Matthew 1:18-25

It’s interesting that in all of Scripture, in all there is about the life of Jesus, the story of His conception and birth is so short. Every Christmas, when we tell the story, we must draw it out, and go into incredible amounts of detail. It’s wild to me that we’re just supposed to quickly glaze over the fact that Jesus was born, to a virgin woman, after thousands of years of prophecy. In the telling of the story in the Bible it just…happens.

Having recently gained a son of my own, I now see this story in a different light, however; mostly for what’s not told. We don’t hear about any of the times that Mary had to support the head of Jesus, because his neck wasn’t strong enough. We don’t hear about the breastfeeding, the diaper changes, the sleepless nights, the emotional (and physical toll) that it takes on the parents, the gifting of onesies and cute little boots from friends and relatives, etc. While I now think of those things, and wonder why they aren’t there, I also wonder if they matter.

I think the grandest story there is, the story of Jesus, has to begin somewhere. While it really begins with Creation, the Fall, and onward from there, the rubber really meets the road in the beginning of the Gospels. We put a lot of stock in the Christmas story, sometimes to my chagrin, but I think it’s important to celebrate the physical coming of our Saviour. It’s the continuation of a story that was years in the making, and a story that we will continue to hold dearly for years to come.

So, here’s to Jesus. Here’s to His virgin birth. Here’s to the birth of our Saviour. Here’s to the life He lived. Here’s to the death He died. Here’s to the resurrected life. Here’s to all the things we wish that we knew about Him. Here’s to the things that we do know about Him. Here’s to Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

 

Luke 2:1-20 (The Passion Translation)

During those days, the Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus, ordered that the first census be taken throughout his empire. (Quirinius was the governor of Syria at that time.) Everyone had to travel to his or her hometown to complete the mandatory census. So Joseph and his fiancé, Mary, left Nazareth, a village in Galilee, and journeyed to their hometown in Judea, to the village of Bethlehem, King David’s ancient home. They were required to register there, since they were both direct descendants of David. Mary was pregnant and nearly ready to give birth.

When they arrived in Bethlehem, Mary went into labor, and there she gave birth to her firstborn son. After wrapping the newborn baby in strips of cloth, they laid him in a feeding trough since there was no available space in any upper room in the village.

That night, in a field near Bethlehem, there were shepherds watching over their flocks. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared in radiant splendor before them, lighting up the field with the blazing glory of God, and the shepherds were terrified! But the angel reassured them, saying, “Don’t be afraid. For I have come to bring you good news, the most joyous news the world has ever heard! And it is for everyone everywhere! For today in Bethlehem a rescuer was born for you. He is the Lord Yahweh, the Messiah. You will recognize him by this miracle sign: You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a feeding trough!”

Then all at once, a vast number of glorious angels appeared, the very armies of heaven! And they all praised God, singing: “Glory to God in the highest realms of heaven! For there is peace, and a good hope given to the sons of men.”

When the choir of angels disappeared back to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go! Let’s hurry and find this Word that is born in Bethlehem and see for ourselves what the Lord has revealed to us.” So they ran into the village and found their way to Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in a feeding trough. Upon seeing this miraculous sign, the shepherds recounted what had just happened. Everyone who heard the shepherds’ story was astonished by what they were told. But Mary treasured all these things in her heart and often pondered what they meant.

The shepherds returned to their flock, ecstatic over what had happened. They praised God and glorified him for all they had heard and seen for themselves, just like the angel had said.

Delores Derksen – Director of Care

Matthew 24:30

The hope of His glorious appearing will strengthen you in waiting upon God for what He is to do in you now. The same omnipotent love that is to reveal that glory is working in you even now to prepare you for it.

“The blessed hope and appearing of the glory of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13), is one of the great bonds of union given to God’s church throughout the ages.

