Posted in 2021 Advent devotions

The end of the road?

“The Road to Bethlehem” Advent devotion for December 24, 2021. Photo by Matt Botsford on Unsplash

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19,20)

So we are at the end of our Advent journey, the road to Bethlehem. Are you glad? Are you relieved? Are you sad that it’s over? Were you surprised or disappointed this time around?

In a way, for Jesus, his arrival in Bethlehem was just the beginning. Now, he would set out on another road, the road to Jerusalem. It would take him about thirty-three years. This next journey will end at a place called Calvary, just outside Jerusalem, where Jesus would die on a cross.

I guess you could say that our annual arrival at Bethlehem and the celebration of Christ’s birth is the beginning of a new journey for us, too. We don’t know how long our journey will last or where the road will take us. But in time we will arrive at the moment of our death. We will breathe our last, and go to be with the Lord. Our bodies will be laid to rest to await the resurrection.

Hopefully this Advent journey along the road to Bethlehem has reawakened in us a desire to make the most of our travel time. We will meet many faithful people along the way, who will challenge our faith. We will meet some who have heard of the Christ. Maybe they will join us on our journey. We will get lost at times, and our Shepherd will find us and return us to the right path. We will take a turn here or there in pursuit of something we think will make us happy. Disappointed, we’ll come back for forgiveness and get back on track. We’ll get tired, but Jesus will remind us to rest. He’ll feed us, lead us to still waters to drink, and renew our strength.

Writing devotions like this is just like all of the above. It’s a long haul. Not as long as Lent, but a race run through a very busy time of the year. There are temptations to quit. After all, who reads this drivel? There are many other things to do, worthy of my time and energy.

But the journey is good for me. It makes me stop and think about prophecies, people and places. I thought I knew the road to Bethlehem very well, but I always learn something new. And I remember that some have never taken this route before. Maybe I can bring a few more along with me.

If you’ve read even one of these devotions, I thank you. I’m grateful you came along for the ride. You’ve encouraged me to keep going, not give up, stay on track, and ponder the amazing grace found along the road to Bethlehem.

Thank you, Lord, for this Advent journey. Keep me on the right track, eyes fixed on you, the author and perfecter of my faith. Amen.

Posted in 2021 Advent devotions

The people you meet

“The Road to Bethlehem” Advent devotion for December 23, 2021. Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

“Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” (Luke 1:28)

Those are the words of the angel Gabriel when he appeared to Mary in Nazareth. Little did she know that she would soon be on the road to Bethlehem. This encounter made me think about some of the interesting people we meet on the road to Bethlehem.

This Advent season has been a busy time in our community and for the church. So many houses are being built, so many have recently moved to our area and I have met so many new people in worship. Add to that those who are on vacation and family who come to visit and I get to meet someone new every time we open our doors as well as each time I take our dog for a longer walk.

I got to meet a lot of my granddaughter’s classmates at a recent birthday party. I met some friends and relatives at a member’s recent funeral. I got to know the workers who were shingling our roof and coating our driveway. A new dentist checked out my teeth and a few random residents said hi at a recent visit to a memory care place. As the month of December propels me towards Christmas, I’ve encountered a lot of people along the way.

Who have you run into? Your short list might include delivery drivers, store workers, baristas, food servers, new neighbors, dog groomers, doctors and nurses, a newborn child, a substitute teacher, a future in-law, or a sheriff’s deputy. I’m always amazed and blessed when I pause to recall all the people I talk to in a day. Some I talk to every day. Some I meet for the first time. I’ve learned to appreciate each encounter.

The people we encounter on the biblical road to Bethlehem are familiar to us. Angels, Mary, Joseph, shepherds, and Jesus meet us along the road each Advent. But we can always learn something new about them and from them. Each encounter is a blessing and a gift from God, whether in the pages of scripture or in daily life.

I hope you’ll take a moment to think about that today. Who did you meet, talk to, hear from, or learn from? Who did you help, teach, or listen to? We’ll be in Bethlehem in just a few days. I’m sure you road will be crowded. Enjoy!

Thank you, Lord, for all the people I meet on the road to Bethlehem. Help me slow down just a little to get to know them, learn from them, and celebrate with them. Amen.

