When was the last time you were able to set aside some special time to wait and prepare for something great that you just knew was coming, just around the corner? Think of it this way: Like a little kid who can’t wait for Christmas morning, eagerly sneaking peeks out of their window, hoping to catch a glimpse of a sleigh and reindeer coming over the moonlit horizon.
That’s what we’re talking about. Waiting with an expectation of something great.
Mission Hills Worship has written four original songs for each weekend of Advent. We will have a live debut of these songs during our services, but you can also download these from Spotify to enjoy throughout December.
Sounds kind of “old-fashioned,” doesn’t it? Like something fancy from a faded, distant memory of years past. And while “old-fashioned,” may seem “out of touch,” we think it’s more relevant than ever. As our world continues to hurtle towards more and more “progress,” it can often feel like the pace of that “progress” makes it impossible to keep up. This is why we think it’s time to take a page out of the playbook of those faded, distant memories sitting on a shelf in your Grandma’s old photo albums.
The word Advent comes from the Greek parousia, which later became the Latin adventus. It’s a chunk of time that the early church used to set aside for “waiting or anticipating with great expectation” that included preparing for something great that’s just on the horizon.
This year, you are invited to join us as we celebrate and observe Advent, and commit to a simple season of waiting with great anticipation of what God has done and will do. We hope that this simple devotional serves as a resource to help guide you to prepare Him room by spending a few moments each week following the traditional Advent calendar to ensure that this year, we set an intentional pace where we can keep up with the hope, peace, joy, and love Christ brings us all through the miracle of Christmas.
“The Lord is coming, always coming. When you have ears to hear and eyes to see, you will recognize him at any moment of your life. Life is Advent; life is recognizing the coming of the Lord” | Henri Nouwen
ADVENT DEVOTION | HOPE: WEEK 1
“A thrill of hope, a weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn …”
Sounds great, doesn’t it? We sing this lyric every year about this time, and our bet is that it might have lost its punch a long time ago. Afterall, it sounds too good to be true: “Hope?” “Rejoice?” That can sometimes seem too good to be true, especially in the midst of our busy 21st century American lives.
But here’s the thing: It is. And it’s actually in the midst of such stress and strife where that hope is more important than ever.
Here’s what we mean:
People were busy and stressed a couple of thousand years ago, too, especially Jews living under Roman rule in Israel. For centuries, Israel had struggled mightily, riding a non-stop roller coaster that included terrible leadership, spiritual rebellion, and multiple invasions by foreign powers.
And yet, through it all, they still held out hope for something more, something that would save them from all their strain and stress. Someone who might be able to lead them to a better tomorrow by overcoming their today and yesterday …
Why? Because despite their incredibly tragic ups and downs, God had made them a promise: A promise of hope.
And here’s the thing: Their God gave them good reason to hope in the midst of their darkness because He’d proven Himself trustworthy again and again.
From the first moments after the Fall in the Book of Genesis, God began to reveal that He already had a plan to rescue them from the death and destruction that their own sinful choices had introduced into the world (Genesis 3:15). He later formalized that plan into a covenant with a man named Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3), promising Abraham through him, God would bring a Savior. Then during the Book of Exodus, God not only supernaturally rescued Abraham’s people out of bondage but used the entire story as a preview of what He would ultimately do generations later through that Savior.
In the centuries that followed, God kept His promise to the Hebrews despite their repeated rebellion. God would show them mercy and save them, things would be ok for a while, but then eventually, their fallen human nature would take over and they’d mess everything up again; God would then show them incredible mercy again and save them again … and this cycle went on and on.
… which brings us back to the time of Roman rule.
God had been silent for 400 years. No prophets, no restored kingdom, nothing … just foreign occupation, persecution, and deafening silence. Where was God? Had He forgotten Israel? Had He forgotten His promise? Did they still have reason for hope?
It was then, in the midst of that darkness, in the midst of that long, troubling silence, that “the thrill of hope” finally arrived. But hope didn’t come in the form of a charismatic leader, a nice sentiment, or a new, powerful political movement like some had expected … no, hope came in through the backdoor, in a humble and unexpected way, in the form of a baby born to a young, unmarried girl, in a dark corner of a vast empire, as a baby in a feeding trough …
Because hope is a person, and His name is Jesus.
And He came to save us all. Everyone. Israel, and the rest of the world, too.
