Joy, Week 1
Jesus Is Promised
Isaiah 9:6-7, Isaiah 53:8, Micah 5:2
You can have joy because God keeps His promises.
God crafted a breathtaking, beautiful world to provide the perfect home for His most amazing creation—people.
“It is very good!” God saw.
But from the first moment of history, the people God loved so deeply . . . turned away from Him. The world was broken. People chose to go their own way, caring only for themselves instead of others and the God who made them.
But God had a plan. He chose a man named Abram, and told him, “Abram, I will make you into a great nation. And I will bless you. I will make your name great. . . . All nations on earth will be blessed because of you.”
Though Abram—later called Abraham—and his children and grandchildren made many mistakes, God honored His promise. He made Abraham’s family into a great nation, the Israelites.
Then centuries later, after the Israelites had been enslaved, God called a man named Moses to lead them to freedom, and to the land He had promised Abraham so long before. God gave His people rules to keep them safe and set apart from the nations around them who followed false gods.
God provided judges and priests to guide His people in the new land. But they wanted to be like the nations around them, who had impressive kings to lead them into battle.
“We should have a king, too!” they begged.
Though it saddened God’s heart, He instructed the priest Samuel to choose a king for Israel. The first king, Saul, didn’t listen to God. But Israel’s second king, David, was called “a man dear to my heart.”
God made a promise to David through the prophet Nathan:
“Your royal house and your kingdom will last forever in my sight. Your throne will last forever.” God was telling His
people that someone from David’s family would be the True King who would rescue and rule over God’s people forever.
Many kings came after David. Some of them listened to God—but most of them did not. Once again, God’s people turned away from Him. Led by many of their kings, they worshipped false gods and fought against each other.
At last, God allowed enemies to capture His people and
take them to live in foreign lands. His people had failed to follow Him—but even while they were scattered, God stayed faithful.
God whispered the details of His plan to rescue them once and for all. He sent prophets like Isaiah to share His words:
“A child will be born to us.
A son will be given to us.
He will rule over us.
And he will be called
Wonderful Adviser and Mighty God. . . .
He will rule on David’s throne and over his kingdom. . . . His rule will be based on what is fair and right.
It will last forever.
The Lord’s great love will make sure that happens.”
Through the prophet Micah, God promised: “Bethlehem . . . you might not be an important town in the nation of Judah. But out of you will come for me a ruler over Israel. His family line goes back to the early years of your nation.”
God gave Zechariah a picture of what this ruler would be like:
“City of Zion,be full of joy!...
See, your king comes to you.
He always does what is right.
He has won the victory.
He is humble and riding on a donkey.”
God even revealed that this King would die for the sins of all.
“He was arrested and sentenced to death. . . .
He was cut off from this life.
He was punished for the sins of my people.”
But God also promised that not even death could stop this Rescuer!
“You will not leave me in the place of the dead. . . .
You always show me the path of life.
You will fill me with joy when I am with you.”
God had given His people all the puzzle pieces. He had promised a Messiah who would rescue them. There was just one catch: No one knew when this Rescuer would arrive. Some of God’s people were allowed to return to their home, but they still lived under foreign rule—first the Persians, then the Greeks, and at last, the Romans.
Then, for hundreds of years, no prophet’s words were recorded. God’s people went about their daily lives, stuck under Roman rule. Many probably gave up hope, even the religious leaders. Their hearts became hard.
But others still lived in hopeful expectation that God would send Someone . . . any day.
The stage was set.
All the pieces were in place for God to bring joy to the world.
But no one could have imagined just how unusual the arrival of God’s Rescuer would be . . .
. . . in the little town of Bethlehem, lying still beneath silent stars.
What promise did God keep at Christmas?
Take a minute and share with each other what you think. The entire Old Testament, the first part of the Bible, shares the story of how God created us, and loves us so much that He planned a way to rescue us, even when people turned away from Him. Over and over, God’s people promised to be faithful to Him. And over and over, they failed. But God showed His faithfulness by giving a series of promises, called prophecies, about the Rescuer He would send. Even though God’s people had those promises, though, they had to wait . . . a long, long time. But at Christmas, as we’ll see, God kept every single one of those promises! And because God keeps His promises, to the Israelites, and to us, we can have joy—even when we’re waiting. Even when life feels dark or frustrating or boring. Pray for each other, that you can have joy this Christmas season, no matter what is going on in your lives.
Joy, Week 2
The Coming Birth of John The Baptist
Luke 1:5-25; 57-80
You can have joy because anything is possible with God.
