Thirdmill Advent Devotional

Thirdmill Advent Devotional

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

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Greeting

2020 has been a challenging year in a lot of ways but also one filled with many hidden blessings amidst the hardships and uncertainties. Personally, I longed to travel this year and see some of the learning communities that we have served for many years but those plans got put-on pause while we all try and figure out how to continue growing God's kingdom while remaining grounded from travel and socially distancing.

As I contemplated ways of reaching out to you to offer some words of hope and encouragement, I was inspired by the fact that so many of our partners continue to serve their communities, in spite their difficult circumstances. This led me to reach out to a few of them and ask them "would you share with us, stories of how you've experienced victory or joy as you've served the Lord this year?"

The result was this devotional and I am so excited to share it with you. I pray it serves to encourage you and your loved ones.

Eric Linares
Vice-President of Production and Marketing

Introduction

Winter was one of the hardest things when my husband Tim and I moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina to be professors and the spiritual directors at a school for youth workers. The winter nights were long, and the days were bone-chillingly cold.

It took me a while to realize why it felt worse than in the US. Because the Southern Hemisphere is furthest from the sun from May to September, there are no big holidays to break up the cold, dark months. In the Northern Hemisphere, Christmas lights brighten the long December nights. And in the U.S.A., Christmas carols in stores and on the radio warm me with happy memories of Christmas and the reminder of what Christmas is all about: God's arrival in human history as a baby in Bethlehem. Without these to offset the dark and the cold, life felt like Narnia under the White Witch, always winter but never Christmas.

So, as the years went by, when it started getting cold and dark, I ignored the fact that it was only June and put on Christmas carols. Sometimes we even strung up Christmas lights. Suddenly, winter didn't feel as dark or interminable. It was just a passing season of life. Thinking about Christmas reminded me that spring was on its way.

2020 has been hard and dark in many ways. Third Millennium Ministries exists to bring the light of God's truth in greater clarity and brilliance to followers of Christ around the world, so this Advent season we want to brighten your weeks with a brief meditation from the theological richness of Christmas carols.

I offer these devotionals to you as a gesture of gratitude for your interest in and support of Thirdmill. Their lessons provided the highest quality theological content for our students in Argentina and allowed me to "flip the classroom." The students would watch, listen to, or read the lessons outside of class, usually during their commute on the bus or train. This freed us up to use the time in class together to draw out the implications of that content and its application to their life and ministry.

Thank you for your relationship with Thirdmill, and I hope that the time we spend together during Advent brings cheer to your heart as we wait together and prepare for what is to come.

--Annette Gulick

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Annette Gulick and her husband Tim work with OC International to provide resources and training for people around the world working the emerging generations. Look for Annette's latest book, Aligned: Flourishing in a World of Choice, in 2021.

Advent - Week  1

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Devotional

The first Sunday of Advent often catches me by surprise. I see the Advent wreath beside the pulpit and think, Christmas can't be only four weeks away! Immediately, all the things I want to do before Christmas flood my mind. Then, I hope we sing O Come, O Come Emmanuel because it gets my mind off my to-do list and on to the incarnation of the Creator of the world.

The mournful tune slows me down. The words remind me of the mingled ache and hope that have characterized the lives of God's people throughout the centuries. One of the final stanzas echos the desire of many as this year draws to a close:

Bid Thou our sad divisions cease
  and be Thyself our King of peace.

In the discussion forum of the lesson We Believe in Jesus: Jesus as Priest (Third Millenium Ministries), Dr. Glen Scorgie explains how the birth of Jesus heals division:

One of the very important functions that Jesus Christ fulfilled was [that] of a priest… someone who mediates, who brings together estranged parties, who stands in the middle with an arm to each side uniting…. 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.

This Advent I need to be reminded that the greatest division isn't between races, worldviews, or political parties; it is between humans and God. The carol gives us words to pray for reconciliation:

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
  Thine own from Satan's tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
  And give them victory o'er the grave.

Jesus is the High Priest. God's people are "a royal priesthood." (1 Peter 2:9) We are called to mediate, to bring together estranged parties, and stand in the middle with an arm to each side, uniting people with God and each other.

I saw this in Kadoma, Zimbabwe where I was co-facilitating a youth ministry leadership training course. In the evenings, the participants worked to prepare the worship time for our last day. This was challenging, they explained, because, although the participants knew the same songs, they knew them in different languages.

