Category Archives: Advent Reflections

Dented Gifts

christmas2015By Judy Villanueva

Isaiah 9:6-7

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

It has been a week of wonder and joy!  My husband and I traveled to the mountains to prepare for the arrival of our children and grandchildren. Colored lights line the split rail fence but only on one side because we ran out of lights…and, I overcooked the Christmas roast!  All the gifts have been purchased and wrapped but, I somehow lost one set of boy pajamas between here and there.  It’s tempting to get annoyed that my best-laid plans have dents, but even now as I sit at the window watching for loved ones to arrive, I feel God’s gentle invitation to turn toward Him and be helped to find Emmanuel in the middle of it all.

With all the flurry of “Christmas busy” behind me I surrender to this holy pause and let the words of Isaiah linger around me. I read them over and over again. “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” 

It feels like being shaken out of a stupor and awakened to the divine arms that enfold me with peace and power and the forever “Yes” of God.

The reminder that the mighty and righteous God reigns with greatness, now and always, brings a deep comfort to my soul and seems to whisper over me,


So each night when the Christmas lights turn on I look down the driveway, half lit, and smile. The grandchildren’s “pajama picture” will have seven little ones fleeced in red and white santas — and one in royal blue long underwear. I realize that, in reality, all the gifts I give have dents in spite of my best-laid plans.  None can offer that one thing that will satisfy the deepest yearning of the soul.  It is only in the presence of the One who guides with wisdom, rules with supreme power, and establishes royal peace on earth that our cups get filled to overflowing.  It is only in the arms of our Everlasting Father that we find the perfect gift we long to unwrap!  His forever “yes” — Emmanuel.

“Thank you, Father, for your perfect gift of love and for the ways you help me find Emmanuel in the middle of my life.  Amen.”

What about you?

How do you feel when your best-laid plans fall short?

Have you felt God’s invitation to turn toward Him and find Emmanuel in the middle of your life?

What does it mean to you that God is a Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace?

Do one of these stand out to you as a particular way that you need God this year?

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By Judy Villanueva

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

I was only fifteen years old and a visitor to this odd little church where people stood up and shared publicly how they met Jesus.  My eyes were riveted on the girl who spoke because her story didn’t match her radiant smile.  I leaned forward and tried to put together the facts of her life that included being sixteen, pregnant, unmarried, AND full of joy!  I was unable to conceive how these realities could live together happily but,  I saw in her countenance a beauty that pointed beyond her circumstances to a God who loved her and filled her with so much hope that it spilled out onto all of us who sat listening!

Mary was very likely around this same age when the angel, Gabriel, visited her.  As I imagined the encounter this morning, the words, “The Lord is with you,” jumped off the page and onto my lap. Tears filled my eyes as I held and heard them for myself.  “The Lord is with you.”  Like a window that opened to welcome a fresh breeze, I felt the weary and dulled places of my soul being revived.  At the beginning of this day and, in the middle of my life,

I realize how much I need fresh announcements of God’s presence.

That God is with us means everything!  It offers sweet relief from worry and needed reassurance that we are not alone in an untamed world.

Before Gabriel disclosed the reason for his visit, he gave Mary the best news of her life! God is with you!  As I left the house this morning to run errands and visit a troubled friend, I reminded myself that wherever I go, whomever I am with, and whatever I will face today, the Lord is with me.

It became a personal annunciation of “Christ with me” in the middle of a very ordinary day and, it changed everything.

It filled me with joy and a sense of purpose. Think of it!  If God is with us, then, seriously, whom shall we fear?  And, if He is indeed with us then we can live this day beautifully loved, saved, pointing beyond our circumstances…and spilling over with hope for others!

“Thank You, Lord, for this morning’s announcement that You are with me. It gave me a needed shift in focus and truly revived my soul. Help me to recall Your presence daily, and please let the joy of it spills out onto others. Amen.”

What about you?

Do you need a fresh announcement that God is with you?

How does it feel to slow down and hear the words, “The Lord is with you” ?

What would it be like to live a day “with God” at your side?

Practice calling to mind the reality of Immanuel, God with you!

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DSC_0992 2By Judy Villanueva

Luke 1:34-38

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “Let it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel left her.

I love how Scripture reveals the humanity of its characters, even amidst angelic announcements and holy encounters with God. I’m pretty sure that I would have been unconscious before Gabriel had the chance to say anything, but Mary listened with curiosity and asked a question for all of us, “How?  How can this impossible thing happen, given that I am just me?” Practical realities and past disappointments like to gather in front of our thresholds of promise and block our view of God. But, rest assured, He is there, carefully holding our hopes and inviting us to press through and join Him.

Gabriel accommodates Mary’s question and explains that, “The power of the Most High will overshadow you…” and then, reveals that Mary will give birth to the Son of God!

First an overshadowing and then a divine revelation!

Have you ever felt an awakening of soul upon reading and reflecting on the Word? I did today as I read this familiar passage and it was like hearing these words spoken over my life and over the very things I’m straining to bring to God today — things that feel impossible. Sitting quietly, I allowed thoughts of the Most High to overshadow my doubt and fear…and before long, I found myself peeking through to Hope!