“And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man Coming on the Clouds of the Sky with power and great glory.” Matthew 24:30

The revelation of Christ in us, as it is given to them who wait upon God, is the true preparation for the full revelation of Christ in glory. My soul, wait thou only upon God!

For many of my beloved seniors, they have already been taken home to Glory. What a fabulous homegoing that must have been. I recently said at the beside of a dying brother in Christ. He said, “I am ready and waiting to see the glory of Christ in person and some day every knee will bow when they see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of Glory. How blessed I am to be a Child of God.”

“The blessed hope and appearing of the glory of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13), is one of the great bonds of union given to God’s church throughout the ages. “He shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at in all them that believed” (2 Thess. 1:10).

Then, we will all meet, and the unity of the body of Christ will be seen in its divine glory. It will be the meeting place and the triumph of divine love. Jesus receiving His own and presenting them to the Father. His own meeting Him and worshiping, in speechless love, that blessed face.  Let us wait, long for, and love the appearing of our Lord and heavenly Bridegroom.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne.”    Matthew 25:31

Oh how we look for His appearing! As this world plunges into more evil, we have this blessed hope that our Lord Jesus will return again! He is coming back to take His Bride to be with Him forever! Every day, we look forward to that blessed day when the Saints shall meet Him in the air; and all creation groans for the day when He shall return to reign upon the earth in righteousness. Our blessed Savior is coming back as the conquering King– and we shall return with Him someday!

And as we look toward His appearing when He shall take us home– the Rapture of the Church– may we then be found watching, not sleeping, but watching and waiting for Him.

As we live our lives in this world, we long for this.  This is our hope.  The interest of the child of God in the coming of Jesus Christ is personal.  Jesus does not come just to deliver His church or to raise the dead in a general sense, but the ascended Jesus Christ, when He comes again, will come to me, a believer who is a part of His church.  He will come to raise my dead body.  On that day, I will see Him.  He is my Lord and my Savior.

Clint Mcdonald – Council Moderator

2 Timothy 4:7-8

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing.”

As we draw towards the end of a tumultuous 2017, it’s common to feel a bit anxious about our world heading into 2018. We reflect on a year defined by change and chaos. There is political upheaval. Economically, it continues to be a struggle for most people but the wealthy are richer than ever before. Extreme earth events like hurricanes, earthquakes and floods dominate the news. Culturally and socially there are massive shifts in what is considered good and just and fair. We continue to be confronted by seemingly more brutal, senseless wars. Famines threaten many places in the world. The list goes on and on. There is an overall lack of hope despite all the best efforts and intentions to make this world better. We acknowledge too the many personal stories of trials and tribulations people in our church community have experienced this year.

As a follower of Jesus, how do I respond?  Are fears, anxiety, hopelessness, anger, defeat and despair in our hearts? Maybe there is even indifference!

The verses above suggest something completely different. The struggles of life are not ignored by Paul (“fight the good fight’ does not suggest everything is a bed of roses during this life) but at the same time we are pointed to this hope of the Gospel…Jesus is coming again! We are also pointedly challenged to fight the good fight, finish the race well and remain faithful. That’s a struggle for most of us. How do I do this in the light of Jesus’ imminent return?

I believe our church’s discipleship steps (below) help transform us so that we are personally able to declare these verses above.

  1. Am I connected to Christian community? God has not redeemed us so that we live isolated from our fellow imperfect and broken Christian brothers and sisters. I cannot grow unless I am connected to my spiritual community. Many Christians are trying to do this but it is not God’s plan for spiritual growth.
  2. Is the unconditional love of Jesus a reality of my life and am I modeling that love to my family, spouse, church family and beyond? Speak to someone if His love has never felt real in your life. He died on a cross for us while we were sinners. His love is life giving. If we have not tasted it we cannot model it.
  3. Are you training someone else to obediently follow Jesus. Note it is not training to follow personal opinions or church traditions but Jesus. We are all continuously growing in this area of obedience. Jesus says if you love him you will obey him.
  4. Am I serving the body of Christ and beyond with my gifts. We are Christ’s ambassadors and our lives need to declare the hope of the Gospel to a hopeless world. Ask him to show you how in 2018.

