Here are the DT Packets for November 28th – December 3rd, 2011 on Christmas Hymns Week1
Submitted by Ahmi K. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church
What contrasts and ironies are in Luke 2:1-20? What do these tell you about how God works, and the preoccupations of people?
Caesar was taking a census to determine his kingdom and power. Jesus was the true King, promised and fulfilled, unhampered by Caesar.
The whole nation and Israel was being moved around because of Caessar’s decree (he was this powerful), but the real power was Jesus, being born just as the Scripture promised, not hidden or secretive, but openly, and, in fact, THROUGH Caesar’s decrees.
The King of Kings was born in a manger, whereas the worldly king is born in a palace.
The angel proclaiming good news appeared to a group of shepherds lying watch in the night, not to the highest officials in the land.
This tells me that God is not hindered by the greatest authority on earth – in fact, He is the One who makes things happen – He arranged it so for Jesus to be born in Bethlehem at this time in such a way, while Caesar had no idea what was going on with God. Caesar thought he had control over this situation but it was God who was in control. Mary and Joseph thought they were just obeying Caesar’s decrees, when in fact, they were doing exactly what God was leading them to do.
I can learn how God is sovereign and powerful, the true authority over all. He is the one at work, even though the authority of the time – Caesar Augustus – seemed to be so powerful.
He is faithful and true to His Word and promise. He fulfilled the prophecies of long ago.
I can learn to humbly submit and obey Him through the circumstances in my life and not be frustrated. What I see is so limited. God chooses not to reveal everything to us, but that is okay, because I know He is in control. I need to lift my eyes from my self-centered world and see the truth of God’s sovereignty.
What are some responses that the hymn calls for in stanza 1? Given that only the shepherds ended up hearing the Angel’s song and responding, what can we conclude about what it takes to give “glory to the newborn King?”
Joyful, all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph in skies;
With angelic host proclaim,
‘Christ is born in Bethlehem!’
Hark! The herald angels sing,
‘Glory to the newborn King.’
The hymn calls for a response of the shepherds to joyfully rise, join the triumph and proclaim the good news together. It is a majestic, mighty proclamation and exhortation, but it was given to a group of lowly shepherds. I can learn that to be a herald of Jesus does not require any worldly qualifications but to simply hear and obey. What it takes is immediate obedience, regardless of the cost. In order for the shepherds to respond and look for the king, they had to leave behind their post. However, they risked it all, like the magi, to find the King. Shepherds got up and responded to the call.
As you read the description of Jesus in this hymn, which ones cause you wonder and praise? Which ones bring you comfort and encouragement?
Pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus our Immanuel
I think this aspect strikes me the most, because it is such a wondrous and mysterious thing how Jesus came to DWELL and be WITH.
How much He descended and came down to the lowliest.
Write a prayer of worship and gratitude for the veiled, incarnate deity, son of God, Jesus our Immanuel, who was pleased to take on flesh to dwell with men, and even now, dwells with all his followers.
Dear Heavenly Father,
I praise You and worship You for Your Son – Jesus. Thank You that He incarnated and descended to the lowliest depths. Thank You that He was pleased to take on flesh and blood and dwell with men, with me, and dwells with me today. In this world of failed and broken relationships, there is nothing everlasting or secure, and, even the best of things ends in death.
I praise You and thank You, O Lord. Please help me to dwell and wonder in this amazing truth, and be alive in its light.
Submitted by Wilson F. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church
There is so much we’d like to know about the magi, these star-gazers and adventurers from the East. Though they did not have much light, they responded to the light that they had. Their journey—over field and fountain, moor and mountain—was long and dangerous (as all long travels were in those days). What possessed them to take such a journey, bearing such precious gifts?
These Magi had real questions as well as the hope that there were real answers to those questions. They must have believed that there was more to life than they had already known, and they looked to the stars for some sign, some clue, some indication that there was something more. During the Israelite exile to Babylon, there might have been an exchange of cultures, religions and ancient literature, and so these scholars might have been familiar with the prophecies of Isaiah regarding a virgin who would give birth to a child destined to be King of kings and Lord of lords. So when they saw the star, they packed their camels and headed westward, following its movement. These men were people of rank and status and position, people with wealth (as they brought costly gifts), people with everything going for them from the world’s perspective. But I suspect there was a sense of dissatisfaction, of unfulfillment – sort of like an itch they were trying to scratch. Why else would they brave a perilous journey across barren wilderness, venturing into foreign lands, in search of “the one who has been born king of the Jews” when this child might not have even existed? In their very own words, they were looking for the One who was truly worthy of worship.
