Advent Calendar

Check back each day in December for the next devotional!

The opening lines of the traditional Christmas carol “God rest ye merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay!” somehow seem a little glib.  There’s plenty that does dismay us about the world and our own experiences.  Yet if we push on past these opening lines, the carol continues in its multiple verses to record the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, faithfully presenting the details from the gospels according to Matthew and Luke.  Most striking of all is the refrain: “O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy! O tidings of comfort and joy!”  The message of Advent, as we consider both the first coming of the Lord Jesus at Bethlehem and His second coming at the end, is all about the comfort that the Lord is able to provide and the joy which flows from all that He has done. 

This series of daily devotions for the Advent season are drawn from both Old Testament and New Testament, from Isaiah and Luke.  They interact with promises of comfort and point to the joy available in and through the Lord Jesus.  These devotions are deliberately short and concise, interacting with a few verses each day but hopefully they are long enough to be the means of enabling each of us, wherever we are, to encounter the living Lord Jesus.  My hope is that we would find security and rest in the comfort He alone provides in a world full of pressures and problems.  My hope is also that we would rediscover the joy of knowing Jesus as our Lord and Saviour. 

You may wish to use this prayer which I use before each sermon, 

“Lord, may your word be our/my guide, 

May your Spirit be our/my Teacher, 

And may your Glory be our/my supreme concern, 

Through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.” 

Angus MacLeay: Autumn 2023 

1st December | Isaiah 40:1,2

“Comfort, comfort my people, 
    says your God. 

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, 
    and proclaim to her 

that her hard service has been completed, 
    that her sin has been paid for, 

that she has received from the Lord’s hand 
    double for all her sins.” Isaiah 40:1,2 


Living at a distance is a pain. When we would love to pop round, we can’t, because the friend or family member lives several hundred miles away. It’s great to chat on the phone or use FaceTime but endless separation is wearisome. How we long to see family and draw near and embrace. 

God’s people had been deservedly suffering following their promised exile to Babylon (Is 39:5-7).  They had repeatedly drifted away from the word of the Lord, wise in their own eyes, though covered with the respectable veneer of religion (Is 1:13-17).  Yet their religion was no defence to the scathing declaration of God’s anger (see for example Is 5:20,21).  So, God’s people would experience exile, living at a distance from Jerusalem as a sign of their distance from God.  And living at a distance is always a problem, whether it is being separated from family or friends or whether it’s sensing God’s remoteness. 

Yet suddenly a new note is heard.  A voice calls out “comfort”.  A new day is promised on the basis that somehow their punishment has come to an end due to the fact that all their sins had been paid for.  With their debts removed, their sins forgiven, there is the prospect of relief and comfort, no longer estranged but the opportunity of returning to the loving embrace of the Lord. 

Perhaps we also know what it is to live at a distance from the Lord.  We sense that the Lord is remote but also recognise that our spiritual troubles are often self-inflicted.  Perhaps we think, “if I were God, I’d probably keep a distance from me.”  But the word of the gospel is that comfort is available.  The Lord Jesus has paid for our sins on the cross and even today by His Spirit (“the Comforter” John 14:26 KJV) He is able to draw near and enable us to experience the many blessings which flow from being forgiven, loved and treasured by the Lord.  Advent needs to begin with experiencing the message of the gospel, the message of comfort, that we no longer need to live at a distance from the Lord. 

Questions for Families

from Hannah & Sophie-Ann

What does God say to Israel? 
How would it have made them feel? 

2nd December | Isaiah 40:3-5

“A voice of one calling: 

‘In the wilderness prepare 
    the way for the Lord; 
make straight in the desert 
    a highway for our God. 

Every valley shall be raised up, 
    every mountain and hill made low; 
the rough ground shall become level, 
    the rugged places a plain. 

And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, 
    and all people will see it together. 
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’” Isaiah 40:3-5 

The old road was narrow with twists and turns, hold ups and accidents, and the journey seemed to last for ever.  But now the new road is being constructed.  The heavy earth-moving bulldozers are changing the landscape, the tarmac is being laid and now the new motorway is open, conveying travellers smoothly and quickly to their destination. 

That’s the sort of picture which Isaiah conveys, using imagery which describes the opening of a new highway.  And this highway has a convoy of vehicles on it.  A crowd is gathering, straining their necks to see who’s coming.  A cry goes up, as the crowd recognise who is on their way – it’s the Lord Himself!  All the preparations in getting the road ready make sense.  They were designed to enable the Lord to return in all His glory. 

Mark goes to this passage at the start of his gospel (Mark 1:2,3) in order to introduce the ministry of John the Baptist and his call for the people to get ready.  Getting ready to meet the Lord would involve repentance, with every sin moved out of the way to enable an encounter with the Lord. 

As we prepare for visitors or guests around the table later in the month, we know what needs to be done to get ready.  Clutter needs to be sorted, surfaces cleaned, beds made, tables laid and food purchased.  Yet Advent is the season for getting ready to meet the Lord when He returns in all His glory.  The Lord is coming … Advent is the opportunity not just to prepare for Christmas guests but to prepare ourselves to meet the Lord Jesus (2 Peter 3:10-14). 

Questions for Families

from Hannah & Sophie-Ann

What will that person be like? 
Who do you think that person might be? (Look at Mark 1:1-9) 

3rd December | Isaiah 40:6-8

“A voice says, ‘Cry out.’ 
    And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’ ‘All people are like grass, 
    and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. 

The grass withers and the flowers fall, 
    because the breath of the Lord blows on them. 
    Surely the people are grass. 

The grass withers and the flowers fall, 
    but the word of our God endures for ever.’” Isaiah 40:6-8 

Some things simply don’t last.  At some point in early December we get round to putting up our Christmas decorations.  We hope that it’s done in a tasteful manner – various multi-coloured, tinselly decorations have remained firmly in the Christmas box for many years and are unlikely to see the light of day any time soon.  But of course, none of the decorations will be there by mid-January.  They are temporary, whilst the furniture is relatively permanent. 

Isaiah is working with similar contrasts.  The announcement of comfort and the call to get ready represent wonderful news but on what are they based?  If this hope is based on a new-found faithfulness of God’s people or on the emergence of a new leader, then these hopes will soon be dashed, since “all people are like grass”.  There is an in-built transience to humanity seen in the cycle of life and death. 