God didn’t send what we thought or expected; He sent us waaaaay more than we ever could have imagined: He sent us His Son, the only one who could finally end the cycle of our fallen, sinful, messy world.
Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, stepped out of heaven and onto the stage of reality to finally accomplish what centuries of striving and sacrifice and laws could not: putting an end to the brutal cycle of sin and death by paying the price for it, once and for all (John 3:16-17). For all people, ever. You, us, everyone …
And the rest of the story in the Bible is clear: Jesus’s free gift of salvation has to be received to be enjoyed. Like a lottery ticket, the prize doesn’t mean anything if you don’t claim it.
That’s hope. Real, lasting, trustworthy hope.
“So light a candle in the darkness
Pushing back the black of night
And remember you’re not forgotten
God has come to bring you life”
– Hope Will Find You, an original song by Danny Oertli,
Weekend Experience Executive Pastor
So while it may sometimes seem like life is crazier than ever, and our reasons for hope seem smaller than ever, given the long narrative of history, that just simply isn’t true. God has proven Himself faithful, over and over again, even when – and especially when – we are not. Jesus has overcome; He is hope.
Have you accepted His free gift of salvation yet? Have you cashed the greatest lottery ticket ever? It’s there, yours for the taking; all you have to do is this:
Acknowledge that you are a sinner, and that no matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, there is nothing you can do to save yourself (none of us can). Then, repent. In the Bible, the word “repent” is an idea of “turning away” from one thing, and turning towards another. Turn away from your sin, and towards Jesus. Ask His forgiveness, and declare your faith in Him by asking Him into your life.
That’s it. There’s nothing else to do, because He’s already done everything for you!
The Bible tells us that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13) and that now, you are a “new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
We have great reason for hope because we have a good God Who always keeps His promise. Jesus came to save us all, just like God promised He would, and because of His faithfulness, we have a hope for the future. And that’s what hope during Advent is all about, Charlie Brown.
Chris Goble | Groups Director
ADVENT DEVOTION | PEACE: WEEK 2
“Silent night, holy night!
All is calm, all is bright.
Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child.
Holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace”
When was the last time you felt peace? Has it been a while? You’re not alone.
Whether it’s been the craziness of the last few years, or something you’re going through right now, talking about “peace” this time of year can sometimes feel as insulting as it does cliche. We get dressed up, go to church to make Grandma happy, and mouth words like “peace” to songs that just feel … hollow … insincere … irrelevant.
But here’s what we want you to know: While you may feel that way, you don’t have to stay feeling that way. Want proof? Look no further than “Exhibit A: Joseph.”
We actually don’t know a lot about the man who’d raise Jesus as His earthly father. Sure, you may have heard about him, remember bits of his story, and maybe even seen him portrayed in school plays or tv specials growing up, but the fact is, we don’t even have a record of his words! That’s right: At no point in the Bible is there even a mention of something Joseph said. Crazy, right?
So why is he so important? Because apparently to God, what Joseph said isn’t nearly as important as what Joseph chose to believe, and then what he chose to do about it.
Joseph’s marriage to a young girl named Mary had been arranged with her father, as was the custom in that part of the world at that time. All seemed to be going according to plan when something happened that shattered the peace of Joseph’s plan:
Mary became pregnant.
Back then, this was one of the most scandalous things that could happen. Mary and Joseph were not even married yet, nor had they been together yet, so this left only possibility in Joseph’s mind — Mary had committed adultery and was pregnant with another man’s child.
In the eyes of the law, Mary could be put to death by stoning: People would throw rocks at her until she died! Joseph would be dishonored, looked upon with great shame that he would almost never recover from. When was the last time you were looked down on? Have you ever had people whisper behind your back, glancing at you through judgmental side eyes? Joseph believed this would be his destiny for the rest of his days.
But it was right then that God showed up. While Joseph felt anything but peace, an Angel of the Lord’s came to tell Joseph that through this seemingly un-peaceful situation, God was bringing true and everlasting peace for the whole world!
“But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” | Matthew 1:20-21
Mary was pregnant with the long-awaited Messiah, the Savior of the world!
Imagine the weight Joseph felt when he woke up. While we don’t know all the things that he must have thought, or felt, or even said to himself, what we can imagine is this: None of it was probably very peaceful. And despite the lack of peace Joseph must have felt, he chose to act with great faith in God.
“When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.” | Matthew 1:24-25
Faith can be hard, and in the midst of all that our world can throw at us, peace can seem elusive. So then how can we get peace?
