Thirdmill Advent Devotional, 2023

Explore Christ’s first advent and consider how his role and mission still encourages Christians today.

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Dear Thirdmill Users,

As the season of Advent approaches, we are reminded of the anticipation, hope, and profound mystery that marked the waiting of the world for its Savior. It's a time to reflect, to be still, and to draw near to God as we remember the incredible gift of Jesus Christ to humanity.

I'm thrilled to introduce you to our Advent series devotional. This collection has been thoughtfully curated by educator and writer Annette Gulick using Thirdmill’s curriculum materials. Each devotion is an invitation to meditate on the profound truths of Scripture and the transformative power of the gospel.

During these times when the world seems to be in constant flux and uncertainty lurks at every corner, let this Advent series serve as a beacon of light, guiding you towards the eternal hope found only in Christ. Allow it to recenter your heart and refocus your gaze on the timeless truths of God's love and the promise of redemption.

Remember, every year, as we light candles, sing age-old hymns, and read from Scripture, we are participating in a tradition that stretches back centuries. We join with believers from all eras and all corners of the world, unified in our anticipation and celebration of Emmanuel – God with us.

May this Advent series devotional enrich your faith, ignite your hope, and deepen your love for God and for others. Step into this season with expectancy and openness and may the profound truths of the Gospel fill your heart and home with boundless joy.

Wishing you a blessed Advent season,


Advent - Week 1 (December 3, 2023)

O Come, O Come Emmanuel


Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
Isaiah 7:14 & Matthew 1:23

The first Sunday of Advent often catches me by surprise. When I see the Advent wreath at the front of the sanctuary, I can’t help but think, Christmas can’t be only four weeks away! Immediately, a flood of everything I have to do before Christmas fills my mind.

Christmas Carols are one of the best things to take my mind off my to-do list. The one I long to sing on the first Sunday of Advent is O Come, O Come Emmanuel. The mournful tune slows my mind and the words remind me of the ache just below the surface of daily life, even for God’s people:

O come, o come, Emmanuel
 And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
 Until the Son of God appear.

Loneliness, mourning, and captivity may be discordant with the bright cheerfulness of Christmas in the West, but they are actually the reason for the season. Our creator paid us a visit to fix the problem at the root of all our other problems: the broken relationship with God that spills out into all of our other relationships. In Ephesians 2:14-16, the apostle Paul described this transformative work:

For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity… so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross (NASB 1995)

This verse points to one of the crucial roles fulfilled by Jesus Christ: that of a priest, someone who mediates and brings together estranged parties. In Thirdmill’s course, We Believe in Jesus: Jesus as Priest, Canadian theologian Dr. Glen Scorgie explains, “There's a very real sense in which the incarnation itself, inasmuch as it was the arrival amongst us of the eternal Son, was a uniting and priestly act… It was Emmanuel, God with us.”

One of our great joys, as my husband Tim and I train believers around the world who work with teenagers and young adults, is seeing how God’s transformative power brings unity where there was division and joy where there was pain. One vivid example of this was in Kadoma, Zimbabwe.

The participants of a youth ministry leadership training course got together after our sessions to prepare a special worship time to close the event. They seemed to be taking a long time preparing so I asked one of the participants why. She explained to me that the participants actually all knew the same worship songs but they knew them in different languages.

“You see,” she said, “I speak Ndebele and she [here she nodded at the girl she was standing with arm in arm] speaks Shona. We hate each other.”

The other girl nodded in assent.

I was shocked and confused. Hate each other? How could they hate each other yet act like best friends?

When I asked our host about this, he gave us a quick overview of the country’s history. Then I understood that the girls weren’t saying that they hated each other personally. They were recognizing that their tribes hated each other and had been killing each other for generations. This background helped us appreciate the miracle of the worship time as Shona and Ndebele Christians sang and danced together, alternating between the two languages, a testimony to the truth we sing in the carol:

O come, desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease
And be Thyself our King of peace.

This Advent, let's not be caught by surprise. On behalf of Third Millenium Ministries,our hope is that these devotionals will help you look back at the miracle of the Incarnation and and look forward to the second coming, as the carol says:

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel


  • Listen to O Come, O Come Emmanuel. Which verses or aspects of Jesus' work give you the most cause for rejoicing right now?
  • What specific divisions or conflicts in your life, whether internal or external, could benefit from the healing and unity that Jesus the high priest brings, especially during this Advent season? Pray, asking him to intercede in that situation.
  • God calls his people a “royal priesthood”(1 Peter 2:9). In what relationships or context can you carry out this role, mediating and interceding on behalf of others?