Posted in 2021 Advent devotions

A tiny road

“The Road to Bethlehem” Advent devotion for December 22, 2021. Photo by Thomas Grillmair on Unsplash

Each year I bring several totes full of nativities down from the attic. We display these miniature models of the Christmas story all over our home every December, tiny people on the road to a tiny Bethlehem.

We love our nativities. They come from different cultures, are made from different media and are all uniquely designed. Some are toys for the grandkids to play with and reenact the birth of Jesus. Christmas villages and model railroads are part of the season as well, but it wouldn’t seem like Christmas without a little holy family, shepherds and sheep, angels and wise men on display in our house.

Is this how God sees our world? Lots of tiny people riding on tiny trains and living in tiny homes with tiny pets? Tiny shepherds come to a tiny manger to see a tiny baby who has just been born. Tiny camels and tiny wise men arrive with tiny gifts for the tiny king.

But that tiny baby is God, who is now a part of this tiny world. He’s surrounded by grown ups who tend big sheep and bring big gifts. He’s the little one in a big, big world.

How do you view God? Is he big and powerful, or tiny and helpless? On the one hand, as Solomon said, you can’t built a big enough temple or church to contain him. Yet, he fits inside a mother and a manger. He’s small enough to have over for supper. And he’s big enough be in the highest, lowest and farthest places we could ever go. All that makes God just the right size. Big enough to handle our problems with ease. Small enough for us to eat and drink and receive his gifts of grace. Big enough that we can find refuge in the shadow of his wings. Small enough that we can fit in our hearts.

Very few things are the right size. Too much food at the restaurant. Not enough memory in your phone for all your pictures. Pants too short for a rapidly growing child. Suitcase too big for an overhead bin. One size might fit all, but not your head.

But as Paul reminds us, God’s grace is sufficient, that is, just the right size for us.

Thank Lord, for fitting into my world and for making a place for me in yours. Amen.

Posted in 2021 Advent devotions

Hurry up

“The Road to Bethlehem” Advent devotion for December 21, 2021. Photo by Andy Beales on Unsplash

[The shepherds] went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. (Luke 2:16)

I find it interesting that the shepherds hurried down the road to Bethlehem to see the newborn Christ child. I wonder what “haste” looked like in first century Israel. A quick walk? A run? I don’t imagine shepherds having any other forms of transportation.

For us, fast is never fast enough. We covet faster internet, faster delivery of purchases, faster acting medications and immediate responses to our texts. We look for the fastest moving check-out line at the grocery store. We check a map app to find the fastest route to our destination. And why is our food taking so long?

One of the hardest things to get used to on mission trips to other countries was the seeming absence of time. I’m used to doing pretty much everything by the clock. From waking up to starting a class to keeping appointment, I’ve got to be on time. In other cultures, though, time just doesn’t matter that much. Your departure time is whenever you happen to leave. Lunch is whenever the food is ready. A meeting begins when everyone has shown up. The clinic closes when the last patient is seen. People are always more important than the clock.

Perhaps “with haste” doesn’t mean a sprint to the manger. Maybe it’s more like, “Let’s go right now.” What are we waiting for? Let’s make this trip a priority. Someone has come that we need to see.

At the very end of the bible, Jesus said, “I am coming soon.” Two thousand years later, we realize his idea of soon isn’t ours. Soon for us means a few minutes, not a few millenia. But he didn’t say, “I’ll be there in a few minutes.” We’re still learning what “soon” means in the context of eternity.

When we’re children, it seems to take forever for Christmas to arrive. And the overnight minutes before Christmas morning crawl by. For parents, though, it comes too quickly, and there’s barely enough time to get everything done. After three days visiting my dad in assisted living, he always said, “Do you have to go already?” I felt like I had been there three months.

Never put off the ones you love. Call them or visit them now. You don’t know how much longer they’ll be around. Do it with haste. And then savor every moment as if it were an hour. One day you’ll wish you had more time.

Come soon (with haste), Lord Jesus. But in the meantime, help me savor the wait. Amen.

Posted in 2021 Advent devotions

A music filled road

“The Road to Bethlehem” Advent devotion for December 20, 2021. Photo by Ryk Naves on Unsplash

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)

No other holiday or celebration is filled with as much song as the Christmas season. Our catalogue of patriotic songs for Independence Day is a distant second. Nothing else comes close.