Let’s all eagerly look forward to His appearing!

Christine Berkan – GroveKids Welcome Teams

Isaiah 55:13

“So you’ll go out in joy, you’ll be lead into a whole and complete life. The mountains and hills will lead the parade, bursting with song. All the trees of the forest will join the procession, exuberant with applause.”

I love the sense of anticipation that accompanies the Christmas season. The lights, the music, the coziness of a warm house on a cold day all contribute to a feeling of expectancy. One of my favourite memories of anticipation was Christmas 1996. It was a unique Christmas, because all of my Dad’s family made plans to travel to our farm to celebrate the holiday. Gathering 6 families from Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan is no small feat, so all of us celebrating together held specialness because of its rarity. Dozens of us stayed together in my family’s tiny farm house that year. Waking up Christmas morning with my cousins was very memorable. Because we were still waiting for one of my Uncle’s to arrive from Regina, the gift opening had to hold off until he drove in. The anticipation to open gifts was enormous to us kids, but the rule was “no gifts until Uncle Gary arrives”.

And so, we waited. And waited. For hours, my cousins and I huddled together in an upstairs bedroom, giddy with excitement, watching for car lights from the window. What relief we felt when we finally spied the car pulling into the driveway.

As Christians, our lives on this earth should also be marked with anticipation as we await Christ’s coming in Glory at the end of time. Perhaps this Christmas story about waiting for my uncle can cause us to ponder a few questions about what life on earth looks like as we anticipate Christ’s arrival:

Are you excited?  – Do you live today in anticipation of what might happen tomorrow?  On Christmas 1996, I was selfishly awaiting presents. But what Christians are waiting for with regard to the end of time is a magnificent event: Isaiah 55 tells us that we will be lead into a whole and complete life, that the mountains will burst into song and that the trees be exuberant with applause. This is a stunning visual reminder of the goodness that awaits us. This. Is. Exciting. Let’s live our lives with the magnitude and excitement of eternity in mind.

Are you watchful?  – Is your life marked by a spiritual alertness? Just like the car lights coming down the driveway marked the arrival of my Uncle, there will be signs that mark the arrival of Jesus’ second coming. Do you know these signs? Mathew 24, Luke 21, 2 Timothy 3 are just a few references that point us to the events that will mark the end of time.

Are you waiting in community?  – There’s something special about being with family during Christmas. Scripture tells us that we should never give up meeting together (Hebrews 10:25) and that our unity will be a sign to the rest of the world of the power of Christ (John 17:23). Have you taken steps to be involved in unified Christian community – a family of believers?

So, as you celebrate with your families this holiday season, may your attention not only look back to His first coming – but may you also look forward with great anticipation to His return.

Laurie Pauls – Worship Design Team

Revelation 21:1-4 & 1 Peter 1:6-7

God is in the process of teaching me to accept that pain, brokenness and sin are a part of this life. He is showing me that He is good, present, and at work in our suffering. I am beginning to look for Him with expectancy when life feels out of my control or is not going the way I planned or hoped. Instead of angrily asking God why something is happening, I have begun asking Him what He wants to teach me through it.

What often times feels like we are being knocked down, God uses to lift us up and draw us closer to Himself. When we feel weak and troubled, God is at work showing us how strong He is. God cares more about the state of our heart and faith in Him than making this life comfortable or “perfect”. He uses the struggles in this life to humble us, so He can be put in the proper place as Lord of Lords. How can we be a generation that rises up to honour and glorify God if we are not desperate for Him and His help?

