Advent Devotionals - December 2023

Week 4 - Christmas  Devotions

Saturday, December 30

I have two special gifts to share. When I was a single mom, I had many people during Christmas pay special attention to what was on my kids’ Christmas list.

A gift given to my son when he was 8 years old was a Nintendo system and game.  Under the tree on that Christmas morning, he found what he’d asked Santa for and so much more with a card that simply read, from “Your Secret Santa.” I had no idea where the gifts came from, but this memory will forever remain special.  I found out later who his Secret Santa was and thanked them.
My daughter’s name was put on an Angel tree during her second-grade year at John Sevier Elementary.  I completed the form with things that she had asked for and gave preferences on different things.  On Christmas Eve she found out she had a big box under the tree from someone she did not know.  Her Angel Tree gifts had been fulfilled by her teacher; she was so surprised and thankful.  
To this day this momma’s heart will never forget those gifts and the joy in my children’s eyes.  Blessings from unexpected Angels do happen.

Michelle Delozier
Friday, December 29

I am the youngest of three and the only girl. My dad would bring me a stuffed animal dog each time he returned from a business trip. We were close when I was young, but as I turned into a teenager, my dad did not know how to relate to me.

It was my senior year, and my parents taught the young-marrieds class at church. My dad talked about one couple, especially how pretty and smart the wife was. Two weeks before Christmas, I confided in my oldest brother that I felt like dad would rather have Susan as his daughter than me. He said, “Tell him!” In tears, I told my dad how I was feeling. My dad tried to reassure me, but I think he was so shocked he did not know what to do. Christmas morning came, and the last gift was for me from my dad. It was a cup with red letters in it. Dad said, “Figure out what it spells.” The letters were: L,W,I,N,S,T,A,Z,D,R,E. I tried to spell a make of a car; but, finally with help: Switzerland! My parents were going in March, and I was going with them. This generous, thoughtful gift of time together restored our relationship, and we remained close until his death in 1995.

God gave the gift of Christ so our relationship with him is restored and we can remain close in his love forever.

Debra Summers

Thursday, December 28

My wife Kim and I were looking over the list of suggested gifts for our grandsons Oliver and Milo. There, amidst the Legos and action figures was a wristwatch each of them had liked.    

This brought me back to the memory of my Mamaw Brown. She had nine grandchildren, and as each of us turned 12 years of age, she gave us a Timex watch. It kind of made us feel grown up to have that watch that we could keep up with schedules and programs. It also brought with it thoughts of my grandparents in the intervening years.
A watch is all about TIME. Is there any greater gift than giving someone the gift of time? A handwritten note on a card? An afternoon spent putting Christmas decorations out? (Or even better put away for the year?) A phone call to check in on a friend that has been absent for a while?  

TIME is maybe one of the greatest presents we can give. God spent time in human form.  John’s gospel tells us that “the WORD was made flesh and dwelt AMONG US.” Let’s use the TIME we have right now to make an impact on those – and the world -- around us. 

 Ken Brown

Wednesday, December 27
Some gifts are priceless.  It was Christmas of 1988.  Little did I know that I was about to receive a gift that would become one of my favorite Christmas memories of all time.  Emily was 5 years old and in kindergarten.  Like most kindergarteners in that day, she was learning to write her ABCs.  When she had learned the last letter, Jerry asked her to write them all on a sheet of paper, and he took it to a lady in our church to see if she could trace them on a piece of cloth and embroider them just as Emily had written them.  Then she made the cloth into a pillow!  When I opened the gift that morning, I was so touched.  Those little letters plucked all of my heart strings, and the pillow became a much-loved treasure. It still is.  Though it is no longer a pillow (too much loving), it is now framed and hanging in our home.  In 1991, Ellen learned her ABCs, and I bet you can guess the rest of the story. It’s now framed, too. Two years ago, Deacon learned his ABCs, and it was time to pluck Ellen and Sawyer’s heartstrings.  When Caroline learns all her letters….

The gift of Jesus is priceless, too.  That he came as a baby is tender and gives us a glimpse into the heart of God. It is a heart that is filled with a tender, yet powerful, love for all of us.
Kim Mantooth
Tuesday, December 26

A Christmas gift that was given is a very special memory for me. It was not something I gave, but I helped my dad give to my mom. It was Christmas Eve 2019, and he was in the hospital after his 2nd major surgery for bone cancer in his jaw. Brandon and I were in Florida visiting and were leaving that night, so I went to see Dad before flying home. We had a feeling that time with him was getting shorter and that this would probably be our last Christmas with him. 

