Unwrapped: An Advent Devotional

Get Ready To Receive God's Gift

Week 1: December 1-7, 2019


The season of Advent is the four weeks leading up to Christmas day, and it has a significant role in how we approach Christmas.

The word "advent" means, "the arrival of someone notable." It means someone important is on their way. (Spoiler alert: it's Jesus.)

Advent is the season when we are reminded that we are not celebrating some-thing, but some-one. This difference matters, because when you get ready to celebrate some-thing, the preparation is usually all about you and what you can get from that experience. But when you get ready to celebrate some-one, the preparation is about so much more than you.

During the season of Advent, our excitement and anticipation isn't about Santa, or family, or the presents. It's about Jesus.

Maybe it's hard to imagine now, but thousands of years ago, countless people were waiting with excitement for the coming of Jesus — literally. He hadn't been born yet.

People knew that someone was on the way, because God had promised it, but they weren't sure who they were waiting for. They did have some hints though.

Read Isaiah 9:6

About 700 years before Jesus was born, the prophet Isaiah shared the exciting news that someone important was on the way.

For many years, followers of God were anticipating the mighty King prophesied by Isaiah and others — someone who would be their Savior.

One person awaiting the arrival of his Savior was a man name Simeon. God had told Simeon through the Holy Spirit that before he died, Simeon would get the chance to see the promised Savior in the flesh. God made a promise to Simeon, and God kept that promise.

Read Luke 2:25-35

Can you imagine? Simeon was just an ordinary guy, but God singled him out. I like to imagine God was so excited to share the gift that was coming, that God wanted to hurry up and share the secret with someone.

Scripture tells us that Simeon and the rest of God's people, the Israelites, were waiting for the "consolation of Israel." What does that mean?

“Consolation" means comfort. Israel was waiting for someone to rescue them from their hardships, and they had plenty of those. Many of their hardships, they brought on themselves through their disobedience to God — as a result, they experienced many dark years of difficulty.

But despite years of hardship, war, captivity, and oppression, Israel still had the hope of their long-awaited Prince of Peace.

As Simeon held baby Jesus in his arms, I wonder if he reacted like some of those way-too-excited kids did when they opened their Christmas presents. I don't know, but I do know he said this moment had made his life complete.

Now that he'd seen Jesus, Simeon could die a happy man, because Simeon had been given the greatest gift of all — the gift of our Savior, Jesus.

Simeon's life is an example of hoping, waiting, and preparing for the coming of Jesus, which is what the season of Advent is all about. 

Like Simeon did, during Advent . . . 

     We remember that God fulfills promises.

     We trust that, no matter how dark life gets, God offers us hope and peace in Jesus.

     We get ready to receive God's gift — our Savior.

But just like with any gift, you have to be willing and ready to receive the gift of Jesus.

God's gift of salvation through Jesus is . . .

  • Forgiveness for every terrible thing we've done or will do.
  • Eternal life in relationship with God.
  • A new life right now as we learn to experience the greatest love we will ever know. 
  • And then God offers us even more gifts (as if we needed them): peace, joy, comfort, guidance, wisdom, and purpose, just to name a few. 

You might be tempted to reject or ignore the gift of Jesus, but this Advent, I hope you'll choose instead to get ready to receive God's gift, because it is the best gift you could ever receive.

So, let's say you are willing to embrace God's greatest gift for the first time. This means you are ready to accept that:

  • You need Jesus.
  • God loves you (and everyone else too).
  • Jesus was willing to offer His own life to save the life of every human.

If you've already received God's gift of salvation, this season is for you too. When you get ready to receive the gift of Jesus all over again, it might mean you . . . 

Remember what God has already done for you.

Look forward to what God might want to do in your present.

The question you might have now is, "Now what?”

Whether you've been following Jesus for years, or you're still trying to figure out what you believe about Him, let's unwrap a few ways we can "get ready" to receive the gift of Jesus this Advent season:

  • DECIDE TO LEARN. There's always more to learn about God, even if you have grown up in church. What are some ways we can learn, or continue learning, about God and the gifts God offers us? 
  • DO ONE LESS THING. Between Christmas concerts, school exams, parties, and family commitments,  Christmastime can be pretty busy for some of us. Much of that may be out of your control, but there are some things you can change during this season. Maybe you can watch one less hour of television or take one thing off of  your Christmas list. Making sacrifices like these over specific periods of time is sometimes called fasting, which is something Jesus modeled and encouraged us to practice. What's one less thing you can do this season? 
  • INVEST IN SOMEONE. As you'll learn more over the next few weeks, God's gift isn't just for you and me. It's a gift for the entire world. When we invest in others, like a friend, classmate, neighbor, family member, or teammate, we can make a significant impact and prepare the way to share God's gift with them. How can you invest in someone during this season?

This Advent season, let's get ready to receive God's great gift to us by deciding to learn, doing one less thing, and investing in others.

Questions To Think About:

What do you still need to do to prepare for Christmas?

How do you feel about this time of year? Why do you feel that way?

What’s something that makes you excited about Christmas? What’s something that makes you dread it?

How is preparing for an event different from preparing to spend time with a  person?

Has your perspective on this season changed because of what you have read today? If so, how?

In your own words, what gifts could we prepare to receive from God during this season?

Read Mark 1:1-8. Why do  you think God sent John the Baptist to help prepare the way for Jesus’ ministry to begin?

What’s one thing you want to do this Advent season to learn more about God and the gift of Jesus?