By following the example of Joseph.
How we feel is far less important than what we choose to believe. Like Joseph, in spite of how we might feel, we can still choose faith, and then choose to live according to that faith.
Joseph chose faith in God, and then chose to act accordingly. As a result, true peace entered the world that first Christmas, and the hope of peace for the entire world endures today because of Joseph’s choice. The rest is literally history.
“Then You come like a fire born into darkness
With a voice that shatters fear
And the law is forever on your shoulders
At last the wait is over as You come
Our Prince of Peace”
– Prince of Peace, an original song by Justin Curtis Adams,
Creative Arts Pastor
Our feelings are powerful, and our circumstances often feel like anything other than peaceful. But it’s in the midst of that turmoil where God is waiting to do his best work. What’s going on and how we feel right now is not permanent, but God is. He is everlasting, and so is His promise of peace. He has proven His faithfulness again and again, and so we choose faith, and that choice can bring peace. Just ask Joseph.
Chris Goble | Groups Director
ADVENT DEVOTION | JOY: WEEK 3
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” | Luke 2:8-11
Does anyone else hear Linus’s voice from A Charlie Brown Christmas when you read that passage? You can almost see him on that stage, clutching his trusty blanky … “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”
Do you feel that joy? The Christmas season can often feel exhausting from all the stress, busyness, and parties; the result is that we often don’t have much left in the tank to experience that joy. You might even find yourself thinking, “If I was just a little more prepared …” or “If I just wasn’t worried about money this year …” or “if I just had a little more time … then maybe I could experience that joy.”
Can you relate? And do you notice what we’re focusing on when we think this: We’re focusing on our circumstances, and how much we regret them.
That’s not what this season is supposed to be all about, Charlie Brown!
Consider what James, the brother of Jesus, says:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” | James 1:2-4
“Pure joy?” When we “face trials of any kind?” You might be shaking your head and rolling your eyes as you read that; sure, it sounds great, and maybe a little “churchy,” but is that even realistic? The Apostle Paul tells us something very similar in Philippians:
“…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” | Philippians 4:11b-13
Easy for him to say, right? Wrong.
Because here’s the thing: When Paul wrote this, he was in prison, after many years living on the road, going from town to town, and often beaten and run out of town by the very people he was there to serve. And now, he’s sitting in prison in Rome, waiting to die.
So how on earth could he write this? Simple: Paul’s situation did not hinder his joy. I don’t think “content” here means “merely content” as in, “I can’t complain” or “I’m okay with it.” No, for Paul, true contentment includes joy.
And that joy is not tied to our circumstances; it’s not a product of what we have planned that day, how that plan goes (or doesn’t go), or how we feel when we roll out of bed; it’s not about our mood, our bank accounts, or the state of our relationships. No, the joy Paul was pointing towards is so much more.
“Oh my God, You take broken things
Make them beautiful again
More than they could have been
When I feel destroyed
You tune up all my strings
Make the music play again
Louder than it’s ever been
You’re my joy”
– You’re My Joy, an original song by Danny Oertli,
Weekend Experience Executive Pastor
Think about it this way: When the angels appear to the shepherds, everything changed, and nothing changed. They were still going to be shepherds, the lowliest of the low. Their circumstances would still be the same as they were the day before.
And yet, everything changed, because even though their present moment felt the same, their forever would never be. And that’s a reason for great joy, Charlie Brown!
In many ways, your situation this Christmas may be similar to last Christmas and the Christmas before. You might be experiencing some trying circumstances, some good circumstances, or more than likely, a mix of both. But only Jesus brings joy that transcends whatever we’re going through; only Jesus invites us to raise our gaze to the horizon of eternity, above the stress, the busyness, and the noise, and know that while your situation may not have changed, the Messiah has come … and that means everything has changed.
Matt Winter | Groups Associate Director
ADVENT DEVOTION | LOVE: WEEK 4
Nowadays, we check out the “Deal of the Day” on our Prime apps or some other website. Maybe you’ve stood in long lines on Black Friday hoping to score the big screen TV for cheap, or saved all year to stash tickets to the dream vacation in someone’s stocking, or fought through lines just to grab the last of that that year’s “hot toy” just so you could see the elation in your kids’ eyes on Christmas morning. Whatever your story is, all the effort is probably rooted in the same desire: We want those that we love to feel special and appreciated. We want to see the look in their eyes when they open the perfect gift, chosen especially for them, and then regale them with the zany story of long lines in freezing weather outside a Best Buy or Walmart!