But if hopes are based on the enduring word of God, then that’s different!  God’s promises, and His faithfulness to those promises, don’t come and go like flowers or ebb and flow like the tide.  The fact that the word of the Lord is permanent and enduring gives us confidence that the promise of “comfort” is not illusory or for the short-term.  The Lord’s people both then and today can have confidence that, unlike our Christmas decorations, God’s provision of comfort will last for ever (and see 1 Peter 1:23-25 where the same passage is quoted).  Advent may be linked in our mind to our transient Christmas decorations, but it is founded on the unchanging word of the Lord, on which we can build with confidence. 

Questions for Families

from Hannah & Sophie-Ann

What are people like? 
What is God and his word like? 

Activity idea!

You’ll need some cut flowers – either from the garden, or bought from a shop! Have everyone in the house estimate how long they will last. As you watch them die and fall over the coming days, and find out who had the best guess, remind one another that God’s word lives forever. 

4th December | Isaiah 40:9-11

“You who bring good news to Zion, 
    go up on a high mountain. 

You who bring good news to Jerusalem, 
    lift up your voice with a shout, 

lift it up, do not be afraid; 
    say to the towns of Judah, 
    ‘Here is your God!’ 

See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, 
    and he rules with a mighty arm. 

See, his reward is with him, 
    and his recompense accompanies him. 

He tends his flock like a shepherd: 
    he gathers the lambs in his arms 

and carries them close to his heart; 
    he gently leads those that have young.” Isaiah 40:9-11 

The lookout at the front windows calls out to everyone in the house, “They’re here!”  Seconds later, in an even more animated voice “…and they’ve brought loads of presents!”  It’s a wonderful scene as Grandad and Grandma (and the presents) are welcomed to the house for their Christmas visit after their long journey. 

That’s basically the scene that Isaiah is depicting in these verses.  The person on the city watchtower can finally see the Lord God approaching.  It was known that the Lord was on His way (see vv.3-5) but now He’s in view.  And what does He have with Him?  Both his arms are in use.  With one arm, His “mighty arm”, He is ruling and displaying His sovereign power, like a gardener entering into an overgrown section of the garden wielding a scythe or machete to hack down the weeds and brambles.  With the other arm He is gently gathering and holding some lambs.  Isaiah picks out the tenderness of the scene by describing their position as ‘close to his heart’. 

This vision of the arrival of the Lord resonates with us in Advent.  As we reflect on the identity of the baby born that first Christmas, we sing of “Jesus, strong and kind”.  As we consider the glorious figure of the returning King, there is no doubt that He will continue to wield all power.  Yet neither is there any doubt that the Jesus before whom we will one day stand, continues to be “gentle and lowly” (Matt 11:28, 29).  Advent is the time to train our eyes on the Lord Jesus, confident in both His ability to save but also in the gentleness and tenderness of His love for us. 

Questions for Families

from Hannah & Sophie-Ann

What is the good news? 
What is that God like? 

5th December | Isaiah 52:7,8

“How beautiful on the mountains 
   are the feet of those who bring good news, 

who proclaim peace, 
    who bring good tidings, 
    who proclaim salvation, 

who say to Zion, 
    ‘Your God reigns!’ 

Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; 
    together they shout for joy. 

When the Lord returns to Zion, 
    they will see it with their own eyes.” Isaiah 52:7,8 

I would probably never see the man ever again but what a welcome sight he was.  After jumping down from the cab and then rummaging around at the rear of the van he triumphantly emerged bearing a large parcel.  “It’s for Mister Angus!”  The Amazon delivery had arrived on schedule. The Christmas gift for a family member which we had ordered weeks ago had finally arrived! 

Something like that is happening in our verses today.  We’ve jumped from a very similar passage at Isaiah 40:9-11 where the announcement of the Lord’s arrival was made.  The focus in our current passage is on the messengers with their special announcement of the coming of God’s reign and the accompanying gifts of peace and salvation.  Those receiving this news, the watchmen, respond in joy and get ready to witness this arrival with their own eyes. 

Every detail of this prophecy is fulfilled over 700 years later on a hillside near Bethlehem.  Luke records angelic messengers on the mountain bringing “good news that will cause great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10).  They announce peace, good tidings and proclaim salvation through the arrival of a Saviour (Luke 2:11, 14).  And in response the shepherds, the watchmen who are ‘keeping watch over their flocks’ (Luke 2:8) decide to check things out with their own eyes (Luke 2:15, 17) and having seen they lift up their voices in praise to God (Luke 2:20). 

The Christmas gift has arrived!  Better than an Amazon parcel, it’s the coming of a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.  What Isaiah promised, Luke has recorded so that we can have complete certainty about the things that we have been taught (Luke 1:1-4). 

Questions for Families

from Hannah & Sophie-Ann

What does someone with beautiful feet say? 
Who brings peace and salvation? (Look at Luke 2:11-14) 

6th December | Isaiah 52:9,10

“Burst into songs of joy together, 
    you ruins of Jerusalem, 

for the Lord has comforted his people, 
    he has redeemed Jerusalem. 

The Lord will lay bare his holy arm 
    in the sight of all the nations, 

and all the ends of the earth will see 
    the salvation of our God.” Isaiah 52:9,10 


We’ve all got our own preferences when it comes to Christmas puzzles and games.  Some may wish to avoid them completely whilst for others it’s all part of the fun.  Some families enjoy a raucous game of charades whilst others prefer something a little bit quieter … like a jigsaw puzzle.  There is something quite calming about figuring out how it all fits together, leading to a sense of contentment when the finished picture matches the image on the box. 

Isaiah once again provides us with the image on the box lid.  There are people singing, people being comforted, the prospect of redemption and, on the horizon, people across the whole earth experiencing the salvation of the Lord. 

And over 700 years later Luke finds all the various jigsaw pieces and starts to put them together in his Gospel.  Following the birth of Jesus who had been seen by the shepherds only hours afterwards, he is taken into Jerusalem.  There Simeon bursts into song.  Luke tells us that he has been waiting for the consolation, or the comfort (same word), of Israel (Luke 2:25).  In his song he recounts that this child will be the means of salvation for all nations across the world (Luke 2:29-32).  Further, Luke tells us that Anna was there in the temple.  She spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the “redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38)… the identical term used by Isaiah.  Luke has found all the jigsaw pieces and put them together for us so that we can see God’s wonderful plan emerging. 