Every year my dad would give my Mom a beautiful card on Christmas morning, so I asked him if he wanted me to go and get one for him to give her. He shook his head yes. So, I went out to CVS and purchased one that I knew he would give her. When I went back to the hospital and showed him the card, he shook his head and teared up when I read what it said. He struggled to sign it (he had the most beautiful penmanship) but refused any help. My Mom was so surprised and to this day she still has it sitting on her dresser. I smile every time I see it.

Jennifer Davis

Monday, December 25
As I think about memorable gifts that were given or received over the years, my mind instantly goes to one of each. They were not gifts that came from a store, but they were memorable gifts that created a lifetime of joy and happiness.

Joe and I were married in May of 1994. My son Brandon and I moved from middle Tennessee to Maryville at that time. Joe had been a long-time member of Monte Vista, and the church had welcomed us with open arms. That year, Christmas Day was on a Sunday, so Brandon and I decided to surprise Joe by moving our membership and becoming official members of Monte Vista. This was a very special day for our family, as we walked the aisle towards Bro. Olive and made it official.

Our most memorable gift received was in 2001. Our family attended the candlelight service and celebrated Christmas that evening. Later in the evening after everyone had gone home, we received a call from Heather & Chris saying, “we’re headed to the hospital, we’re in labor.” After a long Christmas Eve night at the hospital, Ansley Belle Tuck was born on Christmas Day 2001. While all our grandchildren are gifts from God, experiencing a child born on Christmas Day is the best gift a grandparent could receive.   

May your Christmas season be filled with gifts of love, joy, and happiness.

Lisa Hill

Today is the last day of Advent. Tomorrow begins the season of Christmas which will last until January 6.  Many people know these 12 days from the song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”   At the end of the 12 days, the church celebrates Epiphany, when Jesus was revealed to the world.  In some parts of the world Epiphany is as important as Christmas Day.  The Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on January 6.  This day is also celebrated as the day when the wise men came to Jesus bearing gifts.  

In our final week of stories, people are sharing about memorable and meaningful gifts they have either received or given. Jeus said it is more blessed to give than receive.  We know that to be true.  I pray you will be blessed in the new year through the many gifts you give to others.
Sunday, December 24

I am not a good gift giver. You may be familiar with the five love languages: acts of service, gift giving, words of affirmation, physical touch, and quality time. I think that I relate to the other four better than to gift giving. When one has family members whose love language is gift giving, it's important to step up to help them feel loved. My challenge is that I also struggle to catch subtle hints. For me a subtle hint often needs detailed instruction.

I recall special presents from past Christmases — some of them real surprises: A large bottle of ketchup wrapped up under the Christmas tree was my best gift when I was four; or a new road bike—a surprise from my wife who saved sacrificially for it when money was tight. Mostly I remember and treasure times of family togetherness. When being with family means traveling a few hours, the time is precious.

Our Lord prizes our time with him. Our great and giving God has given the perfect gift—Jesus.  I am also glad that God teaches us how to love him in return: “with all your heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself;” and “to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.” These verses are about making time for our God and our neighbors. They relate to my preferred love language (acts of service). So, my challenge is to be a good servant this season.

Gary Vines

Week 3 - Advent Devotions

Saturday, December 23

Christmas Eve usually means last-minute gift shopping, family gatherings, and the traditional Christmas Eve church services. But in 2020 the pandemic forced us to pause our traditions, as churches streamed services online, families postponed large gatherings, and shops closed early. By mid-evening, a gentle snowfall was blanketing the city in a pristine, brightening snow.

A new and poignant experience blanketed us. Together, our family watched the Christmas Eve service online. We sang carols and worshiped together in a different setting. Normally our family always led in worship; now we sat together in our den, experiencing God’s presence in a new way. After the service we took handheld candles to the front porch to sing “Silent Night” as the lovely snow fell all around. 

The familiar strains of that carol consoled us. Holding hands in the cold with candles flickering against the darkness, we sang with reverent hearts full of hope and found peace. The scene fit the true essence of Christmas—the light shining in the darkness—so in that moment our faith overcame our fears about the pandemic. 

We focused on the hope and peace promised in Jesus’ birth, the joy brought into a darkened and hurting world. Like the snow round about, His love enveloped us, covering our lives with grace, forgiveness, and hope.

During Advent, let's seek the light in the midst of darkness, find joy in the simplest of moments, and let the love of Christ illuminate our hearts and homes. May we carry the spirit of Christmas—of hope, peace, and love—throughout the year, sharing its warmth and Light with everyone we meet.