For many years, God had spoken to His people, the Israelites, through prophets. Isaiah wrote, “A child will be born to us. A son will be given to us. He will rule over us. And he will be called Wonderful Adviser and Mighty God. He will also be called Father Who Lives Forever and Prince Who Brings Peace.”
But then, that promise didn’t come true for hundreds of years. The Israelites, who had lived under Persian rule, were taken over by the Greeks, and then the Romans. They longed to be free again.
The descendants of Moses’ brother, Aaron, still served as priests. One of them, a man named Zechariah, lived with his wife Elizabeth in the hills south of Jerusalem. He must have prayed often for God to keep His promises. “Please rescue us, God! Send someone like You promised so long ago.”
But though Zechariah and Elizabeth faithfully served God, there was one great sadness in their lives—even though they were old, they had no children.
Two times each year, Zechariah went to the temple to serve before God for a week with his division of priests. Only one was chosen to enter the special Holy Place in the temple to burn incense before God, while the others prayed outside.
“Have you ever been picked, Jude?” Zechariah may have asked an elderly priest.
“To go in the Holy Place?” croaked Jude. “No. Not in my forty years as a priest!”
Zechariah nodded. “There are so many of us. I may never be picked, either.”
But this time, when the selection was made, Zechariah was the chosen priest! Carefully, he prepared. As the rest of the priests prayed outside, Zechariah entered the Holy Place of the temple, carrying a golden censer. Barely breathing, he spread incense over the burning coals on the altar. A cloud of fragrance rose into the air.
Zechariah took one deep breath, and turned to go. But suddenly, a towering figure of light appeared at the right side of the altar!
“Do not be afraid, Zechariah,” said the angel Gabriel. “Your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will have a child. It will be a boy.”
Zechariah’s heart raced. He couldn’t think. “A child? A boy?” he gasped.
“And you must call him John,” continued the angel. “He will be a joy and delight to you. His birth will make many people very glad. He will be important in the sight of the Lord. . . . He will teach people who don’t obey to be wise and do what is right. In this way, he will prepare a people who are ready for the Lord.”
Zechariah struggled to understand. He could barely look at the shining messenger from God. “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man, and my wife is old too.”
“I am Gabriel,” said the angel. “I serve God. I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will have to be silent. You will not be able to speak until after John is born. That’s because you did not believe my words. They will come true at the time God has chosen.”
Zechariah could only nod. As he tried to grasp for words, the angel vanished.
Stunned, Zechariah staggered outside. The other priests quickly gathered around, curious why he had taken so long. Zechariah could only gesture. At last, the other priests realized he had seen a vision from God.
When he finished serving at the temple for the week, Zechariah returned home to Elizabeth. As she asked questions about his trip, he could only wave his hands. He gestured toward his mouth, and then up to heaven.
When Elizabeth finally understood, she, too, was amazed. But, just as God said, Elizabeth did become pregnant. “God has been kind to me!” she said.
Nine months later, Elizabeth gave birth to an energetic baby boy.
Friends and relatives all gathered to share their joy.
“Look at all that hair!” Elizabeth marveled. “He’s just perfect, isn’t he, Zechariah?”
Zechariah beamed and gave a big thumbs up.
One of their relatives declared, “Yer callin’ him Zechariah, of course.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “No! Oh, no. He must be called John.” Friends and family were surprised because babies were usually named after a relative. “No one in your family has that name,” said a friend. “Right, Zechariah?”
Everyone turned to Zechariah. He held up his hand and moved it back and forth.
“He needs something to write with!” said Elizabeth.
Someone brought a writing tablet. As quickly as he could, Zechariah spelled out: HIS NAME IS JOHN.
Everyone frowned, trying to understand. “His name is John?” they wondered again.
“His name is John!” Zechariah announced. Then he laughed to realize he could speak once again. “Praise God!” he cried out.
Zechariah and Elizabeth hugged each other and their new baby. They wept tears of joy at this unexpected blessing God had given them. Their friends and neighbors stared in wonder.
“What on God’s green earth is this child gonna be?” wondered one lady.
Just as the angel Gabriel has said, John had already brought joy and delight. And he would grow up to prepare people’s hearts for the most amazing gift of all that God was sending.
What is something in your life that feels impossible?
Take a minute and share with each other. Zechariah and Elizabeth were old enough to be grandparents . . . maybe even great-grandparents! And they’d never been able to have a child. Even though it looked impossible, God gave them a baby. If God could do that, He can work in your impossible situation, too. It may not look the way you expect, but you can have joy, knowing that God will carry you through in His way and His time. Pray for each other, that you would see God at work in the things that feel impossible this Christmas.