At the heart of the plan, as we would expect, is the prospect of “comfort” (Isaiah 40:1, 52:9).  Amid all the pain and puzzlement experienced both then and now, it’s what we need.  For many in our world and on our street it’s the missing jigsaw piece which they can’t find.  But you know where to find it, don’t you?  Perhaps you could be the one to tell them where it can be found? 


Questions for Families

from Hannah & Sophie-Ann

Why can God’s people sing songs of joy? 
How does God bring them comfort and salvation? 

7th December | Isaiah 60:1-3

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, 
    and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. 

See, darkness covers the earth 
    and thick darkness is over the peoples, 

but the Lord rises upon you 
    and his glory appears over you. 

Nations will come to your light, 
    and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” Isaiah 60:1-3 

“We’re going into Carlisle to see the Christmas lights being switched on.”  An hour later we joined thousands of others on a cold, dark evening in the centre of the city.  The Mayor made a short speech and suddenly, with one brief movement, the whole city centre was ablaze with light.  Jamie, then aged 3, looked a tad disappointed.  “It was just one switch?”  I guess he had been expecting the Mayor to spend a couple of hours sprinting around every shop, turning each light on by himself one by one. 

Our passage also describes a sudden transformation.  The darkness which covers the earth, with echoes of Genesis 1:2, is described as “thick darkness”.  It’s impenetrable and presses down upon you like a heavy blanket.  Yet suddenly, in a moment, the light is on (echoing Genesis 1:3 “let there be light”!)  The light is shining, dispelling the darkness because the Lord has come in all His glory.  As a result, we see nations and kings flocking to the light, escaping the darkness, wanting to discover more and live in the light of His glorious presence. 

Matthew describes how this prophecy started to be fulfilled.  Wise men (traditionally “kings”) see a new light in the sky, a star.  They follow the star (Matthew 2:2, 9) which brings them to the King, the Lord Jesus, the first of many from the nations who will make the same journey.  And history will climax on the day when people from all the nations will come to the Light in the new Jerusalem (Rev 21:22-24), when Jesus the Lamb, returns in all His glory. 

The thick darkness of the world is very real.  Yet in one moment it can be dispelled.  Not through one switch … but through one person, the Lord Jesus.  “For God, who said, ‘let light shine out of darkness’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). 

Questions for Families

from Hannah & Sophie-Ann

Can you see the opposites in these verses? 
Who is it who changes the darkness to the light? 

8th December | Isaiah 60:4-6

“Lift up your eyes and look about you: 
    all assemble and come to you; 

your sons come from afar, 
    and your daughters are carried on the hip. 

Then you will look and be radiant, 
    your heart will throb and swell with joy; 

the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, 
    to you the riches of the nations will come. 

Herds of camels will cover your land, 
    young camels of Midian and Ephah. 

And all from Sheba will come, 
    bearing gold and incense 
    and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.” Isaiah 60:4-6 

“They’re all coming to us this year!”  Sometimes the family are scattered, visiting their in-laws, but sometimes they all descend in one place.  Guest rooms are made ready, extra chairs are procured for the Christmas meal and somehow everybody is crammed in, young and old.  Some travel for hundreds of miles whilst others appear from around the corner.  The conversation is animated.  Polite enquiries are made about the health of the oldest whilst the latest addition to the clan is proudly passed around.  There’s feasting and fun, welcome and warmth. 

That’s the sort of picture drawn by Isaiah in our passage.  The light is shining (60:1) and the peoples are gathering with their little ones (4).  It’s a picture of joy, celebration and abundance (5) with gifts and presents crowding the scene.  Yet the focus is on some special gifts, gold and incense (6) to be offered to the Lord, as He is the focus and destination of this great assembly. 

The link with the first coming of Jesus and the visit of the Magi (on their camels? We’re not told, but Isaiah 60:6 has put the thought in our mind!) is obvious.  In complete contrast to King Herod who plots to overthrow the true King, the wise men bow down and worship Jesus and offer their gifts (Matthew 2:11).  There’s gold and incense … but also myrrh, because one day that would be needed for his burial (see John 19:39).  This King would need to die in our place for our sins before being raised. 

And one day our passage will be fulfilled at the second coming of Jesus when all the nations will gather.  Our Christmas family celebrations are a tiny foretaste of that great gathering.  And what will we bring? 

“What can I give him, poor as I am? 

If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; 

If I were a wise man I would do my part; 

Yet what I can I give Him, give Him my heart.”     (C. Rossetti) 

Questions for Families

from Hannah & Sophie-Ann

What are the people in these verses doing? 
Can you think of some times that God’s people gather around him? 

9th December | Isaiah 60:7-12

“All Kedar’s flocks will be gathered to you, 
    the rams of Nebaioth will serve you; 
they will be accepted as offerings on my altar, 
    and I will adorn my glorious temple. 
Who are these that fly along like clouds, 
    like doves to their nests? 
Surely the islands look to me; 
    in the lead are the ships of Tarshish, 
bringing your children from afar, 
    with their silver and gold, 
to the honour of the Lord your God, 
    the Holy One of Israel, 
    for he has endowed you with splendour. 
Foreigners will rebuild your walls, 
    and their kings will serve you. 
Though in anger I struck you, 
    in favour I will show you compassion. 
Your gates will always stand open, 
    they will never be shut, day or night, 
so that people may bring you the wealth of the nations – 
    their kings led in triumphal procession. 
For the nation or kingdom that will not serve you will perish; 
    it will be utterly ruined.” Isaiah 60: 7-12 

It’s late in the evening and I’m on automatic pilot as I check that all the doors are locked.  Making sure that the car is secure has become a reflex action, with the click of a button as I walk away.  Online security is a bit more of a headache as I try to remember ever more complicated passwords, now featuring some bizarre symbols.  In all sorts of ways, we betray concerns for our security and safety.  It’s a far cry from memories of holidays in the northwest of Scotland in my childhood where doors were never locked. 

As Isaiah continues to describe the scene of peoples from all the nations flocking into the New Jerusalem carrying their gifts and offerings, it is striking that the gates to the city are left permanently open (11).  They are open to facilitate the steady stream of people, young and old, pouring in to worship the Lord.  But the fact that they are never to be closed indicates that this is a place which is totally secure and safe.  And it is a place of safety because it is ruled by the Lord who has shown compassion to His people (10). 

