Reformed Worship offers these daily meditations by Rebecca Tellinghuisen, that worship planners and pastors can distribute to their congregations or engage with personally as a touch point during a very busy liturgical season. Advent 2023 will feel shorter this year because the fourth Sunday of Advent falls on December 24, the day before Christmas. Because of this tight schedule, the editors recommend using Week 1 readings beginning November 27 as a preparation for Advent. For the next four weeks, we will publish a new week’s worth of readings and reflections leading up to Christmas.
If you are a subscriber to the print or digital journal you may notice that these devotions correspond with Rebecca Tellinghuisen’s Christmas Eve service, “The Unexpected Gift” found on page 43 of Reformed Worship 149, but the service and devotions can be used independently from each other.
Whether you use this devotional series or make use of some other resource, may you find time to rest and receive God’s gift to you.
Introduction to the Series
Imagine the most perfectly wrapped present sitting under a perfectly decorated Christmas tree. It’s so inviting, isn’t it? Bright, shiny paper folded just right. A cascade of ribbon falling down the sides in springy curls. This is no fake display in a store window. It’s not just an empty box made to look appealing. This is a good gift. And the tag says it’s for you. So go ahead and open it! You can rip through the paper or try to save it, if you think it’s too pretty to destroy. Are you excited? Are you surprised? Or are you starting to wonder, “Wait, why is this here? Who is this from? What is it? Will I like it?”
The wrapping is gone. The box sits in front of you, ready to be opened.
The gift is yours. How will you respond?
“You really shouldn’t have . . .”
Not every gift is experienced as a gift. Gifts are generally seen as positive things, the result of thoughtfulness and generosity. But not always. A gift never arrives without context—all that came before it and all that you envision after it. And so there might be any number of feelings: joy, surprise, fear, regret. What is this for? What does it mean? What will it require? Is this gift really good?
It is better to give than to receive, as we’ve all been told. But when it comes to this Gift, it is necessary to receive. And how we receive this Gift is everything.
What kind of gift-receiver are you?
WEEK 1: It’s too much
Two lifelong friends meet for lunch. They haven’t seen each other in months. It’s almost Christmas, and they both have November birthdays, so it’s a perfect opportunity for gift-giving.
Friend 1 [at a gift shop]: I know she wouldn’t want me to get her anything too expensive. Oh, that panda potholder is so cute! She would love that.
Fast forward to the lunch
Friend 2: I know you really wanted to go to the big concert this weekend, but it was sold out. I just couldn’t resist. I managed to get two tickets for us. Right up front. Best seats in the house.
Friend 1 [to herself]: I can’t believe I got her a potholder.
Both friends found joy and meaning when choosing the gift. But when it came time to give the gifts, a comparison happened. “It’s too much!” (Translation: your gift cost more than mine.)
When we feel a gift is too expensive or too valuable, it might complicate a relationship. It can make someone feel “less than” if given something “more than.”
God’s great Gift is lavish. As costly as it could be. And we come to the table with nothing. We are always less than. But we shouldn’t feel less than. We should feel loved.
Sunday: God’s great love. His lavish, extravagant love (John 3:16-17)
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him (John 3:16–17).
Whether you’ve heard it a million times or you’re hearing it for the first time, read John 3:16 to yourself today. But don’t stop there. Read verse 17 too. Then stop and think about it. Really think about it. Try writing or reading it as a prayer of praise for this wonderful Gift.
Monday: God’s love shown in creation (Genesis 1)
Read Genesis 1 and think about what moments of creation you’ve recently experienced that have been good. Brilliant autumn leaves shining in the sun. Giant flakes of snow falling gently to earth. A sunrise over the water. God’s world is beautiful. His goodness and loving care for what he made runs through the creation account in Genesis chapter 1. Take a moment to simply rest in the truth that the same God who made the world and everything in it made you. And loves you.
Tuesday: God’s love shown in seeking to bless (Genesis 12:1-4)
Read Genesis 12 and consider the providential care God displays here. A creator wouldn’t have to take an interest in his handiwork. He could make it, wind it up, so to speak, and set it on its way. But God doesn’t just want us to be alive. He wants us to live. Or in the words of John 10:10, have life “to the full.” And so God reached out to one man, and through him, all of humankind.
Wednesday: God’s love shown in caring for those who are alone, poor, and defenseless (Ruth 1–4)
Set aside some time to read the whole book of Ruth. This story of a young widow who went from foreigner to the family tree of Jesus is remarkable. God cares about those the world might overlook or even mistreat. Do you ever feel alone, scared, invisible? We are never out of God’s view. We are never out of his love.
Thursday: God’s love shown to those who don’t deserve it—and those who don’t care about those who don’t deserve it (Jonah 1–4)
Jonah is the story of love. Unconditional love. Love no matter what. It sounds wonderful, but also impossible. How could God love those godless Ninevites? Because they belonged to him, every bit as much as Jonah. Jonah didn’t understand that until God made it abundantly clear to him. He loved Jonah too, you see. Just like he loves us even when we don’t extend his love to others.
Friday: God’s love shown to those who think all hope is lost Isaiah (Isaiah 11)
Read Isaiah 11 and reflect on the ways our loving God gives people hope in the midst of hopeless situations. Disobedience. Captivity. The people of Israel were far from home—geographically and spiritually. But they weren’t forgotten. And God’s love and promises would not fail. True, the nation had failed, like a tree that had fallen and been hauled away. But look closer at the stump. It’s not dead. God’s love will bring life where you never expect it.
Saturday: God’s love and faithfulness shown through his word, from the beginning to this present day and beyond (Psalm 119)
Psalm 119 is an acrostic Psalm that celebrates and meditates on living a life directed by God’s word. We can know about God’s love through his word, the Bible. And we can experience the depth of God’s love through the Word made flesh, the Gift we await during Advent.