"For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." – Isaiah 9:6

Lisa Kosier

Friday, December 22

A birth. A child. The reason for the season. The Christmas season is the most beloved holiday. I have so many fond memories of celebrating the Christmas season with family and friends alike—truly most joyous memories!
My special Christmas memory happened in 2012. I was due to give birth to my daughter, Bryna Rhea, on Christmas Day, but God had other plans. My water broke on 12/12/12, and we introduced a beautiful, healthy girl to this world. The following two weeks before Christmas Day were a postpartum blur, with no sleep. Yet having a newborn at Christmas moved me so profoundly! I received the gift of a deeper appreciation and reverence for the season. When I became a mother, the holiday took on so much more importance for me. Each year it has grown more meaningful.

I have learned to take this season to slow down and enjoy the presence of the Spirit in every moment. With all the hustle and bustle of our lives, it is important to practice mindfulness and be present in the moment. Expressing kindness and gratitude to everybody will create impressions that will last far longer than the moment. We can spread love to the far reaches by every interaction with people we encounter. Let this time create a light inside you that we may all shine our brightest.

Katie McCulloch Baird

Thursday, December 21

My college sweetheart and husband of 51 years died in July 2014. That first Christmas Eve service, without him sitting next to me, brought me to tears. 

That's when I gave myself a little “talking to.” I thought, I'm celebrating Christ's birth and Alan is looking at Him! It reminded me of a song our choir sang years ago. 

“It's About the Cross”
It's not just about the manger
Where the baby lay
It's not all about the angels
Who sing for him that day
It's not all about the shepherds
Or the bright and shining star
It's not all about the wise men
Who travelled from afar
The beginning of the story
Is wonderful and great
But it's the ending that can save you
And that's why we celebrate
It's about God's love
Nailed to a tree
It's about the cross
It's about the cross

One day Alan and I will celebrate God's love together again. What a wonderful promise! What a wonderful Savior!

Pat Pastor

Wednesday, December 20

Growing up as a minister’s child, we were taught from an early age that Christmas is about more than presents under the tree. It’s about more than Jesus being born. It’s about showing others we love them and care about them. It’s about helping those less fortunate than us. Don’t we tend to struggle to put others’ needs above our own?  Learning that lesson as a child created memorable moments. 

Christmas 2006 I got to see this firsthand. My sister and I decided to gift our parents. We saved up our money and gave them a new TV. We recruited some help in hiding our gift since we were both teenagers and hiding a gift of that size at home would prove to be difficult. On Christmas Eve night, the gift was delivered to our house by a friend. In the early hours of the morning, we got up, took the old one down and put the new one up with a LARGE red bow. The next morning, we got up and Dad followed our normal Christmas morning traditions, coffee, pictures of presents, and a fire. Except this time, he noticed a new TV. Confused he walked back to their bedroom and thanked my mom for the gift. She was just as confused and as they ran towards the living room, my sister and I followed snickering at our genius. When we got to them, we found them standing in front of the TV dumbfounded and concerned that someone had been in the house overnight. After a few moments we let them off the hook with a HUGE “Merry Christmas!” The joy, shock and amazement in their eyes is still one of my favorite memories of that Christmas. It was my firsthand encounter with doing something special for someone that I cared about deeply. 

So, this year at Christmas do something unexpected. Do something for someone who least expects it or needs it. Be the light and joy for someone else this season. Hebrews 13:16 says “And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God.” Don’t let the Spirit of Christmas pass you by without doing for others instead of yourself. Joy comes in many different forms, and sometimes it comes from doing instead of receiving. 

They still have that TV, and it is still a reminder to me of the lessons I learned as a child, that came to fruition. 

Lauren K. White

Tuesday, December 19

I grew up in Blount County where my father was born and raised. My mother was from southern Indiana. They met during World War II while serving in the Marine Corps, married, and settled in Blount County. Every summer when my dad took a week of vacation, we traveled to Indiana and spent a week with Mom's brother and sister who lived together on a farm in the community where Mom was raised. Her other brothers and sisters lived nearby. We enjoyed visiting with them, playing with cousins, and getting to experience farm life.

The year I was 12 my father decided to take a week of his December vacation to spend Christmas in Indiana. My brothers and I were delighted. Not only did we enjoy our aunts, uncles, and cousins, but we might see SNOW for Christmas!

The trip was everything we had imagined. There WAS snow, plus family, gifts, food, lots of sled rides, AND a litter of puppies in the barn!

There was also a Christmas Eve service, carols, and reading the Christmas story from Luke. Hmm—maybe it wasn't such a different Christmas after all!

Joyce Garmeson

Monday, December 18

It was Christmas Eve the year my son Matt was a junior in college. My husband and I had spent the last month getting settled in our new home. We were exhausted and the Christmas tree was not up. Christmas is huge for me. The tree is usually decorated early, and I was anxious about it.