Annette Gulick and her husband Tim work with OC International to provide resources and training for people working with emerging generations around the world. Her latest book Aligned: Flourishing in a World of Choice is available on Amazon.


Jesus As Priest

Advent - Week 2 (December 10, 2023)

O Come All Ye Faithful


And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
  “Glory to God in the highest,
   and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

Luke 2:13, 14

What two words best describe how you’re feeling? This week’s carol describes you as “joyful” and “triumphant.” Its lyrics remind us why and the stately melody raises our spirits:

O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant!
 O come ye, o come ye to Bethlehem!
Come and behold him, born the King of angels!

O come, let us adore him;
 O come, let us adore him,
O come let us adore him, Christ, the Lord!

If how you were feeling wasn’t this celebratory, don’t worry. Believers in Jesus Christ live an odd duality: we are in this world, experiencing its joys and sorrows, but we are not of this world. As the Apostle Paul reminded his friends in Philippi, “this world is the limit of [the] horizon” for people outside of the kingdom of God. “But we are citizens of Heaven; our outlook goes beyond this world to the hopeful expectation of the savior who will come from heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phillipians 3:19, 20 Phillips).

Several years ago during a training event in Asia, I was acutely aware of what it feels like to be in one place yet belong to another. Everyone at the event was advised not to leave the grounds of the retreat center because of civil unrest. Our local colleagues were deeply affected by the situation. One had barely escaped a violent riot in his neighborhood. Others were trying to get food to their family members behind the lines of the government siege.

I was concerned for the people of the region and prayed with our friends for justice to prevail but I was also aware of the fact that my citizenship was elsewhere. For me, peace and stability were only a flight away.

This is the situation of all believers everywhere. Our king is the “Prince of Peace” and “of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end” (Isaiah 9: 6, 7 ESV).

In contrast to what we might think about kings from what we have learned about them from history, in the Bible, a king does more than rule; he shows us how to live. As Dr. Fredrick Long, a specialist in biblical and Greco-Roman literature, explains:

In the ancient world, politics and religion were merged in a dramatic, integral way, and this actually had implications for ethics, because the king … is supposed to be a model of virtue… What God has given to us, what the prophets were anticipating … is a ruler, a political ruler, a king who models for us how to live in this world, who shows true piety, true devotion, a true ethic…

Forum 1, Kingdom & Covenant in the New Testament: Why Study New Testament Theology

Dr. Jonathan Kuttab, a Palestinian Mennonite, describes the missional implications of having Christ as our King:

When Jesus comes he will put all things where they should be. Until then we have a mission. And that is to live as individuals that belong to God's kingdom, and as citizens in a heavenly earth … We are like a candle that gives light, reminding others that there is a loving God in heaven who cares about the unjust and that this brutality, corruption, and arrogance, no matter how long it lasts on earth, it is temporary and limited in time because there is a God who will, in the end, fix everything.

We Believe in Jesus: The King

Citizens of heaven are joyful because we have a just king who will put all things right. We are triumphant because our king has justified us with his death on the cross. And that is a reason to sing!

Yea, Lord, we greet thee,
 Born this happy morning;
Jesus, to Thee be all glory giv'n;
Word of the Father,
 Now in flesh appearing!

O come, let us adore him
 O come, let us adore him,
O come, let us adore him,
Christ, the Lord!


  • The carol reminds us of Jesus' humility: God of God, Light of Light, lo, He abhors not the virgin's womb. In what specific situation or relationship can you follow Jesus’ example, not clinging to your prerogatives or privileges in order to better show God’s love to someone?
  • Pray for a situation you know of where there is injustice, brutality, corruption, or arrogance, asking God to put things right.
  • Sing or listen to O Come All Ye Faithful. Use the words to adore your King for who he is and what he has done.


Jesus As King

Advent - Week 3 (December 17, 2023)

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!


The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
 because he has anointed me
 to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
 and recovering of sight to the blind,
 to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.
Luke 4:18, 19

God doesn’t reveal all the details of his plans but when he is about to change the course of history, he often sends a herald.This week’s carol gives us a front-row seat to one of the most dramatic announcements ever made:

Hark! the herald angels sing,
 “Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
 God and sinners reconciled.”

The hillside where this announcement was made was an unlikely place for the angelic army to appear. Just as God’s message comes in unexpected ways, Thirdmill’s materials also find their way to unlikely places through the dedicated work of partners like The Grace Institute.

