Christmas is heralded as a time of joy, friendship and celebration. But the reality is that it is not always a happy season. When one remembers Christmases past spent with loved ones lost, it can be a time of great personal sadness. Illnesses and separation from family and friends at this time of year can be especially depressing. Christmases can remind us of the family we never had and wished we had had, or can make us acutely aware of our depressed economic circumstances. The pressures of meeting all the social commitments and getting that special something for everyone on the list can generate significant stress too.
GROUP DISCUSSION: How are you approaching this season this year? Do you feel pressure to put on a false face or do you feel ready to dive in?
PERSONAL REFLECTION: Talk with God about how you are feeling as you approach Christmas. If you are feeling frustration or disappointment, express your feelings. Allow yourself to sit in His presence for a few moments and listen for his response.
As we turn to this beautiful passage from Isaiah, memorably recorded in Handel’s Messiah, we encounter the people of Israel and Judah in a terrible state. King Ahaz has turned away from the sign God offered him, but now Isaiah prophesies of a greater King who is coming to put thing right. Read Isaiah 9:1-7.
With the help of the map, find the regions of Zebulun, Naphtali, and Galilee and the road called, “the Way of the Sea.” This road marked the western limits of Palestine. The Jordan River marked the eastern limits.
2. The light dawns in verses 2-5. What specific changes does Isaiah predict?
3. Look a Isaish 8:19-22. What do you learn about the state of mind of the people from these verses?
4. What do you think it would have been like for the people to hear Isaiah’s words in 9:2-5?
5. How has the Lord brought light into your dark corner of the world?
6. Verses 2-5 are the trumpet fanfare announcing the arrival of the new ruler. Verse 4 refers to the military hero, Gideon, defeating Midian. But what is this new ruler like according to verses 6-7?
7. Reflect on the names in verse 6. What significance does each one have?
8. In what ways is the coming of the kingdom of justice and righteousness mentioned in verse 7 good news for the poor, the needy and the oppress?
9. Which of these titles — “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” — particularly describes God as you have known Him during a time of difficulty?
10. As you approach Advent, which of these aspects would you particularly like to experience and why?
11. What would you like to do in the approaching weeks of Advent to focus your mind and heart on Christ? (See “Getting the Most Out of Advent of the Savior” for a list of ideas.)
Ask God to prepare your heart for the coming of Christ.
NOW OR LATER
In the next studies we will see many responses of worship both to the announcement of Jesus and to his birth. In the book of Revelations, worshiping the Lamb on the throne is the central activity of heaven. Revelation completes the story of Jesus coming to earth. Read Revelation 4-5 for a beautiful picture of eternal worship.