“I know how great this makes you feel, even though you have to put up with every kind of aggravation in the meantime. Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine. When Jesus wraps this all up, it’s your faith, not your gold, that God will have on display as evidence of his victory.”  1 Peter 1:6-7 (The Message)

While reading through Revelation with my husband this fall, I was reminded that the story doesn’t end here with needing to accept suffering forever. There is also the hope and joy of the future that God has given us to hold onto.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, ‘Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”    Revelation 21:1-4

God’s ultimate plan is to make everything new (Rev 21:5) where nothing evil will be allowed to enter (Rev 21:27). Won’t that be amazing? That is what is coming for us!

So Father, thank you that You are faithfully present with us through the troubles of this life and that the future You have planned is more amazing than we could ever begin to imagine. Thank you for the gift of hope here and now – and the greatest hope for our future!

Val Burron – Worship Design Team

1 Corinthians 11:23-25, Matthew 5:6,
Psalm 34:8, Philippians 1:6

For many years I have tried to be intentional about writing down and recording things I’m thankful for. It’s an effective way to honor the Lord for His faithfulness and to be reminded of how often He has invaded my reality with His. I find myself needing constant visible reminders of noteworthy moments that have moved me closer to His heart. As we were going through family photos in preparation for our son’s wedding, we were flooded with wonderful memories and many milestones of our life together as a family. Pictures will do that. Recently I’ve added another bulletin board to the wall just above my desk where I have a collage of pictures. Some are of people. Some are of events. Some are of objects. Each one triggers an emotion and memory that has marked my spiritual journey over the past year. Yes, I know, I’ve made photo ops out of sacred moments! Only the Lord and I know the full impact of their significance. It’s how I document my personal history with Him in a way that I will remember, and I think He’s ok with my methods.

The Lord understands the power of remembering and the importance of keeping an image or idea in front of you, especially when it comes to His divine purposes for His church. It is evident every time we partake of Communion. In 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 Jesus models gratitude by giving thanks and then asks us to do something else every time we eat the bread and drink the cup – to remember Him and to proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. It is a prophetic declaration of Christ’s return.

I would like to encourage you to take what is most often a public act and make it private. Now picture this – Him sitting there with you, because the host is always present at His own table. He says come hungry and allow me to fill you (Matthew 5:6). Taste and see that I am good (Psalm 34:8). Then take the emblems in your hands. Give thanks. Remember Him. This is a meal of honor and celebration for all that the Lord has done on our behalf. You are completely covered by the power of His blood. Nothing can touch you there. You can ask anything in His name.

We leave His table with the same standing orders every time. Be carriers of My presence wherever you go. You have been nourished, now nourish others.

“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Philippians 1:6

Altina Wickstrom – Alpha Ministry Team

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17

Every year at Christmas I watch my favorite movie It’s A Wonderful Life,” the original version with Jimmy Stewart. It is a story of how one person can touch many lives, some of which were profoundly changed.

My “George Bailey” was a young Christian woman named Debbie who attended the same western Washington high school that I did. I was not raised in a Christian home. I knew little of Christianity or God. I was the quiet and angry outcast girl of the school. Debbie a lovely young woman with a beautiful voice and spirit. Even today I marvel at the fact that she would befriend me, and witness to me.

Debbie prayed for me and invited me to church every week for a year. I was not interested, and told her in all sorts of cruel ways that I would not go with her. She did not give up. I finally agreed to go to “get her off my back”, and praise God I did.

Debbie attended a small Evangelical church with a warm and welcoming congregation that frightened me. I waited outside until the music started so I wouldn’t have to talk to any one, then slipped in and sat next to Debbie. The message seemed to be for me and me alone, which shook me to my core. The message played and replayed in my mind over the next week, and I was overwhelmed with questions.

I always found solace in the woods, so I took a walk deep into the forest around my home and there surrendered my life to the Lord. I was transformed in the blink of an eye.  The anger and hate were gone, and I was filled with joy and peace, all thanks to a stubborn friend.

