message were so unique that he simply demands a response from us today.
If Jesus was just another huckster religious leader, then he was a liar and must be ignored. But if Jesus really was who he said… then no matter how messed up our lives are, we can find real meaning and hope. It means there’s a way to break out of the pain and frustration of everyday life and have a purpose. The Christian faith is based on the belief that Jesus was exactly who he said he was. (Mere Christianity)
The apostle, Peter answered Jesus’ question with a profound declaration:
You are the Christ (Messiah), the Son of the living God. (Matthew 16:16)
He didn’t fully understand his own declaration until after Jesus had been crucified and resurrected. Peter later came to know the claims of Jesus in a “personal,” intimate way and it transformed his life. The same is true for countless followers of Jesus throughout the ages.
Personally, I know that I know Jesus is my Savior, Healer, Redeemer, Perfect Father, Provider, Comforter and Friend. Not by what I have read in books or even in the Bible; but by what I have experienced in my personal journey and relationship with Him.
Throughout the centuries, people have debated almost everything about the life and message of Jesus. But no matter what anyone else says, Jesus’ significance boils down to just one question: How will YOU respond to this man, Jesus, and his claims?
Jesus said, “I AM the way, the truth, and the life… ” (John 14:6).
Will you trust Him enough to give him your life? All of it; not in part? To trust Him wholly and completely…no matter what?
For me, that same hymn sung by Agnes so many years ago, has become the declaration of my own heart:
I’m so glad I learned to trust Thee, Precious Jesus, Savior, Friend;
And I know that Thou art with me, Wilt be with me to the end. AMEN!
[Works Cited: http://www.gospel.com/topics/jesus]