The pastors and leaders they teach in Kagavu, Uganda have some things in common with the shepherds of Jesus’ day. Their water comes from a nearby stream; they cook their meals over an open fire, and like the shepherds, they lack internet. Personal visits are their only connection with the world beyond their village.

Prior to the pandemic, these pastors had received ongoing biblical training through biannual teaching visits. However, when the pandemic hit, these visits were suspended. The pastors were distraught because their lives and ministries had been enriched by the relationships fostered through the training events and the valuable information provided.

An ingenious solution was devised, which included generators, hotspots, projectors, and Zoom, allowing for live digital conferences held in the shade of banana palms amidst mud homes. Today, whether in-person or virtually, that global reach of the Good News is what Charles Wesley looked forward to when he wrote the carol,

Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
 Join the triumph of the skies;
With the angelic host proclaim,
 “Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

The Thirdmill lesson, We Believe in Jesus: The Prophet, reminds us that angels aren’t the only heralds in the Christmas story. While the angels were heralds in the sense that they were official messengers bringing the news of Jesus' birth, the word “herald” can also refer to a sign that something is about to happen.

Jesus is a herald of God's Kingdom in both senses. He not only proclaimed the Good News of the Kingdom, but his birth was a sign that the Kingdom was near (Matthew 3:2). The carol beautifully captures the impact of Jesus incarnation with these words:

Light and life to all He brings,
 Ris’n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by,
 Born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth,
 Born to give them second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
 “Glory to the newborn King!”

Whether through Zoom that spans continents or through conversations with our next-door neighbors, may we also be heralds of the Kingdom.


  • Think of someone who played a significant role in introducing you to the Good News of new birth in Jesus. Take a moment and thank God for them. If they are still living, communicate with them to express your gratitude.
  • As you read Isaiah 61:1, 2 think about the people you know who may be experiencing poverty, brokenheartedness, captivity, or mourning in their lives. What practical actions can you take this week to fulfill the role described in the passage, like bringing good news to the poor, comforting the brokenhearted, and proclaiming liberty to the captives?
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
 because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
 he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
 and the opening of the prison to those who are bound
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
 and the day of vengeance of our God;
 to comfort all who mourn
Isaiah 61:1, 2


Jesus as Prophet

Advent - Week 4 (December 24, 2023)

Joy to the World!


Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice,
 and let them say among the nations, “The Lord reigns!”
1 Chronicles 16:31

This week’s carol reminds us that the explosion of joy at Christ’s coming affects all of creation:

Joy to the world! The Lord is come:
Let earth receive her King;
Let ev'ry heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing…

In We Believe in Jesus: The Redeemer, Dr. Glen Scorgie points out, “…the heart of Jesus Christ extends not only to his church but to the entire created order and all creatures, and… the redemption that we anticipate fully at the end time through Christ will be a redemption of this groaning creation as well.”

This cosmic restoration is the hope behind the lyrics:

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found…

I experienced a bright spot of this kind of creation care during a trip to East Africa. On my flight into Nairobi, Kenya I was surprised by the flight attendant’s announcement that anyone with plastic bags should leave them on the plane because they are illegal in Kenya. I often travel with plastic bags, like Ziplocs for my liquids and gels, as well as plastic grocery bags to wrap around my running shoes to keep my suitcase clean. I asked the steward whether I could keep these bags or if our luggage would be searched upon arrival. He explained that if I chose to keep them, I needed to make sure I took them back out of the country with me. He also recommended that I not show the bags in public because I could get a fine.

On the ride to the retreat center where we would be leading a training event, I asked our Kenyan host about the plastic bag ban. He smiled and explained that it had made a significant difference. He pointed to the trees and bushes rushing past the car window and said, “All of this used to be littered with plastic bags. The trees were strewn with them and creek beds were clogged. But now,” he said proudly, “You don’t see a single one.”

Dr. Scorgie describes the posture Christians should have towards the rest of creation: “those who follow Jesus Christ should rightly have a heart that beats in sync with his and cares about this world and its inhabitants just as much as the one who made it.” When we fulfill our God-given responsibility to steward creation we become more like Jesus. We also take care of our inheritance (Matthew 5:5).

As Genesis 3 reminds us, all of creation suffers due to humanity’s sin. The consequences of the world being “in bondage to corruption” (Romans 8:21) can be deeply distressing, like when we witness animals preying on each other or when a beautiful place is marred by a natural disaster.