A well-spoken college student explained to me, "You see, I speak Ndebele. She, [the younger girl around whose shoulder the speaker had her arm draped] speaks Shona. We hate each other." The younger girl nodded in assent.

I was shocked. Hate each other? If they hated each other, why did they act like sisters?

When we asked our host about this, he gave us a quick overview of the country's history. The girls weren't saying that they hated each other. They were recognizing that their tribes hated each other and had been killing each other since before the British arrived.

Knowing this helped us appreciate the miracle of the worship time as Shona and Ndebele sang and danced together. Their lives were a testimony to Ephesians 2:14-16,

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 Advent, let's not be caught by surprise. Let's bask in what these four weeks offer us: the chance to rejoice as we look back and look forward to the coming of Jesus.

O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
  Shall come to thee, O Israel.

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Annette Gulick and her husband Tim work with OC International to provide resources and training for people working with emerging generations around the world.

Watch

Jesus As Priest

Advent - Week  2

O Come All Ye Faithful

Devotional

O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant!
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem!

"Joyful" and "triumphant" don’t describe 2020 for most people. In the US, we have had wave after wave of disappointment and loss, tension and division. In our current climate, it is seen as bad form to act joyful and triumphant. It would be bad form if we are joyful because our business has boomed as a result of the pandemic, or if triumphant because our political candidate has gained power.

Bethlehem holds the reason for our joy and triumph:

Come and behold him, born the King of angels…
O come let us adore him, Christ, the Lord!

Because my husband and I have spent most of the past 24 years outside of the USA, I usually hear about the news instead of experiencing it. Being a citizen of one country while living in another creates an odd duality; you are in a world, but not of it. For example, on a trip to northern India, we were advised not to leave the grounds of the retreat center because of civil unrest. Our local colleagues and students were deeply affected by the unrest. One barely escaped a violent riot in his neighborhood. Some 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: But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:20). This is why we can be joyful and triumphant, exulting with the angels, and adoring our king:

Sing, choirs of angels, sing in exultation,
Sing, all ye citizens of heav'n above:
"Glory to God, all glory in the highest!"
O come let us adore him

Dr. Fredrick Long, a specialist in Biblical and Greco-Roman literature, explains that in the Biblical view a king does more than rule:

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

Thirdmill contributor Dr. Jonathan Kuttab, a Palestinian Mennonite, wrestles with the implications of this in one of the most contentious regions of the world. In "We Believe in Jesus: The King," Dr. Kuttab says,

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.

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!

Watch

Jesus As King

Advent - Week  3

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!

Devotional

What would you have done differently in January and February, if you knew how your life was going to change come March?

I wouldn’t spend the money I did on a visa and immunizations for a trip to the South Sudan scheduled for April. The immunizations might last until the trip happens, but the visa, and the extra postage I paid for its two-day delivery, is a complete loss.

God doesn’t brief us on all the details of what he is doing in the world. But when he is going to do something that changes the course of history, he does send heralds. 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 that announcement was made was an unlikely place for the choir of the angelic army to perform. Thirdmill’s materials also arrive at unlikely places through the work of their partners like The Grace Institute. The pastors and leaders they serve in Kagavu, Uganda are not that different from the shepherds of Jesus’ day. Their water comes from a nearby stream and they cook their meals over an open fire. Like the shepherds, they don’t have internet. Personal visits are their only connection with the outside world.

Normally, these pastors receive Biblical training through biannual teaching visits. During the pandemic, these visits were suspended and the pastors were distraught. However, a complex solution which included generators, hotspots, projectors, and Zoom made possible a live digital conference amid the mud homes under the matooke trees. That global reach of the Gospel is what Charles Wesley looked forward to when he wrote the carol,

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

The lesson We Believe in Jesus: The Prophet reminds us that the angels weren’t the only heralds in the Christmas story. A herald is an official messenger who brings news, but it can also be a person or thing viewed as a sign that something is about to happen. Jesus is a herald in both senses--the announcer and the sign--of the restoration of God’s Kingdom promised in Isaiah 61: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…to bring good news to the afflicted…. To proclaim liberty to the captives… To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”

We didn’t know how our lives would change in 2020. But we do know how Jesus can change lives today and forever. Whether through Zoom across continents or through prayer for our quarantined neighbor next door, let’s be heralds of that and proclaim,

Hail, the heav'n born Prince of peace!
  Hail, the Son of Righteousness!
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!"