Matt was due home around nine, and we had a hot meal ready for him. The wreath was on the front door, the Nativity was in the front entryway, there were other decorations here and there, and there was hot apple cider, but the tree stood bare. 

I was torn between decorating that tree and relaxing with my feet up.  I sat to rest for a while. We had a lot for which to be thankful. During past Christmas seasons, illnesses and my husband’s hospital stay meant we could not put up the tree. 

Finally, Matt pulled his car into the driveway, and—my heart skipped a beat—there he was, safely home from college! We hugged in the living room. He ate and rested, grabbed a second mug of eggnog and said, “Mom! We need to decorate the tree!” My heart skipped another beat!

Reminiscing, misty-eyed, with Christmas music filling the house, we unpacked ornaments that marked stages in his life: a pipe cleaner reindeer, a linen angel nine-year old Matt made the year my dad, his Papa, died. Then there was those ornaments that family members had given commemorating his scouting, athletics, and military enlistment. Nutcrackers, too!

That evening was a special gift from Above, a one-of-a-kind memory I still cherish. It wasn’t about the Christmas tree, but about our time together, sharing memories, and looking forward in faith, hoping for future family gatherings like it.

Cathy Crawford Stinson  

Everybody has a story about a Christmas story that stands out above all others. Some stories are funny, some are tragic, some are sentimental.  Some of the stories have to do with a place, people, or something that happened (or didn’t happen). 

The first Christmas was truly unique and memorable, never to be repeated, never to be surpassed. It was and continues to be “the greatest story ever told.”  It stands as a beacon calling us to the wondrous love of God we experience through Jesus Christ.  May these stories about unique and memorable Christmas experiences point you to reflect on the sole difference Jesus has made in your life and inspire you to tell your story.

Sunday, December 17

One of our favorite Christmas memories happened in 1994. We gained guardianship and custody of Ted’s sisters. We were in our early twenties and living on Hilton Head Island. It was very expensive. I had to give up college for a bit so we could afford taking care of them. We decided not to exchange gifts but to make sure the girls would have a great Christmas. I love opening gifts. On Christmas morning we all read the scripture on the birth of Christ. We had a good breakfast and took a walk on the beach. Afterward, the girls opened their gifts. Their laughter made our day! Then Ted pulled out a big box with gifts in it. I felt bad and irritated because we had agreed no gifts for each other. Ted said just open your gifts. The first one was a can of corn. The next was a box of soap. I had a puzzling look on my face. We were all laughing as I opened weird items. I opened a gift of toilet paper! Ted said “Peggy, I know you like opening things—it’s our groceries!” Yep!! One great memory for the books.

Peggy Beck

Week 2 - Advent Devotions

Saturday, December 16
Joy to the World

“Sing to the Lord a new song for he has done marvelous things.”
Psalm 98

The truth is, a Christian must really work at not feeling joy at Christmas. It is a multi-faceted emotion this time of year, from family gatherings to children unwrapping their treasures. Yet none of that supersedes what we feel as we celebrate the birth of the central figure of our faith.

There are two songs titled “Joy to the World.” One is about earth receiving her king. The other is a 1970 Hoyt Axton tune about an amphibious reptile named after an Old Testament prophet.

The former was inspired by Psalm 98, which English hymnist and minister Isaac Watts reinterpreted in 1719 as what we know as “Joy to the World.” The melody was provided by a pre-Civil War American composer named Lowell Mason.

The lyrics are inevitably seen as a reference to Luke 2:8-14, when the angels appear to the shepherds, bringing “good news that will cause get joy for all the people.” When you think about it, joy is the emotion that most permeates Christendom at this time of year. As it should.

There are other songs and hymns that help us express our sentiments of the Christmas season, from the 1818 composition “Silent Night” to the 1991 song “Mary, Did You Know?”.

Yet it is the unabated jubilation contained in “Joy to the World” that best exhibits Christianity’s unending hope for a better tomorrow.

As Hoyt Axton wrote, “Joy to the world. All the boys and girls. Joy to you and me.”

Robert Wilson

Friday, December 15
Beautiful Star of Bethlehem

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.  When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.
Matthew 2:9-10

Christmas music starts playing at our house on November 1! The tradition of singing carols brings back so many special memories of Christmas through the years. Our playlist grows each year. Although it is not my favorite Christmas carol, I choose to share about “Beautiful Star of Bethlehem” because of the tradition it holds in my family and church family. This song conveys to me the beauty of the light that has come into the world. The star symbolizes God coming to earth to be with us. It is a symbol of hope and guidance to those seeking redemption and salvation!