Presents are opened, with wrapping paper either ripped or carefully untied.  Sometimes our guesses have been accurate, but occasionally the recipient is blown away.  “This is too much!  It’s amazing…just what I wanted…but it’s too much!”  Those streaming into the city with their presents are receiving the most extravagant, amazing gift of the undeserved love of the Lord revealed in His compassion.  And if you are loved by the Lord, you are in the safest and most secure place in the whole of creation. 

Questions for Families

from Hannah & Sophie-Ann

Where are all the people going, in these verses? 
How safe are we when we go to the Lord? 

10th December | Isaiah 60:13-16

“The glory of Lebanon will come to you, 
    the juniper, the fir and the cypress together, 
to adorn my sanctuary; 
    and I will glorify the place for my feet. 

The children of your oppressors will come bowing before you; 
    all who despise you will bow down at your feet 
and will call you the City of the Lord, 
    Zion of the Holy One of Israel. 

Although you have been forsaken and hated, 
    with no one travelling through, 
I will make you the everlasting pride 
    and the joy of all generations. 

You will drink the milk of nations 
    and be nursed at royal breasts. 
Then you will know that I, the Lord, am your Saviour, 
    your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.” Isaiah 60: 13-16 

“Shall we invite him around for Christmas Day?  He’s on his own and I don’t think he’s got any family.”  It’s always wonderful to hear of families opening their arms and embracing others at any point in the year, but perhaps especially at Christmas.  Drawing in those who are lonely and liable to be forgotten is a glorious sign of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

In our passage we continue to notice the steady stream of people from all nations gathering around the throne of the Lord (13, 14) as the city is rebuilt using the finest of materials.  But perhaps the most striking aspect of these verses is the contrast between verses 15 and 16.  Those who have been forsaken, hated and abandoned by the world, find themselves in a very different place.  Being nursed at royal breasts portrays a picture of intimacy, warmth, affection and tenderness.  For people who would be experiencing hardship and exile this would be a striking image of comfort and belonging. 

Fulfilment of the reality behind this image is experienced as we consider the implications of Jesus’ first coming.  He speaks to us, “come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest … for I am gentle and humble” (Matt 11:28, 29).  When feeling forsaken and abandoned, we can know His comfort as we draw near to Christ.  Yet the ultimate fulfilment awaits Jesus’ glorious return.  On that day we will no longer experience the struggles of living in a hostile environment, but we will receive the most tender signs of love, acceptance and intimacy as we look up into the eyes of the Lord, our Saviour and Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.  Advent is good news for the lonely and forsaken because it proclaims the coming of a Saviour who will not forget His own children. 

Questions for Families

from Hannah & Sophie-Ann

What good news is there for people who are lonely and forgotten? 
How will things be different when Jesus comes? 

Activity Idea!

As a family, can you think of someone to whom you could show the love of Jesus to this Christmas? 

11th December | Isaiah 60:17-22

“Instead of bronze I will bring you gold, 
    and silver in place of iron.
Instead of wood I will bring you bronze, 
    and iron in place of stones. 
I will make peace your governor 
    and well-being your ruler. 
No longer will violence be heard in your land, 
    nor ruin or destruction within your borders, 
but you will call your walls Salvation 
    and your gates Praise. 
The sun will no more be your light by day, 
    nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, 
for the Lord will be your everlasting light, 
    and your God will be your glory. 
Your sun will never set again, 
    and your moon will wane no more; 
the Lord will be your everlasting light, 
    and your days of sorrow will end. 
Then all your people will be righteous 
    and they will possess the land for ever. 
They are the shoot I have planted, 
    the work of my hands, 
    for the display of my splendour. 
The least of you will become a thousand, 
    the smallest a mighty nation. I am the Lord; 
    in its time I will do this swiftly.” Isaiah 60: 17-22 

The presents are unwrapped and examined.  A new gadget is admired.  “It’s so much better than my old one – look what it does!”  With technological advances things develop so quickly such that the old is rendered obsolete and can be discarded.  There was nothing wrong with the old gadget, but the new one is so much better.  

Perhaps that will help us consider our passage as we see a whole range of contrasts between the old and the new.  The materials used represent a significant upgrade (17) and the noise of violence and strife is replaced by music and joy (18).  The regular periods of darkness and twilight representing seasons of sorrow and sadness are swallowed up by the permanent light of the presence of the Lord in all His radiance and glory (19, 20).  The seed has become a glorious plant, and those who regarded themselves as the least and the last are now gathered together in a mighty nation (21, 22).  Everything in this new world proclaims the splendour of the Lord. 

Advent is the season of light amid the darkness.  Tiny lights are strung up along Sevenoaks High Street and in and outside our homes.  They point to the Lord Jesus, the light of the world, entering into the darkness of our lives to bring hope.  Yet they also point even further forward to the day when every light bulb will be rendered obsolete because we will live in a new creation, in a new city where “the Lord will be your everlasting light.”  What an upgrade!  No darkness, no sorrow, no tears (see Rev 21:1-5, 22-27).  As each tiny light cuts through the darkness, we look forward to the dawning of a new day with the return of the Lord Jesus, the light of the world.  Isaiah had proclaimed earlier, “let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on their God” (50:10).  Today we walk by faith in the darkness.  Tomorrow, one day, we will walk by sight in the light and see the Lord who loves us.  

Questions for Families

from Hannah & Sophie-Ann

What are the city walls called? 
How does the Lord change the darkness? 

12th December | Isaiah 61:1-3

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, 
    because the Lord has anointed me 
    to proclaim good news to the poor. 

He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives 
    and release from darkness for the prisoners, 

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour 
    and the day of vengeance of our God, 

to comfort all who mourn, 
and provide for those who grieve in Zion – 
to bestow on them a crown of beauty 
    instead of ashes, 

the oil of joy 
    instead of mourning, 
and a garment of praise 
    instead of a spirit of despair. 

They will be called oaks of righteousness, 
    a planting of the Lord 
    for the display of his splendour.” Isaiah 61:1-3 

Growing up we all have to cope with bumps and bruises, sometimes serious, but each requiring the tender loving care of a parent.  As we get older, we recognise that the internal bumps and bruises of life are harder to cope with … and at times for some there doesn’t seem anyone around to provide the necessary comfort and reassurance. 