And while the “perfect gift” might be “perfect” for that moment or for a season, eventually, it fades. We may have some great memories or pictures that last, but by next year, we’re right back in the same lines or incessantly checking the same deals on the same apps. Our love for those around us hasn’t faded, but the gift probably has. (Parents: Who hasn’t shaken your heads while seeing last year’s “must-have” present end up in the yard sale pile by summer?)
See, any gift we could ever buy will ultimately fade. It’ll express our love for a moment, but that moment will fade, too. That’s because all the gifts we have or could ever give pale in comparison to the ultimate gift that expresses everlasting and ultimate love: Jesus.
He is the reason we celebrate Christmas. He is the reason we have eternal life. He is the perfect gift that expresses perfect love! He is love, and he outlasts our seasons, our whims, our circumstances, our anxieties, and even our greatest fear.
“Your love is greater than my hope
Your love is deeper than my peace
Your love is higher than my joy
Perfect love that is greater than my fear”
– Prince of Peace, an original song by Justin Curtis Adams,
Creative Arts Pastor
God loved us so much that he gave the ultimate gift – His Son – so we could have eternal life with him. There is no “Naughty or Nice List” with God; there is only grace, mercy, and perfect, everlasting love. Nothing we do now or have ever done makes us worthy of this great gift. All we have to do to receive the ultimate gift of God’s love is believe in him. This is the Gospel, the Good News about Jesus, and it’s best reflected in this one simple verse you may have seen before:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” | John 3:16
So while we all may strive and angst to find the perfect gift for our loved ones this season, we can all rest easy because God has already given us the perfect gift that expresses His ultimate, perfect love: His Son, Jesus. He’s the perfect, everlasting gift that’s offered to everyone.
Have you received Him yet?
Lisa Poellot | Groups Coordinator
ADVENT DEVOTION | CHRIST: WEEK 5
“It was no silent night
There was a war cry
A shot in the dark at the heart of the dark
It was a war cry
The gates of hell are trembling
‘Cause they heard the war cry
A volley of light that shattered the night
It was a war cry
– The War of Christmas
It’s ironic how many of our familiar Christmas songs paint the Son of God’s entry into the world as a scene of tranquility and silence. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Of course Jesus cried. Yes, he was fully God, but he was also fully human … and what human enters the world without a cry or two?
But the cries most infants make are exclamations of pain and shock. They’re the sound of unsuspecting souls discovering the world is bigger, scarier and less secure than they ever imagined. They’re the sound of disappointment that the world isn’t the warm, cozy, safe place they had thought it to be.
But Jesus’ cries were different. Jesus wasn’t surprised or disappointed. He wasn’t caught off guard by the cold or the dark. He was entering a world He already knew intimately, a world whose flaws and brokenness held no surprises for him. In fact, it was precisely because of these that He had come.
Jesus’ cries weren’t a reaction to the world He had entered. They were a declaration of the divine plan and a warning to the force that had made our fallen, broken world what it had become:
Jesus’ cries were a war cry.
Jesus’ birth was a declaration of war on sin, death, darkness, and pain. His entrance into the world was the proverbial “shot heard round the world,” a spiritual invasion from heaven into a world that desperately needed rescue. So of course Jesus cried … and that Satan and his forces shuddered when they heard His cries, recognizing them for what they were: Their doom.
Someday, everything will be different; but for now, there can be no peace without war. Peace doesn’t just happen because we wish for it, or tweet about it, or talk about it. Peace only comes when righteous strength bends low to lift up the weak, the broken and the oppressed … and then plants its feet like a tree rooted deep to guard them against their enemies, come what may.
This is the Christ of Christmas: Righteous strength bending low to save, to raise and to guard us against the forces we’ve suffered under since Adam and Eve stepped out from the shade of God’s wing into violent shadows, into an evil darkness with bared teeth; a darkness that refuses to let us go without a bloody and brutal fight.
“The LORD will march out like a champion,
like a warrior he will stir up his zeal;
with a shout he will raise the battle cry and will triumph over his enemies.
“For a long time I have kept silent,
I have been quiet and held myself back.
But now, like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant.
I will lay waste the mountains and hills and dry up all their vegetation;
I will turn rivers into islands and dry up the pools.