Harmony is a big part of who I am. I was singing before I learned to talk, learning to sing harmony with my Sullivan family on the front porch of Papaw’s house every Sunday afternoon. This song has become part of our Christmas tradition at Monte Vista, and many of you share with us how much it means to you personally. Through the years, our family has added Blake playing the bass. Our most recent addition is his wife, Lindsey, on the fiddle. The older I get, the more I realize and appreciate what a true blessing it is to sing praises with the ones I hold so dear.

The Christmas Eve candlelight service is one of my favorite traditions where friends and family come home to Monte Vista, gathering to sing Christmas carols as we celebrate the birth of our Savior.  I encourage each of you to sing a little louder this Christmas season and appreciate all the wonderful Christmas songs, old and new!  Listen for the message of each proclaiming God’s promises!

Libby Hurst

Thursday, December 14
What Child Is This

“When they had seen him, they spread the news…”
Luke 2:17

It is hard to pick a favorite Christmas carol. The simple and oldest ones mean the most to me, particularly if they focus on the Christ Child. I am thinking about “That Boy-Child of Mary” right now. “He is Born” is an emotional favorite. I have very warm memories of when our daughter Julie sang it at church, and I accompanied her on guitar. I love the tune.

I like the carols that express our wonder at the child in the manger such as “Who is He in Yonder Stall?“  For this Advent season, “What Child is This”  stands out as a favorite. Its melody “Greensleeves” dates back 500 years. The lyric by William Dix dates back to 1865 and reflects that beautiful Victorian era when the celebration of Christmas was beginning to explode across Europe. Its message taps into the heart of Christmas - God is with us, humbly human and our Savior, Christ is among us.

The melody has always moved me. In recent years I have often listened to a special arrangement by Ralph Vaughan Williams, The Fantasia on Greensleeves, one of the prettiest orchestra compositions, an arrangement now buried deeply in me. The version by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields and Neville Mariner has the Fantasia and four other equally lovely pieces. I may never get tired of hearing it. Knowing the simple tune and the words that are behind it, I recognize that our Lord calls me back to the foundation of my faith in a beautiful way. Christ is come!

Jerry Summers

Wednesday, December 13
It Came Upon a Midnight Clear

“They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." Isaiah 2:1

“It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” is a hymn of hope in the midst of suffering, war and despair.  While it was written in 1849, it needs to be heard in every generation. The first verse marvels at the intersection of heaven and earth, “From angels bending near the earth to touch their harps of gold.”  The message they bring is peace.

The two middle verses bemoan two thousand years of wrong and the failure of humanity to heed the angel’s song of love. We are urged not to despair, for one day peace will come and the whole world will sing the song of the angels.

The hymn writer is Edmund Sears, a graduate of Harvard Divinity School.  He served as a Unitarian minister in two congregations in Massachusetts.  He preached in favor of equality of women and against the Fugitive Slave Law.  An 1856 sermon in which he “condemned chattel slavery as evil” was deemed to be such a strong argument against slavery that it was published as a pamphlet by Massachusetts abolitionists.

Sears said, “When wrong has become so organized as to make the state its permanent body, then the state’s functions and the men holding offices do the bidding of wrong and of evil.”

Pray today for the establishment of justice, for the relief of those who are suffering, and for courage to speak up for the rights of the poor. If we all do our part, then truly we will see heaven and earth sing together the angelic songs of peace.

Lucy Wilkins
Tuesday, December 12

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son,
and they will call him ‘Emmanuel’ which means, ‘God with us.’”
Matthew 1:23

There are many wonderful names for Jesus: Good Shepherd, Mighty God, Prince of Peace, Savior and Beloved Son to name a few. To be honest, in the past I thought Emmanuel as sort of a Christmasy name for Jesus. However, now it has become a favorite name for him.

God with us. Not just when we go to heaven and are with him, but now. He came to be with us now! How comforting is that?

“Emmanuel” is probably the shortest carol. Not a lot of words to remember, but oh those words:

“Emmanuel, Emmanuel,
His name is called Emmanuel;
God with us, revealed in us;
His name is called Emmanuel.”

Did you notice that part: “revealed in us?” That causes me to think how Christ is revealed in us. Revealed means seen or made known. He is with us so we can make Him known to others. When we take time to help people in need as He always did, when we turn to God in prayer, when we love, forgive and show mercy, we reveal the character of Christ.

We can do those things because He came to show us how to live and is with us to help us.

We might ask ourselves as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ: How are we revealing Emmanuel?