The carol “Joy to the World” reminds us that even in this damaged state, creation joins with us bringing glory to God:

Joy to the world! The Savior reigns:
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy…

And if the plants and animals, the sky and scenery can amaze and delight us in their current state, think how stunning it will be when all creation is freed from the curse. Then, we will sing the final stanza of the carol with a fuller understanding:

He rules the world with truth and grace,
and makes the nations prove
the glories of His righteousness
and wonders of His love…


  • How does the idea of creation suffering and being cursed because of human’s sin impact your perspective on creation and your relationship with it?
  • What activity could you do that would help you enjoy God’s creation more?
  • What do you currently do to be a good steward of God’s creation? What could you improve or do differently?


Jesus As Redeemer

Advent - Week 5 (Christmas Day, 2023)

Merry Christmas! – Angels We Have Heard on High


And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
1 Corinthians 1:30, 31

The package you’ve been waiting for finally arrives. What will you do the next day? Will you enjoy it? Will it make a difference in your life, or will you be already thinking about what to order next?

The arrival of Christmas presents us with a similar choice. We can let it pass and move on to the next thing. Or we can continue to celebrate the arrival of the long-awaited Messiah and let it make a difference in our life.

It’s impossible to rush through today’s carol. The long, cascading musical phrases in the chorus invite us to pause and celebrate:

Angels we have heard on high,
Singing sweetly o'er the plains,
And the mountains in reply
Echoing their joyous strains.
Glo–oooo—ooooo—ooooo—oria in excelsis Deo!
Glo–oooo—ooooo—ooooo—oria in excelsis De-eeo!

Usually, when I sing hymns, I need to follow along with the words in the program or on a screen. But with this carol, I can look around and enjoy the lights, the candles, and the greens someone has used to artfully decorate the room. I can also appreciate the faces of the people around me, all joined in worship.

The lyrics of the carol describe others who have paused their lives to celebrate the arrival of the Messiah:

Shepherds, why this jubilee?
Why your joyous strains prolong?

“Jubilee” is a good description of this carol, and it reminds us of what Jesus’ birth ushered in. In the Old Testament, every 50 years, God’s people were supposed to stop their agricultural work for an entire year and celebrate a “Year of Jubilee.” During this time they were to forgive all outstanding debts and return land to the family of the ancestral owners. This year of redemption and restoration was a forerunner to the even greater Jubilee that Jesus brought about when he canceled our debt to God and restored us to a right relationship with Him.

When we view Jesus’ birth through the lens of Jubilee, the angel’s praise makes so much more sense. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased” (Luke 2:14) doesn’t mean that Christmas ends all conflicts; instead, it means that we can have peace in the midst of them because we are redeemed and restored. These are the “gladsome tidings … Which inspire your heav'nly song … Gloria in excelsis Deo!”

We get a picture of what this kind of Jubilee can look like in the work of Raul and Amalia, husband and wife graduates of a Thirdmill study center at Iglesia Betania in the capital city of Nicaragua. The year they completed their studies, unrest swept through Nicaragua. Amid the chaos that followed, squatters took over large fields around the capital city and established new communities, complete with houses, roads, and vegetable plots. However, some crucial elements were missing, including a church.

When a squatter community popped up near Iglesia Betania, the church members responded. They started visiting the community to do evangelism. As the unrest settled down and the government deeded the land to the squatters, the church decided to go beyond evangelism to actually planting a church inside the new community and called Raul and Amalia to plant and pastor that church.

The couple took what they had received in their studies and poured themselves into the work. Today, this church is thriving. The people from the community have generously donated land and funds so that the foundation could be laid and construction could begin for a place to meet together and worship.

In a community that started during the darkness of national turmoil, a light now shines: a church led by a well-trained pastor, spreading the good news of God’s kingdom.

The year of Jubilee in the Old Testament began with the resounding blast of a ram’s horn on the day of atonement. The new season of Jubilee in Christ began with the singing of a heavenly choir on the night of Jesus' birth.

As we celebrate Christmas, may we be like the shepherds and Raul and Amalia who hear the good news and do something about it:

Come, adore on bended knee
Christ, the Lord, the newborn King.
Gloria in excelsis Deo!
Gloria in excelsis Deo!


  • How have you experienced the redemption or restoration of Jubilee through Christ in your own life?
  • What can you do to continue to celebrate Jesus, even as the Christmas decorations come down?
  • Throughout these Advent devotionals we’ve explored various aspects of who Jesus is: priest, king, prophet, redeemer, and Christ. What is one thing you want to remember? Take time to write it down.


Jesus as Christ

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