Sometimes I wonder if Debbie had not been put in my path, who would I be. How would I feel given all of what is happening to our society and around the world today, all the hate, violence and sin, not knowing what is to come? Would I be hardened to it, would I ignore it, would I be out for myself and not care about my neighbor, or would I be in despair with no hope?  But praise God I have joy and hope. As a believer I know my Savior will come for me and I will spend eternity with Him.

“For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And we will be with the Lord forever.” 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17

It is a wonderful life being a Christian and knowing what is to come – eternity with our Lord.

Harry Strauss – Encore Pastor

Revelation 22:7

“Look, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy written in this scroll.”  – Jesus

Jesus manifested himself, by way of a vison, in Revelation 1. In a very real sense, Jesus ‘came’ to John and the seven churches identified in Revelation 2-3. That vision presents us with what has to be one of the most majestic and inspiring pictures we have of Jesus (Revelation 1:12-18). And that ‘manifestation’ or ‘coming’ was not only intended for John, but equally for us, as through John’s vision, we are reminded of the presence of Christ. The purpose of His coming to the seven churches was to encourage and exhort, especially with the anticipated persecution that would come to believers.

Revelation, in part, is a prophetic book that speaks of the coming tribulations, with the accompanying and parallel truth, that Christ is also, always, coming to His people in the ‘now’. But Revelation is more than Christ coming to us in the present moment. It is also a book that draws back the curtain on end times, and allows us to peek into the future, recognizing a final day.

As the vision in Revelation 1 describes Jesus Christ standing among the churches, so the vision of Christ in Revelation 19:11 and following, depicts Christ as a warrior on a white horse, as the coming King. He is identified as the “King of Kings, and Lord of Lords” (Revelation 19:16). Our role is to live with the anticipation that Christ could come at any time. Indeed, three times in the last chapter of the Bible, we are reminded by Jesus, “I am coming soon” (Rev 22:7, 12, 20). And intermingled with those reminders, are the exhortations that call for living consistently with that anticipated return. That call for discipleship living is reflected in Rev 22:12, “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done.”  Or also, as stated by Jesus in Matthew 24:41, “Keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.”

“Keeping watch” is more than keeping an eye on the heavens. At its very core, is the sense of living with full engagement, recognizing that Christ could return at any moment. May our Christmas be marked by a certain measure of keeping our eyes on the heavens above.

Laura Laskowski – Worship Design Team

Psalm 36:7-9

“How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God!  Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings.  They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of Your house, and You give them drink from the river of Your pleasures.  For with You is the fountain of life; In Your light we see light.”

When I get too busy and lack the quiet, refueling time I get with God, I feel like I am parched – as if I haven’t had water in days.  I feel like I start to wander aimlessly in my brain, in my body, and in my soul.  I am searching desperately and weakly for a sip, a drink, a cup of water.  I am SO thirsty.  It’s like every other part of me starts to shut down.  I am weak and feel like I am dying a slow death.

I need to listen to this.  I need to listen to this intense, all encompassing need for survival.  The less I listen to it, the more demanding and life threatening it becomes.

Can you relate?  Are you thirsty?

As I get older and the more responsibility I have in raising my family, being involved in church and community, having a job; the more blatant this thirst becomes.  I so desperately need God.  I so desperately need quiet to hear from Him.  I so desperately need to drink from His cup, from His fountain that never runs dry.

But the choice is mine.  I can fake it til I make it and hope to find drink in other places.  They tempt and promise to fulfill me.  Yet, I truly know, that if I stop and listen in my aimless search, Jesus is actually right there beside me holding out a big, fresh glass of clean, pure, refreshing water.  I just need to stop and see it –  then reach and accept it…and start drinking the Water of Life.

Thank you, Jesus, for Your life-giving water.  Nothing – absolutely nothing – compares to it.

Jesus answered and said to her, If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you ‘Give me a drink,’ You would have asked Him and He would have given you Living Water.  John 4:10 (NKJV)