Pat Pastor

Monday, December 11
Silent Night

“Be still and know that I am God.”
Psalm 46:10

Have you been to Monte Vista’s annual Christmas Eve candlelight service? If so, you will understand why “Silent Night” is one of my favorite Christmas carols. It is calming, easy to sing, and feels like a lullaby. After the hustle and bustle of the season, it is perfect for the night before Christmas.  

Our Christmas Eve service is a special night to reflect. The church is beautifully decorated. Candles light the stained-glass windows.  Friends and families have gathered and are in town for the holidays. College students are home from school. Children are excited and counting the hours until presents! Babies and toddlers are being passed around by adoring grandparents. Adults are joyful and probably a little tired from a month of activities and Christmas preparations. Christmas carols are sung, scripture is read, and our dear pastor reminds us why we celebrate the season. Christmas memories are summed up as we end the service by singing “Silent Night.”  

Each person is given a candle. From darkness, one candle is lit, and soon every candle is aglow. On the last verse, everyone raises a candle and sings.

“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!”

For just a moment, we slow down and reflect about a bright silent night and the wonder of a newborn child, our Savior, who came into the world as a Light so that all who believe in Him would have hope and not be in darkness.

Tami Kooch

Favorite Carols
Week 2

Music has often been called the universal language.  Unlike anything else in our world, music moves us, speaks to us, stirs our memories, and unites us regardless of our mother tongue.  This week we are sharing with you some of our favorite Christmas carols.  The songs of this season are deeply embedded in our memories.  Someone starts singing and we all join in, at least for the first verse.  They are also embedded in us because they tell a story that is near to our heart – the story of God coming to earth to live in and among us.  Some of these carols are reflective and some are celebrative.  They all touch us in some way.

As you move through these stories this week, take a few moments to look up the lyrics of the carol.  Let God speak to you through these words.  Maybe even sing it if you dare.  Ask God to plant that song in you and bring it to the surface throughout the day.  Better yet, share its message with someone.  

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 10
O Holy Night

 “They were all filled with awe & praised God.”
Luke 7:16

“O Holy Night” has become my favorite Christmas carol. It was not one of those songs I grew up singing. I think it was in our church hymnal but for some reason we never sang it.  Maybe it was because it is not as easy to sing as the other carols.  Whatever key I start in, I end in a different key with a lot of straining in the middle.

There are a lot of stories floating around about this carol.  It was written by a French poet who was not a follower of Christ but was asked by a local pastor to write a poem about Christmas.  The tune caught on quickly, supposedly because parts of it were familiar pub songs. It is said that during the Franco-Prussian War, the French soldiers sang it on Christmas Eve and the German soldiers responded by singing a song by Martin Luther. It began a 24-hour truce.  I like that story. During the Civil War in America, the abolitionists were moved by the message of Christ’s victory over the oppression of sin and unity people find under God.  They tweaked  the words –“Truly he taught us to love one another; his law is love and his gospel is peace. Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother; and in his name all oppression shall cease.” Those changes are as appropriate today as they were years ago.

For me, it is the combination of very moving music and words that overpower me and bring me to my knees. This song transports me back to a time when stars fill the sky with light and angel voices announce this night is different from all other nights. It is holy, set apart, divine.

I wrestle with evil. I can feel the pain and restlessness of our world as it joins in that struggle. Then comes that moment when Christ appears and everything changes – “the soul felt its worth.”  I realize I am worthy of being loved.  Let that sink in for a moment. When that happens, there is only one appropriate response – to fall on my knees in complete abandonment.

It is just like God to use an unbeliever to spread his story; to move in people’s hearts so that even if it is only a moment, we will lay down our weapons; and to bring people together as brother and sister. This is the heart of the good news Jesus came to bring.  My prayer for you is that sometime today the quiet presence of God will overshadow you, you will fall on your knees, and you will hear his voice say, “You are my beloved son/daughter whom I love. I came for you.”

Jerry Mantooth

Week 1 - Advent Devotions

Saturday, December 9
As a young girl growing up in a small town in Virginia, one of our most meaningful traditions was attending the candlelight Christmas Eve service at our church. Our church was at the end of our street so we would walk. One year my sister and I were dressed up in our church best and I took her hand and we got to walk to church by ourselves. Boy did we feel all grown up. I believe I was about 8 and my sister almost 5 years of age. I remember the candles glowing in the church and the beautiful music. We walked home, and mom got us ready for bed. 
My sister was always the one that was up at 1:00am waking everyone up and screaming “it’s Christmas, get up”. This particular year my sister heard a noise downstairs in our family room shortly after we fell asleep. She woke me up and was whispering, “presents, come see”. 
We quietly went downstairs and under the tree there were presents all beautifully wrapped. My sister just started to unwrap them and kept hitting me saying “come on” lets open them. So, we did and then carefully wrapped them back hoping not to get caught. 
Christmas morning came and we all went downstairs as a family and to our surprise there were no presents. My sister started crying and my father took her hand and sat her down with my mother and I. We were asked if we listened in church. Our parents reminded us about the meaning of Christmas and how blessed we were as a family. From that point on every Christmas, I learned never to take a gift for granted and how the true meaning of Christmas is in my heart every day and not under a bow. Let us never forget.  