All that had blocked my view at this particular threshold evaporated in His presence and my first peek revealed that the answer to “How?”…is Him!

I suppose Mary could have said “No” to God’s plan, but she didn’t. I don’t know what she was in the middle of doing that day, but whatever it was, she set it aside and wondered with an angel!  She followed Gabriel’s words to an unbelievable threshold and peeked through to a God whose Word never fails!  I can’t imagine that Mary understood the magnitude of what was told her that day, but regardless, she let go of doubts about “how” and said “yes” to Him!

“Thank You, Father, for sending your Son and becoming our How! Help me to hold Gabriel’s words to Mary for myself today and let the power of the Most High overshadow me. With Your help, I can let go of doubt and trust You for the impossible. Amen.”

What about you?

Does doubt and fear block you from seeing God and trusting Him?

Is there something is your life that feels impossible?

Do you need to be overshadowed by the power of God and reminded that He can do the impossible?

Sit quietly with God and let Who He is surround you.

No word from God will ever fail! I pray God’s overshadowing power to break strongholds and loose life over you today. Amen.

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Holding Jesus

joeholdinglivyBy Judy Villanueva

Luke: 2:13
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

What would it be like to hold the baby Jesus? To cradle Him in your arms, your Savior and the King of glory?  Can you imagine looking down at His face and into His eyes knowing what you know…having read the end of the story?  See His little, dimpled hands, His chubby cheeks, and pudgy form!  So small and innocent, the creator of the universe came as a helpless baby and was entrusted to human parents.  Unbelievable!  As I sat in church yesterday I found myself fixed on the nativity scene displayed on the altar and was aware of a gentle hope that emanated from the cradled King.  Everyone gathered stared at Him with wonder and expectation.  What do you need to hear from God?  Are there dusty hopes that you might like to take off the shelf in His presence as you let Him fill your arms and heart with wonder?

Holding the baby Jesus during Christmas connects us to His tender beginnings.  It helps us remember the most remarkable moment in all of history…when the infant-God entered human life one starry, starry night!  Holding Jesus for a day changes the way we live.  Think of it!  What would THAT day be like?

What would be on your mind and how might you act if, as you went about a day full of moments, you held the One who died for you?

Holding Jesus over a lifetime transforms us from the inside out!  Every step, every word, every thought, every deed in the presence and in the service of the baby-King!  Life shifts from “all about us” to “all about Him.”  Cradling the baby who will grow up and give His life on a cross,  who will be spit upon and cursed, beaten and pierced,  and whose last words will blanket us with grace…is staggering, love-filling, grateful-making, and hope inspiring!

Holding Jesus is a Christmas prayer that helps us remember what is most worthy of remembering.

It is the best story ever told, hidden in all good stories.  It helps us hold hope, and live out of the best of who we are because in holding Jesus, we feel his breath and heartbeat, we see His face before us, and are reminded of the best gift we’ve ever received!

“Thank you, Father, for sending us Your Son.   Help me to hold Jesus this Christmas and beyond!   I pray that with arms full of Love, I will be empowered to love more freely.  Amen.”

What about you?

What comes to mind as you imagine holding the baby Jesus?

Have you received His gift of love?

What do you need from Jesus this Christmas?

How might you live this day as a gift to baby King?

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DSC_0237By Judy Villanueva

Luke 1:27-33

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.  But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

What does it mean to find favor with God?  It’s a prayer I pray over my friends and family regularly and especially, when I want heaven to pour out its blessings of life, healing, provision and freedom!  “Favor, Lord.  Favor!”  It’s a way of saying, “Look over here!  We need You!  Just say the word and it will be done.”  Sometimes it is a desperate plea and other times a longing for an open door, a ray of light, or a “yes” from God.  It may feel elusive, but His favor remains big, unbeatable and bursting at the seams for each of us!

When Mary met the angel, Gabriel, he quieted her fears with the words, “You have found favor with God.”  He then, opened up Heaven’s heart and disclosed a divine revelation that would turn her life upside-down and change the world forever. It was an invitation to participate in the greatest act of Love, the most profound gift of grace and the best story ever told!  What was the favor of God that found Mary?

She would be the first to receive Christ and would carry in her womb the One who would bring amazing grace to a needy world.

The favor Gabriel proclaimed that day had everything to do with bringing Christ to the world!    It was Mary’s moment to jump into the middle of a Divine invitation, carried to her literally on the wings of an angel.  And, now it is our turn to jump!  We, who have believed and received Christ, are filled with His life and bear the potential of carrying Divine love to each moment, each friend and each invitation given us in the day.

God saw us and said the Word!  He opened the door and became our ray of Light…and we became His favored ones, invited to carry Christ to our world.

“Father, I thank you for the privilege of bearing your Son and for the daily invitations to carry Him into my world.  What a different way of serving and living a day!  Fill me with Your Spirit and help me to follow as you lead me to love.  Amen.”

What about you?

Have you received Christ?  His free gift of  grace is yours for the asking.  “Lord, I need You.  Forgive me.  Come!   Amen.”

Did you bring Christ to your world today?  With whomever you were with and whatever you did…did you carry Christ with you?

Are  you ready to jump with God into the next invitation to bring the love the Christ to your world?

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