Winter concerts, worship services, radio playlists, and background shopping music feature both sacred and secular songs about Christmas. Songs about Jesus, Mary, Joseph, shepherds, angels, wise men, drummers, snowmen, Santa, reindeer, the Grinch, snow, sleigh rides, donkeys and hippos fill our ears. It’s hard not to hum, sing or whistle along with them.

Music is a part of God’s creation. The sound of birds singing accompanies the dawn. Mournful whale song sounds in the depths. Wolves and dogs howl, wind whistles through the trees, sheets of rain beat out a rhythm, crickets chirp, a snake hisses, a hawk shrieks, a brook babbles, and thunder rumbles.

Sometimes it’s a solo. Other times it’s a huge chorus of voices. A quartet gives you four part harmony. A piano, a bass and a drummer are all you need for a trio. It sounds like a million frogs are singing outside my house after a summer shower. Or it’s just my voice in a morning shower.

In scripture, the nations, the trees of the forest, the mountains and the hills, the wilderness and desert, and the mute all sing for joy. They sing when God comes to save, renew, and restore them. They sing because the Lord bring them back to life.

In scripture, the Lord himself sings (Zephaniah 3:17). No wonder his people, created in his image, want to sing. It’s who we are. It’s because of who he is. Most importantly, it’s because of what he’s done. The Redeemed have a song to sing. You and I have a song to sing because our God has come, the Christ is born, and our Savior is alive!

Most people I meet tell me they cannot sing. The cannot sing their way out of a paper bag. They cannot sing to save their lives. They can’t carry a tune in a bucket. Most of the time that’s just not true. You may not have an award winning voice, but you are part of that earthly and heavenly chorus who sings the praises of the Lamb on the throne. He’s worthy of anything and everything you’ve got.

Lately, some of my best moments have been singing with my young grandchildren. Especially the Christmas songs. “Away in a manger,” “Silent night,” “Joy to the World.” Sing it again, Apa. Gladly. I can use all the practice I can get for eternity!

Thank you, Lord, for all those who join me in singing your praises. Amen.

Posted in 2021 Advent devotions

A dark road

“The Road to Bethlehem” Advent devotion for December 19, 2021. Photo by Thanos Pal on Unsplash

“Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light.”

The road to Bethlehem is dark, but not just because it was night. The unfaithfulness of the people had brought the shadow of God’s judgment on their lives. The darkness of death pursues those who follow the way of sin. Without Christ, every road, every day, and every life is shrouded in darkness.

The prophet Isaiah tells us about the day when all that will change. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone” (Isaiah 9:2). One day will come when Jesus will say, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

We work very hard to illuminate our world, especially at Christmas. We light up our trees, our homes, and our churches, holding back the darkness that stalks us each night as the sun slips away. For those of us who celebrate the Savior’s birth, these lights reminds us that “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. Where God is, there will be light!

If a picture you take on your phone seems too dark, you can always adjust the brightness. A couple of finger movements and it’s just like someone turned on the lights. That’s what Jesus comes to do for us. He turns on the lights, just like God did on the first day of creation. Just like he did when he restored sight to a blind man. Just like he did on the mountain of his transfiguration. Just like he does every day when the sun comes up!

Some days just seem gloomy, don’t they? Overcast mornings with rain in the forecast. Those days when we lost someone, even if it happened a long, long time ago. Days when we have to say goodbye to a loved one. That’s when it’s a good idea to pay attention to the prophetic word, which is like “a light shining in a dark place,” reminding us of the light and the life Jesus brings.

Thank you for the light that shines in Bethlehem, in our world and in my heart. Amen.

Posted in 2021 Advent devotions

The shepherds return

“The Road to Bethlehem” Advent devotion for December 18, 2021. Photo by Joseph Chan on Unsplash

And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Luke 2:20)

The road to Bethlehem now runs in the other direction. After the shepherds go to see Mary, Joseph and the baby lying in a manger, they retrace their steps back to the fields. Their conversation is now filled with thanks and praise for everything they have just seen. From the angels to the holy family, it has been quite a night.

Every trip to church is followed by a trip back home. After every worship experience we retrace our steps, back into whatever world we just came from. Some travel alone. Some need a van to hold everyone. But we never return empty handed.

With hearts and souls filled with the gifts of God’s grace, we return with stories to tell, a clear conscience, restored hope, and maybe a new challenge to pursue. We’ve shared a space with expectant mothers, fussy babies, praying (and playing) toddlers, talented musicians, and aging saints. We heard a familiar passage, learned something new, jotted down an idea, furrowed our brow, and chuckled to ourselves. We’ve heard beautiful music, seen the colors of the season, embraced a long-time friend, smelled fresh flowers, and tasted that the Lord is good.