Joy, Week 3
The Coming Birth of Jesus
You can have joy because God is with you.
Mary grew up in Nazareth, a small town in Galilee on the edge of non-Jewish lands. The town was so unremarkable that people later asked: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Mary herself was a quite ordinary teenager, engaged to be married to a carpenter named Joseph.
One day, Mary went about her usual tasks, perhaps baking bread. As she added in a little more barley flour, light flooded the dim room. Startled, Mary knocked over the flour sack, sending clouds of dust to dance in the bright air.
“What on earth?” she gasped, coughing.
A shining figure of light seemed to fill the whole space: the angel Gabriel. “Mary,” he said, “the Lord has blessed you in a special way. He is with you.”
“How can you say this?” asked Mary, amazed. “There’s nothing special about me.”
“Do not be afraid, Mary,” Gabriel told her. “God is very pleased with you. You will become pregnant and give birth to a son. You must call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High God. The Lord God will make him a king like his father David of long ago. The Son of the Most High God will rule forever over his people. They are from the family line of Jacob. That kingdom will never end.”
Mary’s mind raced. King David was one of her ancestors. She had studied the Scriptures and knew the words God’s prophets, like Isaiah, had spoken long ago: “A child will be born to us. A son will be given to us. He will rule over us. And he will be called Wonderful Adviser and Mighty God. He will also be called Father Who Lives Forever and Prince Who Brings Peace.”
Mary took a deep breath and tried to understand. “How can this happen?” she wondered. “I’m not even married.”
“God’s Holy Spirit will make it happen,” Gabriel explained.
“Your relative Elizabeth will have a child even though she is old. . . . She has been pregnant for six months now. That’s because what God says will always come true.”
Mary tried to imagine her much, much older cousin Elizabeth—with a baby! If God could make this happen, He could care for Mary, too.
“I serve the Lord,” she said. “May it happen to me just as you said it would.”
The light dimmed. The angel disappeared. Mary dusted the flour off her hands and stared at the fallen flour sack. “I have to pack!” she exclaimed.
Awed by the angel’s message, Mary wished to share the news with her cousin Elizabeth. She traveled to the hill country of Judea as quickly as she could and reached her cousin’s home.
Elizabeth flung open the door, one hand on her pregnant belly. “God has blessed you more than other women,” declared Elizabeth. “And blessed is the child you will have!”
Mary hugged her cousin in delight. “I see you are going to have a baby. The angel told me.”
“As soon as I heard the sound of your voice, the baby inside me jumped for joy,” said Elizabeth. “You are a woman God has blessed. You have believed that the Lord would keep his promises to you!”
“But . . . how do you know all this?” asked Mary.
“God’s Spirit spoke to me,” Elizabeth explained. “Come in. Come in! You must be exhausted.”
Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months. She was so filled with joy she created a song of praise to God.
“My soul gives glory to the Lord.
My spirit delights in God my Savior.
He has taken note of me even though I am not considered important. . . .
He shows his mercy to those who have respect for him, from parent to child down through the years. . . .
He has lifted up people who are not considered important. . . . He has helped the people of Israel, who serve him. . . .
He has done it just as he promised to our people of long ago.”
After three months, Mary returned home to Nazareth, overjoyed to know that God was with her now, and would continue to be with her through the days ahead.
What does it mean to you when someone says that God is with you?
Take a minute and share. Even though Mary faced an incredible, unexpected situation, she knew the stories of God’s faithfulness, and trusted that He would be with her in everything that lay ahead. Because God sent His Son, Jesus, to earth as a Baby, we can trust that God is with us every day, too. He promises to speak to everyone who follows Him through His Spirit. You can hear God through the stories in the Bible, and through wise people who follow God. God can even speak directly to your heart. Pray for each other, that you will have joy this Christmas, knowing God is with you every step of your day.
Joy, Week 4
Jesus Is Born
You can have joy because God sent His son.
Mary’s eyes blinked shut for a moment as the steady sway of the donkey went on and on.
Joseph touched her shoulder. “Mary!”
Mary shook her head and pulled the donkey to a stop. “I’m fine,” she said. “I’m okay.”
Joseph watched in surprise as she slid down from the donkey. Her heavy belly made it awkward. The baby was growing bigger every day—a baby announced by the angel Gabriel as God’s very own Son!
Joseph took her arm. “Are you sure you want to walk?” he asked. “Bethlehem is still miles away.”