Monica DeRoos

Friday, December 8

 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 26-28.

In the busyness of the Christmas season, there are a few hours each Christmas Eve that have become a favorite tradition of mine. It is a simple family gathering that began in the middle of a difficult period. Christmas with blended families can be challenging. You have limited moments to visit as time is shared over the holidays. 

This tradition began when I only had a few hours to get together with my daughter Haleigh and my family. Together we would have simple snacks and share gifts with each other. The time would quickly come for everyone to go to their Christmas Eve services. Each year this brief time was fun but emotional. As in Romans 8, the Spirit helped us in some of those emotionally weak moments and God has turned those few hours into a cherished tradition. 

Since then, circumstances have changed, but we still commit to this tradition of time together each Christmas Eve. This Christmas, whether you encounter difficult circumstances, the absence of a loved one or blended family schedules, remember, “that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” Romans 8:28. He is calling you to celebrate Christ’s birth and, as He is present with you this Christmas, you can be enjoying a tradition of presence with family.

Chris Gilliland

Thursday, December 7

Do you know what I miss at Christmas?  Icicles.  Those short strands of silver tinsel perfectly folded over a piece of carboard inside a cellophane wrapper.  I am not sure if they even make them anymore.  After the tree was completely decorated, out came the icicles.  My mother took them out of the package one by one and placed them carefully on the branches between ornaments.  They transformed a poorly shaped tree and mismatched ornaments into a beautiful and magical piece of art.  Every year we looked at that tree in wonder and said it was the most beautiful tree we had ever had.

My mother’s decorating method was too slow.  I discovered if you took several at a time, stepped back from the tree, and tossed them in the air in the direction of the tree you got better coverage in a shorter amount of time.  For some reason, her areas always looked better than mine.
I don’t think icicles cost much money, but like everything else, we saved them from year to year.  We tried to put them back on the cardboard the way they came but they were never the same.  They had creases and knots and had lost some of their luster.  Today we would say we were “being green.”  My mother said we were being frugal. I called it being cheap.  At the time I didn’t know we didn’t have money to spend on Christmas decorations every year.

I have been known to go back and rearrange some ornaments after my children went to bed.  My mother never went back and redid my icicles.  She left them there in clumps.  She knew that what really made a tree beautiful was not perfectly placed ornaments or even shiny new ones, but the love that went into it.
Isn’t it just like God to use the tangled, creased, and  diminished in luster to miraculously transform something into a thing of beauty? I am glad he does.

Jerry Mantooth
Wednesday, December 6
One of our best Christmas memories is of the Christmas of 1979. We had just moved to Rock Hill, South Carolina, in August of 1979, where John was hired as a very low-paid Instructor of English at Winthrop College. Janice had given birth to our daughter, Heather, on August 4, so Janice did not work as a nurse for about 8 months, meaning we had very little money and didn’t know if we could even afford a Christmas tree that year.

A few days before Christmas, though we decided to at least look for a tree.  After searching for hours in vain, we found a pure cedar tree at the back of a tree lot, almost as if the seller had given up on selling it. He wanted only $8.00 for it, and it was perfect for us! We bought it and decorated it with mostly homemade decorations, and that tree helped make our Christmas special.

Of course, in hindsight, what really made the special quality was our beautiful little girl, less than five months old, whom we photographed in front of the tree. It was our first Christmas as a real family, and it will always be special for that reason, and for the $8:00 Christmas tree!!
God truly does meet all needs (Philippians 4:19) and gives us joy (Psalm 28:7).

Janice and John Grigsby
Tuesday, December 5
One of the Christmas traditions in the Wilkins’ household is to watch a video of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” each Christmas Eve. Over the years we’ve watched many versions, with “A Muppet’s Christmas Carol” being our grandchildren’s current favorite.
Each year I watch as the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge has his life transformed through encounters with the spirits of Christmas. I rejoice as Scrooge gratefully accepts his second chance and changes his ways. He reorients his priorities and learns to love life and to care about others.
This story reminds me of a central hope of Christmas. Because Jesus Christ came into our world that first Christmas, change and transformation are possible not just for Ebenezer Scrooge, but for each of us.
The good news of Christmas is that in Jesus Christ we can find healing for our past, help for our present, and hope for the future. 
Most likely we will not be visited this year by the spirits of Christmas past, present, or yet to come as was Scrooge. But I do believe that we’ll be visited by the spirit of God, who will invite us to more fully follow Jesus Christ. If we respond positively to this Christmas invitation  then, like Scrooge, we will find ourselves being changed for the better, and will experience a better life than we ever dreamed was possible.

