Pastor Charlie Woodward writes a daily devotion for the days of the pandemic, until things are back to “normal,” whenever that may be. This is an opportunity to stay connected, to be together. Each devotion will include a Bible verse, a brief reflection and prayer.  
 
This devotion has undergone a name change to One in the Spirit. Learn more here.
 
Access each day’s devotion below, or sign up here to receive the devotions to your inbox every morning. Choose the “Devotions” distribution list.

Thankful for Elizabeth

Luke 1:39-45, 56-58

 

Mary Visits Elizabeth

39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
 
56 And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.
 
57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.
 
 

Last week, I introduced you to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. Today, I want to lift up Zechariah’s wife, Elizabeth.

 

Elizabeth doesn’t get much press in this story, but what a special witness she is.


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Wait for the Lord

Psalm 27

 

Triumphant Song of Confidence

Of David.

 

The Lord is my light and my salvation;

    whom shall I fear?

The Lord is the stronghold of my life;

    of whom shall I be afraid?

When evildoers assail me

    to devour my flesh—

my adversaries and foes—

    they shall stumble and fall.

Though an army encamp against me,

    my heart shall not fear;

though war rise up against me,

    yet I will be confident.

One thing I asked of the Lord,

    that will I seek after:

to live in the house of the Lord

    all the days of my life,

to behold the beauty of the Lord,

    and to inquire in his temple.

For he will hide me in his shelter

    in the day of trouble;

he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;

    he will set me high on a rock.

Now my head is lifted up

    above my enemies all around me,

and I will offer in his tent

    sacrifices with shouts of joy;

I will sing and make melody to the Lord.

Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud,

    be gracious to me and answer me!

“Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!”

    Your face, Lord, do I seek.

    Do not hide your face from me.

Do not turn your servant away in anger,

    you who have been my help.

Do not cast me off, do not forsake me,

    O God of my salvation!

10 If my father and mother forsake me,

    the Lord will take me up.

11 Teach me your way, O Lord,

    and lead me on a level path

    because of my enemies.

12 Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries,

    for false witnesses have risen against me,

    and they are breathing out violence.

13 I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord

    in the land of the living.

14 Wait for the Lord;

    be strong, and let your heart take courage;

    wait for the Lord!
 

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Comfort and Confidence

Second Sunday of Advent

 

Isaiah 40:1-5

1Comfort, O comfort my people,

says your God.

2Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,

and cry to her

that she has served her term,

that her penalty is paid,

that she has received from the Lord’s hand

double for all her sins.

3A voice cries out:

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,

make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

4Every valley shall be lifted up,

and every mountain and hill be made low;

the uneven ground shall become level,

and the rough places a plain.

5Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,

and all people shall see it together,

for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”


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We Long for the Light

Matthew 1:18-25

 

The Birth of Jesus the Messiah

18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

 

23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,

    and they shall name him Emmanuel,”

 

which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.
 
 

Again, I am going away from the suggested readings for today to focus on a song for the season. Today’s hymn is O come, O come, Emmanuel.

 

As the lesson shares, the title Emmanuel means “God is with us.” Jesus is God in the flesh. This is the great gift of Christmas – the one who comes to where we are. We look forward to his coming once again.


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To Hear and Follow the Call

Jeremiah 1:4-10

 

Jeremiah’s Call and Commission

 

Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,

 

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,

and before you were born I consecrated you;

I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

 

Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the Lord said to me,

 

“Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;

for you shall go to all to whom I send you,

and you shall speak whatever I command you.

Do not be afraid of them,

for I am with you to deliver you,

says the Lord.”

 

Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,

 

“Now I have put my words in your mouth.

10 See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,

to pluck up and to pull down,

to destroy and to overthrow,

to build and to plant.”
 
 

Jeremiah was called by God. Even when he was being knit together in his mother’s womb, God knew him, and already had great plans for him. 

 

How about you?


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Who is Watching You?

1 Thessalonians 1:2-10

 

The Thessalonians’ Faith and Example

We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.
 
 
 

Who is it that you imitate? Who is it that you follow? Who is it that follows you?


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Praise, Prophecy and Song

Luke 1:57-79

 

The Birth of John the Baptist

57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.

 

59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. 60 But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.” 61 They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.” 62 Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. 63 He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And all of them were amazed. 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. 66 All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.

 

Zechariah’s Prophecy

67 Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:

 

68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,

    for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.

69 He has raised up a mighty savior for us

    in the house of his servant David,

70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,

71     that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.

72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,

    and has remembered his holy covenant,

73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,

    to grant us 74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,

might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness

    before him all our days.

76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;

    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,

77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people

    by the forgiveness of their sins.

78 By the tender mercy of our God,

    the dawn from on high will break upon us,

79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,

    to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
 
 

This is part 2 of the story of Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, one of my favorites. They are the parents of John the Baptist. Zechariah’s story is the first one told in the Gospel of Luke.


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Struck Silent

Luke 1:5-25

 

The Birth of John the Baptist Foretold

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.
 
Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. 10 Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. 11 Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. 14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. 16 He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” 18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” 19 The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”
 
21 Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. 22 When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. 23 When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
 
24 After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, 25 “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”
 
 

I hope you take time to read this passage fully today. The story of Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, is one of my favorites. They are the parents of John the Baptist. Zechariah’s story is the first one told in the Gospel of Luke.


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In This Bleak Midwinter

Philippians 2:5-11

 

 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

 

who, though he was in the form of God,

    did not regard equality with God

    as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,

    taking the form of a slave,

    being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,

    he humbled himself

    and became obedient to the point of death—

    even death on a cross.

 

Therefore God also highly exalted him

    and gave him the name

    that is above every name,

10 so that at the name of Jesus

    every knee should bend,

    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11 and every tongue should confess

    that Jesus Christ is Lord,

    to the glory of God the Father.
 
 

Christmas music fills our home these days. I have collected dozens of Christmas CDs and created playlists for home, in the car, even sermon preparation time. I love the music of this season, and I want to share some with you. During this season of Advent from time to time, I am going to share with you some hymns of Advent and Christmas along with the story behind them. I will also share a rendition of that hymn for the day.


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Keep Awake

Mark 13:24-37

 

[Jesus said:] 24“In those days, after that suffering, 

 

the sun will be darkened,

and the moon will not give its light,

25and the stars will be falling from heaven,

and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

 

26Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

 

 28“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

 

 32“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

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