Isaiah’s message is all about the provision of comfort (see 40:1; 52:9; 61:2; and 66:13).  It was spoken into a situation well described in verse 1, to a people who were poor, broken-hearted, captive and dwelling in darkness – an evocative portrait of life for God’s people in exile.  Yet at his first coming Jesus turned to this very passage in his first recorded sermon in Luke 4:16-21, knowing that this remained an accurate diagnosis both in his own and our day.  How many of us are openly or quietly broken-hearted, perhaps due to our own sin or someone else’s, or as we cope in a world where disease and death blight all our relationships?   Perhaps we are overwhelmed with sadness as we cautiously move towards our first Christmas without a loved one. 

And it is into this world that Jesus comes with his promises of healing, freedom, release, restoration and comfort.  The full outworking will await His second advent (see Revelation7:15-17), but even now, in the light of His first advent, the good news is preached. The risen Jesus offers forgiveness for the past, comfort in the present and a new purpose for the future.  The tiny shoot planted by the Lord (60:21) looking so weak and battered by adverse weather, will grow, tended by the Lord’s own hand (61:3) resulting in praise to the Lord.  This season of Advent proclaims the comfort of the presence and love of the Lord Jesus because it promises a second Advent when the comfort will be complete. 

Questions for Families

from Hannah & Sophie-Ann

How are God’s people feeling? 
What does Jesus promise them? 

13th December | Luke 1:26-33

“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 favoured! The Lord is with you.’ 

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 favour 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 for ever; his kingdom will never end.’”  Luke 1:26-33 

“You’ve invited how many people for Christmas lunch?!”  The meal and time together with family and friends may turn out to be the most wonderful celebration you remember but the initial reaction might well be consternation rather than joy.  From your immediate perspective all you can consider are the logistical problems. 

Something similar happens with the appearance of the angel Gabriel to Mary recorded in our passage.  The fulfilment of the message will certainly bring joy, but her initial response is full of consternation – indeed she is deeply troubled by the appearance of this messenger and his greeting.  Yet in the midst of her puzzlement, she receives words of reassurance about the identity of the baby she will carry.  Not only will this child fulfil multiple strands of Old Testament promises and prophecies like streams converging into a mighty river but, in particular, He will be a king who will sit on a throne and his kingdom will never end. 

Reigns always come to an end.  They might last seventy years like Elizabeth II or a mere forty-nine days like Liz Truss.  They may rule to great acclaim like Winston Churchill or fail to register at all in our national memory, but people come and go and often our hopes evaporate with their eventual demise.  Jesus is different.  As we will see, He’s a different sort of king who rules by serving not by taking.  He treats people gently not arrogantly.  And through the resurrection we see that He continues to reign.  Indeed, the final snapshot in Luke’s Gospel shows Jesus in the act of blessing His people (24:50-53) to indicate that even now ascended to heaven He continues to reign, pouring out His blessing upon us.  This Advent we remember not just His coming reign, but His current reign – His kingdom will never end. 

Questions for Families

from Hannah & Sophie-Ann

Why is Mary afraid? 
What will the baby be like? 

14th December | 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. ‘May your word to me be fulfilled.’ Then the angel left her.”  Luke 1:34-38 

Over the years we’ve become used to the need to change our plans over the Christmas period.  Sometimes it has been due to atrocious weather conditions disrupting travel plans.  More recently it was due to covid.  “Can we meet up?” ”How many of us can be together at the same time?”  “Are you testing negative yet?”  So often our plans were derailed and our promises needed to be revised. 

The most striking part of today’s passage is the announcement in verse 37, “For no word from God will ever fail.”  To which Mary responds, “May your word to me be fulfilled.”  We live in a context where so many words fail.  They may be the words of politicians or economists, weather forecasters or football pundits.  But their words always fail at some point.  So it is with our own words and promises, failing due to a traffic jam or foiled by the intended present being sold out. 

Yet here Mary is assured that the extraordinary, wonderful promise of a Saviour, who will reign for ever, will not fail.  Indeed, Luke records Jesus’ words at the end of his Gospel, “everything must be fulfilled this is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (24:44).  The word of God in the Old Testament has not failed, shown in the coming of the Lord Jesus who fulfils every word.  And the word of God in the New Testament will not fail, shown in the fact that the resurrected Lord Jesus is currently reigning in heaven. 

Though we don’t know the inner workings of God’s gracious purposes and plans, we can be confident that there will be no derailment, no delays and no disruption to God’s word.  This Advent we are reminded that amid all the uncertainties of life, like Mary, we can stand with confidence on and under the good promises of God. 

Questions for Families

from Hannah & Sophie-Ann

What does Mary know about God’s word? 
Does this remind you of any of God’s promises in Isaiah? 

15th December | Luke 1:39-45

“At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfil his promises to her!’” Luke 1:39-45 

A British Olympic athlete has triumphed abroad.  Already the media is full of photos and stories about the victory.  Yet all that pales into insignificance at their homecoming.  As soon as they land at Heathrow, there are crowds to greet the person, waving flags and rejoicing.  The joy is infectious, with people who would otherwise have no interest in sport joining in the celebrations. 

At this point in Luke’s narrative Jesus has only just been conceived in Mary’s womb but, tiny as he is, he has entered this world.  And his arrival, his homecoming, is celebrated with infectious joy.  No sooner has Mary his mother stepped across the threshold than the baby in Elizabeth’s womb, John the Baptist, leaps for joy.  In fact, Luke stresses it by way of repetition in verses 41 and 44.  Further, twice he records Elizabeth’s own response in verses 42 and 45 as she overflows with delight in Mary’s news, “Blessed are you… Blessed is the one who has believed…”  Our next passage will go on to describe Mary’s own joy (see verse 46, 47).  It’s a beautiful scene of infectious, contagious joy! 

The end of Luke’s Gospel will also be marked by joy – the disciples can hardly think straight because they are full of joy and amazement as they see the resurrected Jesus in front of them (24:41).  The final note of the Gospel simply describes the disciples returning to Jerusalem with great joy (24:52). 

Advent is certainly a season in which we can be reminded of the comfort which comes from the provision of a loving, compassionate Saviour … but it is also a season to be characterised by infectious joy as we celebrate the breaking into history of the infant Jesus (the incarnation) and the breaking through the barrier of death of the resurrected Jesus (the resurrection).  Advent is about comfort and joy. 