And that good news enables us to say with Tiny Tim, “God bless us, everyone!”    

Mike Wilkins

Monday, December 4
When Bob and I married over a decade ago, we both had lots of Christmas decorations that we had saved over the years.   Some were made by our children; some were from our parents’ homes and some were just pretty things we had purchased along the way.    However, we didn’t have a nativity set that we had picked out together.

Bob and I love to drive across the country to the Southwest to explore.   We hike the slot canyons, visit Native American sites, kayak, and fly fish.   We have made so many trips we have forgotten exactly how many trips we have made!

It was on one of these trips that we stopped at Cedar Mesa near Blanding, Utah.   There was a pottery shop owned by Native American folks and we decided to look around.   That is when we found it, a simple terra cotta nativity set.   Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus are in front of a traditional hogan.   Three chiefs in native dress appear on horseback bearing gifts for the Christ Child and there is a small herd of sheep.

It warmed my heart to talk with the potters who made this lovely nativity set and hear them explain their love for Jesus and how they represented his birth in the context of their experiences.  

Now this nativity set is always on prominent display in our home for Christmas.  Hopefully it will remind us that we all have different life experiences, but just like these folks at Cedar Mesa, we love the Lord and want to share the good news of his birth.

 Mary Charles Harris

Sunday, December 3
My grandmother was not a woman who engrained a sense of spirituality in my older brother and me. We were her only grandchildren, and she was our only grandmother.

Grandmother – that’s what we called her, not Gramma or Mamaw or any such variation – was a walking contradiction. In some ways she was the genteel lady concerned with how she appeared and carried herself in public.

But her more private self was characterized by cigarette smoking, which she never did in public, and a language style that could be a little salty in an entertaining sort of a way.

She was not a regular church-goer, though I have no reason to think of her as a non-believer.

The two constants, though, were that she loved her grandsons and she loved Christmas. In an era of cheesy silver Christmas trees lit by colored rotating floor lights, she went all in, lavishing the Wilson boys with gifts and love.

My grandparents lived in New Orleans in those days, and we would drive down for Christmas to bask in her affection and new toys. And socks, there were always socks.

Almost inevitably Grandmother would be the first one
out of bed before Christmas dawned, padding through the house saying, “Merry Christmas, let’s open the presents.”

For a preteen kid, that was the family tradition, Grandmother’s smiling exuberance and love of the holiday that easily got superimposed on her daughter’s sons.

Grandmother will soon have been gone 60 years. I still miss her at Christmas.
Bob Wilson


Centuries ago, the Church set aside four weeks to prepare our hearts for the coming of the Messiah.  We call it Advent.  Today we launch the Advent season, joining millions of Christians around the globe who are lighting a candle, waiting, and watching:
Hope          The Prophecy Candle
Peace        The Bethlehem Candle
Joy             The Shepherd’s Candle
Love           The Angel’s Candle
Our time of waiting will come to an end at our Christas Eve Candlelight Service.  It is a highly anticipated event around here when we stop all activities, take a breath, sing the songs of Christmas, read the Christmas story, and experience the birth of Christ with our spiritual and biological families.
Our hope is that the decorations, the music, the studies, the gatherings, the giving, and the worship that will happen this month will all work together to help you prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ.

The psalmist said,
I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
I will consider all your works
and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”
Your ways, God, are holy.
What god is as great as our God?

We offer this devotional guide to help you pause for at least a moment each day and reflect on the miracles and gifts  that have helped shape Christ and Christmas in you. As you read one each day, allow it to take you to those places, experiences, and people in your heart that have been treasured gifts from God in your own life.

We are deeply grateful to the people who have shared a portion of their lives with us through these stories, and to Lynn Hawkins for providing the artwork.   Each Sunday we will provide a new devotional guide for that week.  It will be available in printed form and on our website.
This first week we have asked people to reflect on something that made Christmas memorable for them.  Like Mary, what have they treasured in their own heart?  It may be a decoration, an experience, or a tradition.  We hope it sparks some things in your own thinking that will draw you closer to Jesus Christ and one another as we prepare for Christmas together.
Merry Christmas from the Engage Team-

Jerry Mantooth, Pat Pastor, Debra and Jerry Summers, Lucy and Mike Wilkins