As you think about the journey of these magi, think about your own journey. How were you led to Christ? What “star of wonder, star of light” guided you? Or, how are you being led to him now? Do you have a seeking heart like these magi?
I attended Catholic schools since kindergarten, but I started going to church for Sunday worship at the age of ten. I heard about God during those early years, but to be sure, I did not understand or appreciate the relevance of what I learned. The “star” first caught my eye around the eighth grade, when I found myself full of questions about the Bible and what it means to pray and the nature of God’s will. I became a spiritual seeker, and throughout high school, I learned more and more about God as revealed in Scripture. However, like the chief priests and teachers of the law, I had all the right answers, Bible quotes with references and all – but I lacked the most important thing, which was an authentic relationship with the God I claimed to believe in. It was all head-knowledge, but it did nothing to address my true impoverished spiritual condition
The “star” that captivated me was experiencing our church, the first time being New Student Welcome Night back in August 1998 – hearing Pastor Ed’s message and feeling the warmth of our community kept me coming back more and more, and then I took Course 101 and attended Friday Bible Studies, Sunday Worship Services and retreats, until one day, I acknowledged that I was living a lie, that I did not know Christ personally, but I wanted to become one by surrendering my life to Jesus. That was eleven-and-a-half years ago, and since then, I can honestly say that I still want to know God more, to understand the gospel and the cross more deeply, and to draw closer to him in my relationship with him. As long as I am in this body, I remain a spiritual seeker, hungry for his Word, dissatisfied with the offerings of this world, and longing to be home where I may worship the King.
What lessons do these magi teach me about spiritual hunger, about decisive commitments, about generosity and the purpose of my treasures?
First, spiritual hunger has to translate to decisive action. Just as in the case of physical hunger, you cannot expect that sensation to simply go away or to be resolved all on its own; rather, you need to move toward a reliable source of physical sustenance.
Second, spiritual seeking requires commitment and perseverance. For the Magi, there were points at which they could have turned their camels around and headed back home, but they remained undaunted, determined to find the child. Arriving at the wrong city after traveling a great distance, encountering a people that had no idea what you are talking about and instead being disturbed by the very prospect, losing sight of the star – all these factors could have discouraged them. That is why they were overjoyed to see the star once again. They embarked on this journey, regardless of the costs, the dangers, the uncertainty of success – but with courage and faith, they sought, and they found.
Third, my treasures are an entrustment from God, and the best use for them is as gifts for worship. All that I possess – my wealth, my car, my time and energy, my very life – were given to me, and I need to be generous with what I have in honoring God. My life, as precious as it is to me, belongs to God, and as small and trivial as it is, becomes a gift welcomed by the King.
Submitted by Michelle S. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church
We need to be saved from endless envy, strife and quarrels. None of us experience the heaven’s peace as we are constantly at war within our souls, particularly our desires that are unfulfilled. Jesus has come to deal with our unholy and incorrect desires, to bind it to one desire that will bring peace. We are plagued with many of our own desires that are in conflict with other desires and if we get all we want, we end in destruction. Only God’s holy desires are what will bring peace to all of us. I am reminded of what Jesus said in Luke 19:42 “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes.” The problem is that we do not know what would bring us peace. Only God could bring us together. There is a lot of strife because my desires are not the same as God’s. One true sign that Jesus is the Savior would be because He is able to bring salvation and unite His people. He can bring true peace to people who do not know how to find peace. There will be no more violence and no more of hatred and strife. It’s so tiring to live life and it seems so hopeless because our desires are winning the battle. I see people who are not able to find peace because they need to fend for themselves constantly. The quarrels we have, the desire to not be taken advantage of, the desire to not be the only one who is left behind… so much strife and angst.