Questions for Families from Hannah & Sophie Ann

What happened when Elizabeth saw Mary? 
Why are they so excited about this baby? 

16th December | Luke 1:46-49

“And Mary said: 
‘My soul glorifies the Lord 
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, 

for he has been mindful 
    of the humble state of his servant. 

From now on all generations will call me blessed, 
    for the Mighty One has done great things for me – 
    holy is his name.’” Luke 1:46-49

It’s one of those special moments when you are present at the opening of a Christmas gift which you have carefully chosen for someone you love.  The wrapping paper is ripped/carefully removed (delete according to preference).  Then we witness the wonder of the recipient beginning to realise what they have been given, which then erupts into “This is amazing!… Everybody, look what I’ve been given!”  soon followed by hugs/kisses/handshakes (delete as applicable).  As adults we can generally find the words to express our gratitude and delight but for young children their excitement transmits to every part of their body as they start jumping up and down, arms waving and a smile permanently fixed on their face. 

Something of that exuberance is evident in Mary’s song.  It is known as the ‘Magnificat’, from the Latin translation of the word for ‘glorifies’ or ‘magnifies’ in verse 46.  When you look through the lens of a powerful telescope the object remains the same size, yet the image you see is enlarged by the magnification so that you can see it all the more clearly and delight in aspects which you could barely discern with the naked eye.  Through magnification it now dominates your field of vision.  Something similar is happening with Mary as her joy in the Lord finds expression in these beautiful words expressing delight in what she is now able to see all the more clearly about God. 

Advent is the season for us to ‘magnify’ the Lord.  Like Mary, the Lord has seen us in our lowly, humble position and He has drawn near to comfort, rescue and save.  As we carefully, or not so carefully, re-open the gift of the Lord Jesus and the salvation He brings, let us respond with hearts overflowing with joy as we ponder the works of the Lord not from a distance but close up in all their glory. 


Questions for Families

from Hannah & Sophie-Ann

How do you think Mary is feeling? 
What excites her about God? 

17th December | Luke 1:50-56

“‘His mercy extends to those who fear him, 
    from generation to generation. 
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; 
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 
He has brought down rulers from their thrones 
    but has lifted up the humble. 
He has filled the hungry with good things 
    but has sent the rich away empty. 
He has helped his servant Israel, 
    remembering to be merciful 
to Abraham and his descendants for ever, 
    just as he promised our ancestors.’ 
Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.” Luke 1:50-56 

Despite our best efforts to resist, we inevitably breathe in the air of our materialistic culture.  We’re often convicted of the excesses of our own extravagance when we are given a window into the conditions that many in our world experience, and especially if they have undergone the trauma of war, famine, drought, flood, disease or some other disaster.  We shake our heads and recognise the adage that ‘the rich get richer, the poor get poorer.’  In despair we wonder how such systemic injustice can be overturned but we can’t see how it could ever be done. 

Yet Mary sees things which we can’t see.  She has seen a God who delights in turning things upside down.  In God’s world high and mighty rulers will be brought down and the rich will be sent away with nothing (doesn’t that sound like the story of Jesus meeting the rich ruler? – Luke 18:18-30).  Meanwhile the lowly, humble people are lifted up (perhaps like the tax collector and the children in Luke 18:9-17) and the hungry are filled with good things (perhaps like the beggar in Luke 18:35-43).  When Jesus’ rule breaks in, things are turned upside down.  As mercy flows from God’s throne of grace down the generations (see verses 50, 54), so the rich and powerful are swept away whilst the poor and vulnerable are now afloat, sailing into a new creation of justice and order under the watchful, loving eye of the Lord Himself. 

Advent is good news for the humble and hungry (verses 52, 53) but bad news for everyone else.  As we consider the first coming of Jesus it’s a reminder that as we humbly acknowledge our spiritual poverty, so Jesus is able to draw near to forgive, cleanse and restore and fill us with spiritual riches.  As we consider the second coming of Jesus it’s a reminder that one day every injustice will be righted and everyone will stand in awe at the justice, power and compassion of the Lord. 

Questions for Families

from Hannah & Sophie-Ann

What has God done to… 
… the rulers and the proud? 
… the lowly and the humble? 
Who is this good news for? 

Activity Idea!

God turns things upside down! He brings down the rulers and lifts up the humble. See what things in your house you can turn upside down… Cups? A stack of books? Yourself? Be careful not to break anything!  

18th December | Luke 1:57-66

“When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy. 

On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, ‘No! He is to be called John.’ 

They said to her, ‘There is no one among your relatives who has that name.’ 

Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, ‘His name is John.’ Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God. All the neighbours were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, ‘What then is this child going to be?’ For the Lord’s hand was with him.” Luke 1:57-66 

Naming children can be fraught with difficulty.  “We liked the sound of…” may work well with one’s friendship group but may run into difficulties when confronted by the hard stare of a disapproving aunt who is not amused that the traditional family name, perfectly acceptable for multiple generations, has not been used.  Something like that is happening in our passage today. 

Elizabeth has given birth to a boy to the enthusiastic delight of everyone around.  But naming him “John” seems to be a marked departure from the normal names associated with the priestly line of Aaron (see 1:5) and causes consternation in the village.  Everyone around was expecting the new child to take inspiration from the past and model his ministry on what had happened before.  But in naming him John, in obedience to the message from the angel (see 1:13), there is the recognition that John’s ministry will not be defined by the past but by something that God would do in the future.  His role would be to prepare people for something new, for the coming of the Lord (see 1:17). 

That would indeed be John’s role, described in more detail in Luke 3:1-20.  He would be the great herald, the town crier, announcing the imminent arrival of royalty and the urgent need to get ready.  Were Charles III to make an official visit to Sevenoaks, we could be sure that in the ordinary course of events there would be months of preparation before the red carpet was literally unrolled to welcome him.  John’s ministry is specifically an Advent ministry.  He announced the coming of Jesus … and his words echo down through the centuries urging us even today to get ready to encounter King Jesus, in readiness for the day when He will arrive in all His glory.  As we get ready for Christmas, let us make sure above all that we are getting ourselves ready to meet the Lord Jesus face to face. 

Questions for Families

from Hannah & Sophie-Ann

What was surprising when they named the baby? 
What is special about this baby? 