“I’m just so tired of riding,” Mary explained. Slowly, they continued down the dusty road, one slow step at a time. Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth, but word had come from the Roman ruler Caesar Augustus that everyone must return to their hometown to be counted.
A messenger had announced, grandly:
“Caesar requires a list
Of those who won’t be missed
So don’t try to resist
’Cause your taxes won’t be dismissed!”
Now, even though Mary’s belly was growing bigger every day, she and Joseph were road tripping to Bethlehem, where Joseph’s family came from.
“Don’t worry,” Joseph told her. “We’ll be able to stay with my cousins.”
“Anywhere,” gasped Mary, placing a hand on her belly. “I just need to . . . lie down . . . soon!”
But when Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem, they discovered that everyone else had come home, too. “Real sorry,” one of Joseph’s cousins told them. “I got relatives stacked all the way to the rafters!”
“But we’ve asked everywhere,” Joseph protested.
The cousin frowned. “Well, I do have a little space,” he said. “Where the animals stay.”
Joseph took a step back. “The cows? Um, no. We’ll just go.”
But Mary stepped forward quickly. “There! We’ll go there. With the cows! We’ll take it.”
Mary and Joseph settled in with the cows and sheep and goats. And late one night, the baby was born—God’s very own Son! They didn’t even have a cradle for Jesus, but Mary suggested, “We’ll use the cow’s feeding trough.”
Joseph added armfuls of fresh, clean hay to the manger. Mary wrapped her new Baby tightly in strips of cloth to keep Him snug and laid Him down to rest.
While Mary and Joseph watched over their new Baby, the rest of Bethlehem slept. Only a few shepherds in the nearby fields were still awake. We’ll call them Dov and Levi.
“I’m hungry,” declared Dov, stretching his long, skinny arms.
Levi tugged on his white beard. “Build up the fire, boy. We’ll toast some bread.”
Dov nodded and stared up into the vast, dark sky. “How many stars are up there?”
“Count them and see,” said Levi, with a shrug.
“What if there are more stars than we can see?” wondered Dov.
“God only knows,” said Levi, trying to close the conversation.
“Does God know everything?” Dov asked.
“He surely does.”
“Will God make us free from the Romans some day?”
“Don’t see that it will matter much to shepherds like you and me.”
“Why does being a shepherd have to be so boring?” sighed Dov.
“I surely wish the Almighty would talk to you Himself,” declared Levi in exasperation. “Because you’ve about worn me out.”
Suddenly, brilliant light flooded the sky. Both men shielded their faces as a shining being towered above them.
“Do not be afraid!” the angel told them.
“Don’t be afraid?” gasped Levi. “I’m shakin’ in my sandals!”
“I bring you good news,” announced the angel. “It will bring great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you. He is the Messiah, the Lord.”
“The Messiah?!” breathed Dov.
“Here is how you will know I am telling you the truth,” the angel continued.
“You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.”
“The Messiah . . . is a Baby?” marveled Dov.
The light flared even brighter as a huge crowd of angels appeared. Together they sang, “May glory be given to God in the highest heaven! And may peace be given to those he is pleased with on earth!”
Then . . . the angels disappeared.
The light dimmed.
One by one, the stars reappeared in the darkened sky.
Dov gaped. “A Baby! Wow. You think this is how God’s gonna rescue us?”
Levi shook his head. “God sends us a direct message—and you still can’t stop with the questions.”
Dov jumped up. “Can we go to Bethlehem?”
“At least I got an answer to that!” said Levi. “We surely can!”
Leaving their flocks behind, the shepherds raced across the rough fields to Bethlehem. There, on the edge of town, they found Mary and Joseph and the tiny, newborn baby King.
“Would you like to hold Him?” asked Mary, holding out the tightly wrapped infant.
“Who, me?” asked Dov, in surprise.
“Have you ever held a baby lamb?” asked Mary with a smile. “Oh,” said Dov. “Well . . . yes.”
Even Levi smiled as Dov gently held the Baby in his arms. The shepherds marveled at this tiny miracle—a helpless Baby sent to save them all. The biggest answer to the biggest question of all.
“We should tell someone!” declared Dov.
“We should tell everyone!” added Levi.
As the sun rose, the shepherds shouted out the news, all over Bethlehem.
“The Lord has sent us a Savior. It’s a Baby! He’s for everyone!”
God had sent His very own Son to live among His people. And the news brought joy to all who heard about it.
What’s your favorite Christmas gift you’ve ever received?