Jesus invited some to drop what they were doing and follow him. He then released those followers, telling them to go. As they went they couldn’t help but talk about what they had seen and heard. Just like the shepherds, we come to see and then we go to tell.

I’ll bet the shepherds talked about that night for a long, long time. And I’ll bet some got tired of hearing that story over and over again. But we’re still listening to their story to this very day. We never tire of it. We repeat it, sing about it, and act it out. We join them on the road to Bethlehem, along with so many others, glorifying and praising God for all that they had seen and heard that night.

Thank you, Lord, for the chance to come and see, and then go and tell. I never get tired of the story. Amen.

Posted in 2021 Advent devotions

Let’s go!

“The Road to Bethlehem” Advent devotion for December 17, 2021.

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” (Luke 2:13-15)

The shepherds are now on the road to Bethlehem. They’ve heard the announcement of Christ’s birth, they’ve seen a multitude of the heavenly host, and they’ve witnessed heaven’s praises that surround the throne of God. What are whey going to do now? “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this!”

When the ambulance or fire truck drive by our house, lights flashing but sirens silenced, I step out to see which neighbor has dialed 911. I wonder what’s going on?

Whether it’s a serious accident or just a fender bender, highway traffic crawls to a stop because everyone want to see what happened.

Crash! What was that? Maybe someone dropped a plate and it just broke into a million pieces. Gotta go see what happened.

Knock, knock. You glance up and see the delivery truck drive away. And then you go to see what they just dropped off at your front door.

A few thousand years later, we certainly understand why the shepherds took the road to Bethlehem that night. How we wish we could go and see the baby Jesus, wrapped in cloths, lying in a manger. We’ve seen it in pictures, in movies and in our minds. We set out nativities so the scene is displayed in our homes. If it meant we had to stay up all night keeping watch over a flock of sheep, we would gladly do that to have the chance to go and see what the angels announced!

I believe this is part of why we, like Paul, desire to depart and be with the Lord. Of course we want to leave this world filled with suffering and sadness. But we also want to go and see him. We want to see the one we’ve heard so much about. We want to see Jesus!

In the meantime, I get to hear the announcement of the angel. I get to join in the angels’ song of praise. I’ve got our route planned out – he is the way! When it’s time, I’m also going to say, “Let’s go!”

Lord, I’m jealous. The shepherds get to go and see! I can’t wait to join them. Thanks for making that possible. Amen.

Posted in 2021 Advent devotions

The heavenly host

“The Road to Bethlehem” Advent devotion for December 16, 2021. Photo by Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:13-14)

Suddenly, the road to Bethlehem is crowded. In an instant, the shepherds and the angels are joined by the heavenly host, the army of God. Just as they have always surrounded the Lord’s throne with their praises (Isaiah 6, Revelation 5), so they are now stationed at a different kind of throne, a manger in Bethlehem.

We’ve caught glimpses of them before. Jacob saw them going up and down the stairs to heaven. They escorted the prophet Elijah to heaven. Another prophet, Elisha saw them surrounding an enemy army.

Later, they would minister to Jesus after his temptation in the wilderness. They would be on standby when Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane. A few would remain at the tomb to let the women know that he had risen, just as he said.

The presence of the angels on the road to Bethlehem are a sure sign that the Lord is near, the Lord has come, and God is with us.

The psalmist tells us that the Lord is enthroned on the praises of his people (Psalm 22:3). Wherever God’s people gather to pray, praise and give thanks, the heavenly host will be nearby, too. They are surrounding us with protection. They are on standby, just in case we stumble and need them. In Holy Communion, where an altar in the sanctuary becomes his throne, they join in our praises. Suddenly, church is very crowded as “With angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify his glorious name, saying, ‘Holy, holy, holy!'”

What the shepherds saw with their eyes that night, we see by faith, firmly believing our Lord’s promise to be with us. What the shepherds saw that night, we will also see one day when we join a great multitude that no one can number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, praising God around his heavenly throne.

I praise you Lord, accompanied by the heavenly host, knowing that you are near. Give me a 20/20 faith, as I anticipate seeing you with my eyes one day. Amen.