19th December | Luke 1:67-75

“His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied: 

‘Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, 
    because he has come to his people and redeemed them. 

He has raised up a horn of salvation for us 
    in the house of his servant David 
(as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), 

salvation from our enemies 
    and from the hand of all who hate us – 

to show mercy to our ancestors 
    and to remember his holy covenant, 
    the oath he swore to our father Abraham: 

to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, 
    and to enable us to serve him without fear 
    in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.’” Luke 1:67-75 

“Look, I’ll visit you over Christmas and I’ll sort out the problem.”  It sounds good but lots of promises are forgotten, and even if remembered it may be that the repair is simply too difficult and you’re back to square one.  But in this section Zechariah, filled with the Spirit and able to talk, rejoices that God has remembered his promises and is now on his way to sort things out. 

He starts by announcing that the Lord has come – in the ESV it is rendered “He has visited and redeemed His people.”  God has visited in the conception of the Lord Jesus, who is preparing to make His appearance on the first Christmas Day.  In doing this, the Lord has remembered his holy covenant (v.72) and the oath he swore to Abraham (v.73).  It’s a reminder that the Christmas story was planned right from the beginning.  Just as many people start making their Christmas plans much earlier in the year about who’s coming, what presents to purchase, what food to buy … so the Lord had planned everything well ahead of time – it was all under control. 

But what was the purpose of this visit?  Just as a Christmas meal with all the trimmings entails all sorts of items being piled upon your plate including turkey, stuffing, potatoes, bread sauce, gravy, all manner of vegetables … not forgetting the pigs in blankets, so Zechariah piles up the words to describe what the Lord is bringing on His visit.  it’s described as ‘redemption’ (v.68), ‘salvation’ (v. 69, 71), ‘mercy’ (v.72) and ‘rescue’ (v.74).  All of these great Bible words are a full meal in their own right as Zechariah pours out his song in praise to the Lord. 

This advent we have the opportunity to feast on the riches of what the Christmas story entails.  It’s also the time to remember that one day the Lord will visit us again…. 

Questions for Families

from Hannah & Sophie-Ann

What has God done? 
What promise has God kept? 

20th December | Luke 1:76-80

“‘And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; 
    for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, 

to give his people the knowledge of salvation 
    through the forgiveness of their sins, 

because of the tender mercy of our God, 
    by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven 

to shine on those living in darkness 
    and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.’ 

And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.” Luke 1:76-80


It’s almost the shortest day and it’s darker for much longer than it’s light.  Sometimes it gets so overcast that it feels dark the whole time.  Indoor lights are on more or less the whole time.  Some people don’t mind this one bit but others find it a struggle.  It feels oppressive, depressing and sad, and we can’t wait for the sunrise to come a bit earlier and for the days to lengthen. 

Isaiah had spoken of a time seven hundred years before when “the people walking in darkness” would see a great light, and of a light dawning “on those living in the land of deep darkness” (see Isaiah 9:2).  Now Zechariah realises that his child, the future John the Baptist, would be the very person who would be able to announce that the light had arrived (see verse 79).  The imagery is beautifully described.  We can picture a scene shrouded in darkness and then the sun peeking over the horizon.  As the sun rises, so the darkness gradually recedes and we start to notice things previously hidden from our gaze.  Slowly the temperature also rises though we can still see our breath in the cold air.  No longer uncertain where we are treading, we can now see exactly where the path is, with no danger of stumbling or slipping. 

So, it is with the promised coming of the Lord Jesus.  No longer do we need to edge forward surrounded by the darkness of our sins and God’s displeasure.  As the light of God’s mercy dawns in Jesus, so our sins can be forgiven (see v.77) and our feet are able to find paths of peace (see v.79). 

Each evening, as we put on the lights to help us move around the house, so Advent is a reminder that the light of Christ has already come and that we no longer need to live in darkness, whatever the season or the time of day. 

Questions for Families

from Hannah & Sophie-Ann

What special job is John given?
God’s mercy is his undeserved kindness to us. How is his mercy described here? 

21st December | Luke 2:1-7

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. 

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” Luke 2:1-7 

We feel so small.  Just one person on a crowded commuter train rattling along up to London.  Just one person in a busy mall at Bluewater, dodging the other shoppers.  Just one person tuning in to BBC News at 10, along with millions of others across the country.  All the big decisions about the direction of the country whether economically, politically or socially are taken by others. 

The big decision had been taken by Caesar Augustus (see verse 1).  Was it for political, economic or military reasons?  Whatever the reason, all the little people across the empire had to comply with his whim.  And so we see in that traditional image beloved of Christmas card designers, Joseph and a heavily pregnant Mary accompanied by a donkey making their way from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  They must have felt so small.  Pushed around by imperial dictat, undertaking a lengthy, arduous and uncomfortable journey at a point in Mary’s first pregnancy when everyone who sees them would sense the unfortunate timing of the decree.  But Caesar’s in charge, so what can you do? 

And yet in God’s providential ordering of all things (see Romans 8:28) it is actually the Lord God who is in charge.  He has planned that His Son would be born in Bethlehem (see Micah 5:2).  David had come from Bethlehem (see v.4), where he had been anointed, filled with the Spirit, before defeating God’s people’s great enemy, Goliath (1 Samuel 16, 17).  And Jesus, from David’s direct line (see v.4), will also be born in Bethlehem, anointed and filled with the Spirit (see Luke 3:21, 22) such that He would defeat the greatest enemies of God’s people – sin, Satan and death itself. 

During Advent, we look beyond the political headlines and celebrity news and we consider the slow, certain unfolding of God’s great rescue plan. 

Questions for Families

from Hannah & Sophie-Ann

God had promised in the Old Testament that his rescuing king would be born in Bethlehem. How does God use human choices to keep this promise? 
How does this encourage us that God will keep his promises? 

22nd December | Luke 2:8-14

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields near by, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ 

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 favour rests.’” Luke 2:8-14 

We love rescue stories!  Our hearts are warmed as we hear of people facing great danger being rescued through the heroism and self-sacrifice of others.  Some stories gather global significance due to the extremity of the situation and the sheer difficulty of bringing out anyone safely.  Our thoughts go to the thirty-three Chilean miners trapped for sixty-nine days during 2010, over half a mile underground with limited supplies of food.  Or perhaps we are reminded of the thirteen members of the Thai football team in June 2018 who were trapped in a remote part of a cave system over two and a half miles from the entrance.  In both situations, the story of the rescue captured our hearts and thrilled our imaginations.   