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Annette Gulick and her husband Tim work with OC International to provide resources and training for people working with emerging generations around the world.

Watch

Jesus as Prophet

Advent - Week  4

Joy to the World!

Devotional

Have you worked in your garden or on your house more than usual this year? If so, you’re not alone. Garden centers and home improvement stores have seen record-breaking sales as people have spent more time at home. This may be one of the great gifts of 2020 because paying attention to our surroundings and doing the work of maintaining and even improving the world around us is an important part of preparing for Christ’s coming.

This week’s carol reminds us that the explosion of joy at Christ’s coming affects all of creation, not just us humans:

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…

This year my schedule has become so flexible that I can usually stop whatever I’m doing around sunrise and sunset and find a place to enjoy God’s daily masterpiece. With so much beauty around me, I can forget that creation is under a curse (Genesis 3: 17, 18) and that it “groans as in the pains of childbirth” (Romans 8:22).

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…

Dr. Scorgie goes on to highlight our responsibility for 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.”

As I travel, I am often caught off guard by how humans treat the world we have been asked to steward. On a 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 all of Kenya. I immediately thought about the Ziploc bags I had in my backpack with liquids and jells and the plastic grocery bags I wrap around my running shoes to keep the rest of my suitcase clean. When the steward came by, I asked him if I dared keep these bags or if our luggage would be searched upon arrival. He replied 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 have our training event, I asked our Kenyan host about the ban. He smiled and said that it had made a huge 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 and the creek beds were clogged with them. But now,” he said proudly, “You don’t see a single one.”

Friends and ministry partners around the world have humbled and encouraged me by the ways they steward the world around them. When we do this well, we take care of our eternal inheritance (Matthew 5:5). We also become more like Jesus as we align what we care about with what He cares about.

This Christmas, when you sing Joy to the World, think about the world. Think about how stunning it will be when it is freed from the curse. And ask God what he would have you do to make it look a little bit more like what it will become.

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

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Annette Gulick and her husband Tim work with OC International to provide resources and training for people working with emerging generations around the world.

Watch

Jesus As Redeemer

Advent - Week  5

Merry Christmas! – Angels We Have Heard on High

Devotional

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 stop and celebrate the arrival of the long-awaited Messiah.

It’s impossible to rush through today’s carol. The tune helps us stop 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, I have to follow the words of a hymn on the program or screen to know what to sing next. But with this carol, I can look around without missing a word. I can enjoy the lights, candles, and greens someone has decorated with as well as the faces of the people worshiping around me.

The lyrics of the carol describe others who stop to celebrate the arrival of the Messiah:

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

“Jubilee” is a good description of the song. Jubilee also describes what Jesus’ birth ushered in. Every 50 years, God’s people were supposed to stop their agricultural work for a whole year and celebrate a Year of Jubilee by forgiving all outstanding debts and returning land to the family of the ancestral owners. This year of redemption and restoration was a precursor 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 understand Jesus’ birth in terms of Jubilee, the angel’s song makes so much more sense. “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14) doesn’t mean that Christmas ends our wars. It means 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!”

Raul and Amalia, graduates of a Thirdmill study center at Iglesia Betania in the capital city of Nicaragua, give us a picture of what it looks like for this Jubilee to make a difference in our lives.

The year Raul and Amalia graduated unrest swept through Nicaragua. In the chaos that followed, squatters took over large fields around the capital city and created new communities complete with houses, roads, and vegetable plots. The one thing missing, a church.

When a squatter community popped up near Iglesia Betania, the members sprang into action. They started visiting the community to do evangelism. Then, as the unrest settled down and the government deeded the land to the squatters, they decided to move beyond evangelism and plant a church. In early 2020, they called Raul and Amalia to plant and pastor that church. Today, the church is thriving. People from the community have donated land and money to help to lay the foundation and start building a place to meet.

In a community that started during the darkness of national turmoil, a light is shining: a church, with a well-trained pastor preaching the good news of God’s kingdom.

The year of Jubilee began with the sounding of a ram’s horn on the day of atonement. The season of Jubilee in Christ began with the singing of a heavenly choir at his birth. May we be like the shepherds and Raul and Amalia who hear the good news and then live it out:

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

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Annette Gulick and her husband Tim work with OC International to provide resources and training for people working with emerging generations around the world.

Watch

Jesus as Christ

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