I will lead the blind by ways they have not known,
along unfamiliar paths I will guide them;
I will turn the darkness into light before them
and make the rough places smooth.
These are the things I will do;
I will not forsake them.”
– Isaiah 42:13-15
If you find yourself weak, afraid, insecure, or just struggling in a world that often feels so much harder than it should be, then Christmas is the best possible news: Jesus has come, war cry and all, stepping out of heaven ready to fight for you and bring you back under the comforting shade of His mighty wings.
So take heart: It won’t always be like this. The invasion force has landed. Things are in motion. The gates of hell are trembling. God has declared war on darkness, for your sake. Christmas is all about celebrating the beginning of that war and the God Who storms the beaches of reality for us. His victory is assured, and because of the cries of a baby in a manger, our victory is assured too. Through faith in Jesus, we can share in His triumph over sin, death, and darkness. That’s what He came to offer, and that’s the hope, peace, joy, and love of Christmas.
Craig Smith | Lead Pastor
This all sounds great, but you may be wondering: Is it real?
It is. All of it. We can confidently put our faith in Jesus and eagerly await the hope, peace, joy, and love of this Advent season because God’s promises are true.
“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” | 1 John 5:13
“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” | Acts 4:12
Great, so what now? …
If you’ve already received Jesus’s free gift of salvation, we invite you as we always do to continue prayerfully seeking your next steps of obedient faith. Where and how are you intentionally taking steps to become more like Jesus and join Him on mission? Here are some opportunities:
1 | SERVE
If you have haven’t already, find a way to plug-in and leverage the time, talent, and treasure God’s given you. If you’re currently doing nothing, then take a step towards doing something; and if you’re already doing something, then take another step and doing something regularly scheduled. Already doing something regularly scheduled? Awesome. Now take another step and do something sacrificially. Check out all of our opportunities to take your next step HERE.
2 | NEXT STEPS
Maybe you want to further dig into your faith and what it means … maybe you want to learn more about Mission Hills and all the ways God might be calling you to further connect with your community of faith … or maybe you feel tugged towards the next level of leadership where God has you … whatever the case may be, our Next Steps “Discovering” pathways has an option for, offered several times a year. Check them out HERE.
3 | CONNECT TO MORE COMMUNITY
None of this was meant to be figured out alone. No person is an island, and God designed us for healthy, God-centered community to continue to grow and mature in our faith. Our Groups Ministry has a universe of options available all week long, from Men’s and Women’s Bible studies, to Life Groups that meet each week in homes, to activity groups like weekly meetings for Singles, Adult Sunday School classes, and even sports and rec teams and fun stuff like quilting and hiking! Whatever your preference, take a risk and begin investing in a community of believers doing life together while seeking their next steps of faith HERE.
For those of you who haven’t yet received Jesus’s free gift of grace through faith in Him, His war cry is on your behalf, too. Regardless of who you are, where you’re from, where you’re at, what you’ve done, or what you look like, Jesus invaded reality for you, too. He offers hope, peace, joy, and love to you, too. All you have to do is acknowledge that you need Him, and receive what He’s already done for you …
How? It’s simple. Pray this simple prayer:
I confess that I am a sinner, in need of rescue. Forgive me for trying to live life on my own, come into my life, and give me the hope, peace, love, and joy only you can provide. Thank you for waging war on my behalf; I now put my faith in you alone!”
That’s it, it’s that simple! If you just prayed that prayer (or some version of it), know that the Bible says that heaven rejoices because of the choice you just made! And here’s the Good News of what’s now true about you:
The Bible tells us that “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life,” (John 3:36), and that “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). You can rejoice because no matter who you are, where you’re from, or what you’ve done, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1) and “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life” (John 6:47).
So now what? We desperately want to come alongside you to help you understand that and take your next steps of faith. Here’s how: Text “ADVENT” to 80875 so that we can celebrate with you, and send you a link to some more information about what’s now true about you! We’ll also send you an invitation to join us on the weekend, get you plugged into your Next Steps, and even send you a free book we wrote that’ll help explain how everything has changed and the hope of Christmas is now yours, forever.
Whoever you are, wherever you are, and no matter what you might be going through, know that you are loved, prayed for, and we at Mission Hills Church are here to love and support you in taking your next steps to become more like Jesus and join Him on mission. We look forward to connecting with you more soon! Until then, we hope and pray that this 2021 Advent Devotional has blessed you during this wonderful season. Merry Christmas, and we’ll see you in 2022!