Take a minute and share with each other. At Christmas, God gave an incredible gift for each of us—the most amazing gift ever. God sent His very own Son, Jesus, to live as a human, here on Earth. Jesus experienced everything that we do. But unlike us, He didn’t make any mistakes. And later, He allowed Himself to be put to death to take the punishment for our sins. When God brought Him back to life, death was defeated forever. Now everyone who follows Jesus can live with God forever. We can be forgiven for every wrong thing we’ve ever done, or will do. We can experience true joy, no matter what we face. Now that is an amazing gift. Pray for each other, that God will help you understand what the gift of Jesus means, and what it looks like for you to follow Him.
Joy, Week 5
The Wise Men Visit Jesus
You can find joy when you search for God.
When Jesus was born, there were no newspapers to spread the word. No talk radio or social media. In fact, a group of ragtag shepherds were the first to share the news in the streets of Bethlehem.
Far to the East lived a group of magi, or wise men. Even though they were a several months’ journey from Bethlehem, God sent them the news, too. These wise men belonged to a long line of scholars and astronomers who served as advisors to great kings and rulers. They often studied the night sky. We don’t know their names or how many there were, but we can imagine three of them were Balthasar, Melchior, and Caspar.
“Melchior! Caspar!” called Balthasar as he stood at the edge of the roof, his eyes fixed on the star-studded sky. The others hurried over to join him. “Slow down there, young fry,” groaned Caspar. “My aching back . . .”
The magi crowded together as Balthasar pointed toward the horizon. “See that star?” he asked.
Melchior nodded. “To the west, above the treetops?”
Caspar frowned. “Right where no star has any business to be.”
The magi had made charts of the stars, and knew where each one should be throughout the year. But this star wasn’t marked on any of their maps. They knew it must mean something.
“Find me those Jewish scrolls,” Caspar instructed.
Many centuries before, the king of Babylon had conquered Israel and brought Jews to live as captives in Persia. One of these men, Daniel, had interpreted dreams and visions through the power of God. Several kings had made him an advisor among the magi. Through Daniel, the magi likely would have had record of Jewish writings and prophecy, even long years later.
“We know Daniel spoke of a great King who would come,” Caspar reminded them as he searched through an ancient scroll. “A Messiah. And then there’s this, from the Jewish Scriptures.”
Caspar pointed out a section of text. Balthasar read it aloud. “‘A star will come from among the people of Jacob. A king will rise up out of Israel.’” He looked at Caspar. “You think the star means a King has been born? In Israel.”
“We must go and worship Him!” announced Melchior. “Road trip!” “My back is not going to like this,” sighed Caspar.
The magi gathered royal gifts and prepared for a long journey across the desert. They traveled for weeks . . . months . . . across the dry, dusty land. At last they reached the city of Jerusalem. Everyone must have stared at these men in rich robes with strange accents.
“Where is the child who has been born to be king of the Jews?” asked the magi. “We saw his star when it rose. Now we have come to worship him.”
Jerusalem was ruled by a man named Herod. When he heard a group of men from the East were searching for a new king, he wasn’t exactly thrilled. “King of the Jews?!” Herod exploded. “I’m King of the Jews! If they think there can be two . . . I’ll make them go, ‘boo hoo!’”
King Herod called for the priests and teachers of the law. “Where is this ‘king’ . . . this ‘Messiah’ supposed to be born?” he demanded.
“Bethlehem. In Judea,” they replied. “Tell me more,” said the king.
“The prophet Micah wrote about this,” explained a priest. “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are certainly not the least important among the towns of Judah. A ruler will come out of you. He will rule my people Israel like a shepherd.’”
King Herod glowered, mumbling to himself, “I need to find this Child first, I do . . . and then I’ll make Him go, ‘boo hoo!’”
Turning to his advisors, he ordered, “Bring me these visitors from the East.”
The magi came to stand before King Herod. “Precisely when did this star appear?” he asked. “I am told the Messiah is to be born in Bethlehem. So go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report it to me. Then I can make him go ‘boo hoo’—I mean go and worship him too.”
The magi continued on their journey. They were filled with joy when they saw the star again. It appeared to shine right over a house on the edge of Bethlehem.
The wise men soon reached the home, and found the young Child Jesus and His mother. Mary watched in amazement as these important men who had traveled so far, bowed down to worship her Son. And the wise men stared in wonder at the small Boy who was King of the entire world.
One by one, Mary opened the beautiful gifts the magi had brought: gold, frankincense, and myrrh—gifts fit for a priest and king. God had confirmed once again just how special Jesus was.
The wise men began their journey home, hearts full of joy at all they had seen. In a dream that night, God warned them not to go back to Herod. So instead, they went back home to their country a different way.