Submitted by Sieun C. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church
Lord, you see how broken and mangled this world is, how we are captive prisoners to a system that either sends us through horrors and misery and breaks us, or blinds us from the true state of our lives that it’s going to end in death. The more I do your work and try to embrace people, I get convicted more and more that this is the state of everyone, that we’re all captive and desperately in need of you. And you saw this all along and had this amazing redemption plan ready. I don’t know how I somehow stumbled upon this path, how you found me and brought me onto this path, but I thank you for entering into this dark and broken world to bring salvation to us, to your people who were held captive. We love darkness, I love darkness, yet each time, you shed light on my path, reminding me of what my darkness led me to, and you show me through the broken lives of people around me that it’s something so universal, it’s something I need to hold as my greatest weapon and greatest treasure to share. Help me never to buy into the lies of this world as I remember my own brokenness and how even the best of human efforts cannot thwart death, mistrust, strive, or envy. Your way of life is true wisdom, your way of life is what is beautiful and the way things are meant to be. I pray that as I end this year and confirm this as true, that next year will be yet another year of committing to this and becoming increasingly convicted, especially as we take on greater ministry responsibilities. I think about the students under my care who recognize the strife and emptiness in this world. May each of them come find you, our Day-spring, who lifts the clouds and brings light into our darkened hearts and lives. May they find you the true source of wisdom and guidance in this life, apart from whom our lives will always be filled with envy, strife, quarrel, and with no peace.
Thank you for being our Emmanuel God who came to be with us, that you saw us held ransomed captive, and you came fully knowing the suffering and grief you would go through. I pray that as I grow in understanding how this is the only solution in this dark world, that my life too can emulate the being with and suffering life that you lived out for me….
Submitted by Jeannie L. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church
Oh come Lord Jesus, please come quickly. Thank you that you are my Emmanuel God with me. I was captive to my sin, and living in exile, distant and isolated, because of my own sins and jealousies, my own bitterness and resentments, my own strife and envy and quarrels. And you ransomed me. thank you for paying my ransom. Thank you for redeeming my unworthy life. I was indeed mourning in lonely exile, the exile of my own thoughts and sin, thinking that no one understands my situation, thinking that no one cares, thinking that I have to fend for myself, that I am alone. I was, but you appeared, and brought me back home from my self-imposed exile. I become captive again and again and you bring me home again and again.
Lord, because of that, I shall rejoice, because you are with me. Lord, come and cheer my spirit with your presence. Your presence disperses the gloomy clouds of night and casts away death’s dark shadows. Indeed, my life was gloomy, and my thoughts clouded with darkness and death overshadowed my life, and still threatens to overtake me, but you solved that with eternal life. I now experience LIFE, and community instead of gloomy exile. I know that regardless of whatever Satan throws at me in life, that I am safe at home with You, for eternity. because of that, I can be cheerful and rejoice.
Lord, my pathways are often cloudy and foggy, and there are rocks and other obstacles that make me stumble and fall, and so I ask of you to come and to order my life, to bring order to the chaos of my worries and thoughts, to guide me to the path of knowledge and please to cause me in those ways to go. My own wisdom and the wisdom of the world has only gotten me further into trouble and has only led me in the wrong ways. I need your principles, I need your values, I need your presence literally to nudge me down the right ways, to help me to think proper thoughts, to order and elevate my values and tastes.
And lastly Lord, my desire, I ask of your presence to help me to be at peace in my heart and mind. I desperately need that peace to guard my heart and mind, to reassure me that you are sovereign and in control. When terror surrounds me and fears overtake me, Lord, fill my heart with your peace and quiet and calm and assurance that YOU ARE GOD almighty God. And please cause the envy and strife to cease around me. Lord, I pray that I may be an agent of your peace to others, as I have experienced your comfort for my life. And your peace that you give me, the fullness and richness and contentment of being found in you, that you bestow upon me, help me Lord, to be a source of that love and light and warmth and peace to others around me who are in desperate need of it, who are in exile now. I pray that I can be that to my own husband and children. Please protect them, please protect us lord. Please protect our church, our ministries, our people, my brothers and sisters. Lord, come quickly.