How important it is, as we hear the news announced by the Angel to the shepherds, “a Saviour has been born to you” (verse 11), that we don’t allow ourselves to become overfamiliar with what is being announced.  Due to the fact that we know the story and can recite the carols off by heart, this extraordinary news has become something ordinary and commonplace.  Yet it is simply the most momentous news ever! 

The climax of Advent is that God has sent a Rescuer – wonderful news if you know that you need rescuing.  And in a world covered in deep moral darkness, living in the fog of our own confusions and trapped, unable to escape from our past or our present, to know that there is a Rescuer, a Saviour, who has come for us, is precious indeed. 

One day, He will return … and just as surely as the news of the rescues of the Chilean miners or the Thai footballers resounded around the world, so the song of the Angels will be proclaimed in the light of their fulfilment: ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.’ 

Questions for Families

from Hannah & Sophie-Ann

What do the angels announce to the shepherds? 
Why is it described as good news? 

23rd December | Luke 2:15-20

“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’’

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” Luke 2:15-20 

“Look, it’s snowing!”  Lots of remarks about the weather can either be ignored or safely parked in our minds.  But if someone tells us that it’s snowing, it’s got to be checked out, usually personally and immediately.  And, once we’ve established that it really is snowing, there are probably other people whom we want to tell, perhaps adding a photo or video for good measure. 

Having received the message from the angels that a Saviour had been born not too far away in Bethlehem, the shepherds had options.  They could have ignored what had happened and treated it as a scam designed to lure them away from the flock.  Or perhaps they could have sent one of their number to see what the fuss was all about.  But Luke records their conversation for us (see verse 15) and the decision for all of them to go in order to check out the reliability of the report. 

In line with Luke’s desire to pass on only eye-witness testimony (see 1:1-4), the focus in almost every verse is on what the shepherds saw with their eyes.  The sign that they had found the right baby (as presumably there were other tiny infants in Bethlehem that evening) was that the little one would be lying in a manger.  That’s exactly what they find and see, just as they have been told (see verses 15, 16, 17 and 20).  And having seen, they cannot restrain themselves. As a result they spread the word, telling everyone they meet (see verses 17, 18, 20). 

And after the noisy shepherds have moved on, Luke leaves us in the stillness with Mary.  Like a person captivated by the wonder of standing in gently falling snow, so Mary treasures the privilege of being softly covered by God’s amazing purposes of love … and this Advent so can we. 


Questions for Families

from Hannah & Sophie-Ann

What do the shepherds do?  
How are the shepherds feeling? How is Mary feeling? 

24th December | Luke 2:21-32

“On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived. 

When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord’), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: ‘a pair of doves or two young pigeons’. 

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: 

‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, 
    you may now dismiss your servant in peace. 
For my eyes have seen your salvation, 
    which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: 
a light for revelation to the Gentiles, 
    and the glory of your people Israel.’” Luke 2:21-32 

Dreams don’t correspond to reality.  The dream is that we will have absolutely everything organised for our Christmas festivities.  The Christmas tree will have been purchased or unearthed from the attic, in good time and be tastefully decorated.  The presents will have already been bought and lovingly wrapped and labelled, with no one forgotten.  The guest room will have been cleaned and readied with each bed carefully made.  The food will now be lovingly prepared, with timings for Christmas lunch worked out in minute detail.  “Everything’s ready!”  But of course, it’s a dream, because, using the words of Robbie Burns, “the best laid plans o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley”; in other words, something always goes wrong. 

We’re not told Simeon’s age, but we get the strong impression from Luke that this devout man is well advanced in years.  He’s seen all sorts of things go wrong in his life.  As someone looking for ‘the consolation/comfort of Israel’ (see verse 25) he was no stranger to all the struggles and hardships that God’s people had been experiencing over the years.  But now a poor, young couple bring a tiny baby into the temple courts.  We know they are poor because they cannot afford a lamb for their offering (see verses 22-24 and Leviticus 12:8).  Simeon approaches them and gently takes the infant into his arms.  His song is beautifully poetic (known, from the first two words in Latin, as the ‘Nunc Dimittis’), but in effect he’s saying “everything’s ready”.  His dream has become a reality.  The light has now entered the world.  Salvation has come because Jesus is here. 

Our tiny plans may well be derailed.  But as we leave Simeon and Luke, we know that the stage has now been set for God’s glorious saving purposes for all time.  Advent is the season when the Lord whispers to each of us, “everything’s ready”, because Jesus has come, is coming and will come again. 

Questions for Families

from Hannah & Sophie-Ann

What had Simeon been promised? 
How does Simeon describe Jesus? 

Activity idea!

Look at all the Christmas lights that have been put up. Describe what the lights look like on one of the houses near you, and see if the others can guess which house you’re describing. Simeon had been promised that he would see God’s rescue plan before he died – when he saw Jesus he was described as a light for all nations!  


The opening lines of the traditional Christmas carol “God rest ye merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay!” somehow seem a little glib. There’s plenty that does dismay us about the world and our own experiences. Yet if we push on past these opening lines, the carol continues in its multiple verses to record the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, faithfully presenting the details from the gospels according to Matthew and Luke. Most striking of all is the refrain: “O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy! O tidings of comfort and joy!” The message of Advent, as we consider both the first coming of the Lord Jesus at Bethlehem and His second coming at the end, is all about the comfort that the Lord is able to provide and the joy which flows from all that He has done.

This series of daily devotions for the Advent season are drawn from both Old Testament and New Testament, from Isaiah and Luke. They interact with promises of comfort and point to the joy available in and through the Lord Jesus. These devotions are deliberately short and concise, interacting with a few verses each day but hopefully they are long enough to be the means of enabling each of us, wherever we are, to encounter the living Lord Jesus. My hope is that we would find security and rest in the comfort He alone provides in a world full of pressures and problems. My hope is also that we would rediscover the joy of knowing Jesus as our Lord and Saviour.

You may wish to use this prayer which I use before each sermon,

“Lord, may your word be our/my guide,

May your Spirit be our/my Teacher,

And may your Glory be our/my supreme concern,

Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Angus MacLeay: Autumn 2023