Hello there! I’m Brad with e3 Partners Ministry. Let’s dive into the third week of Advent with another devotional. Get ready to be transported to a lowly shepherds’ cave in ancient Bethlehem, where a divine miracle would take place …

But first, I’d like to remind you about a free gift for our blog readers: a downloadable Christmas card courtesy of e3 Partners Ministry, which doubles as an invitation to church! In our last post, we shared a fascinating statistic: the majority of non-churchgoers say they would consider attending at Christmastime, if only someone invited them. Since Christmas is two weeks away, there’s still time to invite a family member or friend to join you at church this holiday season. Please take a look at the card and consider sharing it with someone you know and love!

Week 3 – Joy: The Shepherds’ Candle

To preface this discussion, I first want to share something about my home; it has transformed into a cozy winter wonderland, thanks to my wife! Festive decor adorns the fireplace, carefully wrapped gifts sit under the tree, and mugs for hot chocolate brighten up our kitchen table. It’s really a sight to behold! But as I contemplate the warmth of the holiday season, one thought really hits me … There’s a stark contrast between the comfort of our modern-day homes and the humble shelter in which Mary gave birth to Jesus. Let’s consider the significance of that below.

Today, believers celebrating Advent will light the shepherds’ candle which represents the spiritual fruit of joy. And when I think of biblical shepherds, something very specific comes to mind. You see, my wife and I recently had the opportunity to travel to Israel with our church over the summer. On this trip, we stepped into a shepherds’ cave. It was dark and cold. To call it inhospitable, with its strong odor of animal manure, would be an understatement.

I had always pictured Jesus’ birth taking place in a shelter comprised of thatched wood, similar to the nativity scenes that are on display at Christmastime. But our trip leader explained that wooden structures were very rare in the biblical days of Bethlehem. Rather, stone was one of the most abundant natural resources of that time; as such, many historians believe Jesus’ manger was located inside a humble cave dwelling.

Crouching inside the cave, my wife and I were overcome with emotion as we considered the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords arriving in such an unwelcome place. His sacrifice, humility, love for others, and servant leadership seemed more tangible to us in that moment than ever before. While there was an uncomfortable chill in the air, I could only imagine the warmth and joy that filled the cave as Mary and Joseph embraced their promised baby boy for the very first time. And this joy is something that we can hold onto today, as we consider the magnitude of Jesus’ birth, sacrifice, and resurrection. Oh how He loves us!

There’s one more interesting fact from our trip to Israel. During biblical times, people had to travel to Jerusalem at least three times a year to have the high priest atone for their sins through an animal sacrifice—typically a lamb. Oftentimes, travelers would first go to Bethlehem where sheep were available for purchase. Once the lamb was purchased, the travelers would then enter Jerusalem through the Sheep Gate to get to the temple: the very gate that Jesus Himself entered on Palm Sunday. So it’s no wonder that Jesus, the sacrificial lamb of God, was destined to be born in this very symbolic place.

Prayer of Reflection

Heavenly Father, thank you for another week of the Advent season, as I prepare my heart to celebrate the Savior’s birth. If someone in my community is waiting for an invitation to church this Christmas season, please draw them near and give me confidence & boldness to welcome them into a place of worship. Thank you for sending your Son to walk among us. May I be filled with the spiritual fruit of joy as I consider your humble arrival and how much you love me. And when I find myself in humble circumstances, help me remember that You can accomplish mighty things through the most lowly of experiences. Amen.  

Please stay tuned for the fourth and final devotional in this series and have a blessed week!