Submitted by Ahmi K. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church
Reflect on the promise of Emmanuel that was fulfilled in the coming of Jesus, and that stands as a continuing promise for all of Christ’s followers.
Having come from convalescent home visits and witnessing the bleakness of life at end, I see how true it is that we are captive and in exile – that is the true state of humanity, and only those who are rescued by Jesus can rejoice. There is no other source of rejoicing. Emmanuel – God with us. That is the only hope we have. Really, at the end of the day, there is utter loneliness and exile from where we belong to which we need to return.
Submitted by Susanna L. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church
The Bible describes Christians as aliens and strangers in the world. In what ways can you identify with this sense of not being quite at home in the world?
The ways that I can identify with the sense of not being quite at home in the world have to do with the values of this world. This world is all about striving to be somebody, to make a name for oneself, and to leave a legacy behind. There is no genuine love or compassion in the world. It is all directed to the elevation and preservation of the self with the limited resources in this world. It is all abut what is before our five physical senses. Reality stops with our senses. There is no greater cause or purpose. But God’s kingdom is so radically different. First, the reality of God’s kingdom doesn’t end with our physical senses. It is a spiritual reality that is to last eternally. God is love. The oxygen of His kingdom is love, unconditional love. We are valued not based on our appearance or performance but on our relationship to God—the fact that we have been created and we are adopted by God Himself as Our Heavenly Father. The reality of our identification with God is the radical and eternal difference. Because of God as He is the one and only Creator, there is abundance. I no longer need to compete in this scarce world for attention and to be someone. My daughtership with God is more than enough. All that striving can now be channeled to do what I was designed to be: to love God and to love others as God loves me and to bring the Good News of the Gospel to those who do not know their Maker.
Submitted by Sieun C. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church
Reflect on the words “captive Israel,” and “until the Son of God appear.” Describe how all humanity is captive, and cannot save itself, that we need to be “ransomed,” and that our only hope is that “the Son of God appear.”
We are captive in this world, even if the world blinds us and fools us into thinking all is good and we can have rest and peace in this world. The reality is that ultimately there’s death and because of this we experience hopelessness, brokenness, lostness, a sense that something is missing and incomplete in this world. We seek after solutions in romance, ambition, and community, but apart from God, it’s temporal with no real answer. The phrase “captive Israel” describes all of humanity. And God looked down and at all of history, and his heart grieved, became broken, He saw that there was no solution, no one who can solve the problem, and he rolled back his sleeves and entered history to ransom us from captivity.
Submitted by Jeannie L. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church
Write a prayer in response to today’s passages.
Thank you God for answering the cry of my heart, of our hearts, that you CAME, O Emmanuel. I was captive to my own sin. And indeed I moaned mournfully, and was groping along blindly trying to find my way in this world. I stumbled and was falling, and though I seemed strong, I was dead, dead inside, dead spiritually. I tried to find my way in people, finding friends who I thought would be there for me, but they were not Emmanuel, God WITH ME. I tried to find my way in the world, trying this or that, trying to fit in, but even though I fit in, I was not at home.
Lord, the more I live life, the more I see the words of this hymn are so true. We are all captive in some way, and cannot save ourselves. Captive to the world’s values, captive to our own selfish desires, captive to expectations of others upon us, captive to people we want to please, captive to idols, captive to money. We are hopeless indeed, and utterly sinful, groping about trying to find hope and meaning in a dark and unfriendly world. Thank you for your deliverance!
Thank you Lord, that you were appalled by my sin and my darkness and that you yourself, came, robed in flesh, and came to intervene, that you worked salvation with your own mighty hand and compassion. Thank you for seeing my plight, hearing my cries, and coming down to be with me. I feel like a stranger and alien indeed here in this world, so thank you that you came to rescue me from my sin and to give me a new home and new purpose.
Thank you for your promise to be with me to the very end of the age. That comforts me more than anything in the world, that I am safe with you, that I have come home and can find peace and contentment in you, that I can find rest from the burden of my own sins and others’ sins. I know that whatever comes, whatever happens, it will be okay because of your Emmanuel presence. Please give me that small mustard seed of faith to trust that truth and cling to it for the rest of my days.
Here at the DT Packets for November 21-26, 2011: Thanksgiving Week 3