What’s one less thing you want to do this Advent season to prepare yourself to receive what God has for you?

What’s one thing you want to do this Advent season to invest in someone else?

You Can Share God's Gift With Others

Week 2: December 8-14, 2019

Have you ever felt unqualified to do something you were asked to do?

It can be awkward when we unqualified to do something. Maybe you felt out of your comfort zone when:

  • You were asked to deliver a speech in front of your classmates.
  • You had to perform a solo in your school choir or orchestra.
  • A friend came to you in tears, but you weren't sure how to comfort them.
  • Someone asked your opinion on a controversial subject and you weren't sure what to say.

It's never fun to be thrown into something we don't feel prepared or qualified to do.

When we feel unqualified, it's occasionally because we know we really are unqualified (which is okay — no one expects you to be an expert at everything).

But sometimes we feel unqualified when we don't need to feel that way. We let the fear of messing up or embarrassing ourselves keep us from doing something we really want to do. When we feel unqualified, we become so aware of our own flaws and shortcomings that we're afraid to do what's been asked of us.

How confident do you feel talking about the gift of Jesus with others?

If we believe that Jesus is the greatest gift of all, why don’t we share that gift more often? I believe we don’t always feel qualified to share about Jesus because . . . 

  • REASON 1: We know we don't have all the answers to people's questions.
  • REASON 2: We aren’t sure we are the most Jesus-like example out there.
  • REASON 3: We're afraid the conversation would be awkward.

But what if talking with others about the gift of Jesus wasn’t that complicated? What if you were already qualified to share about the greatest gift the world has ever been given?

We all have room to grow, but you don’t have to be perfect to get started. You don't have to know everything about soccer in order to kick a ball around, and you don't need to be the world's greatest Jesus-follower to tell someone about the gift of Jesus you've been given.

And more than just having the right answers. There are many of us who believe that we aren’t qualified because who’s going to listen to someone who:

  • Has there own secrets that they are ashamed of sharing
  • Isn’t exactly winning the popularity contest at school
  • Looks, acts, and feels different from everyone else around them

Whether you're worried about how much you still need to learn, or how much you still need to grow, or how awkward you sometimes are, it’s okay to be a work in progress. 

Here's what we need to realize: although we may feel unqualified to share God's gift, God loves to use ordinary people to share the story of Jesus. So let me introduce you to a few ordinary people (and one not-so-ordinary person) who shared the gift of Jesus with others.

Let's start with someone not-so-ordinary. John the Baptist was a prophet (someone God used to deliver messages to people). He was Jesus' cousin, and he was a little odd — even for a prophet. He lived in the desert, ate bugs, and made clothes made out of camels.

Some people may have thought John was unqualified because of his strangeness, but that didn't bother John. He continued sharing the gift that he knew was the greatest gift of all — the gift of Jesus.

Read Mark 1:1-8

If you're wondering what that word repent means, it means to change your perspective and change your ways. It means you turn your life upside down because you know the way you'd been going wasn't the best way.

There were skeptics — people who didn't think much of John of his message. But that was okay with John, and with the crowds of people who did want to hear John speak. These people were tired of the way things were and were ready for the change John was promising.

John shared the gift of Jesus with others, pointing people to their Savior, and then trusted God to take it from there.

John's name is one we know well because of the way he shared God's gift with others so publicly. But if you pay attention, the Bible is also filled with the stories of ordinary people, like you and me, who shared the gift of God too.

These people's stories haven't been captured in detail, and they probably weren't very exciting stories, but that's the point. When we're invited to share God's gift with others, God asks us to share the gift of Jesus in everyday, ordinary ways.

Listen to these two stories — especially the very last lines of each story.

Read Matthew 9:18-26

First, Jesus healed a woman who had been suffering from a lifelong illness — an illness that made her an outcast in her community.

Next, Jesus raised a girl from the dead and acted like it was no big deal at all. (For God, I guess it was a pretty easy task.) 

Finally, do you see what happened? The word spread.

How do you think the news of Jesus' healings spread? There wasn't a big news story about it. Jesus didn't call a press conference. The news about Jesus spread because ordinary people couldn't help but share what they had seen Jesus do.

Read Matthew 9:27-31

Once again, Jesus does something incredible — He heals two blind men and one man who couldn't speak.

This time, Jesus tells the crowd to play it cool and not talk about what they'd seen. That's because every time word would spread about what Jesus was doing, the religious or government leaders of that city would run Jesus out of town, and Jesus still had work to do.

But the people didn't listen. Once again, the people who had seen the gift of Jesus in action couldn't help but share what they had seen.

Again, the names of the people responsible for spreading the word about Jesus are never mentioned. Maybe because there were so many of them, but maybe because they weren't very exciting stories.

These were ordinary people sharing some extraordinary news in the midst of their ordinary lives. They weren't experts. They weren't famous. They weren't perfect. But they shared God's gift with others.

Jesus is the gift God has given to you, and now you are invited to share the same gift with others. When you share this gift, you bring people hope of something bigger and greater than anything they can unwrap on Christmas morning.

No matter how ordinary or unqualified you think you are, that's not how God sees you. You are called and qualified to share God's gift with others.

It starts with praying for the people you know.

The next step is having a conversation. In the stories we read from Scripture, the good news of Jesus didn’t spread just though prayers, but through conversations. If you are nervous about starting a conversation about God, sometimes it’s easier to invite someone to church or an event as a first step. If you're going to invite a friend, make it easy for them. Maybe offer to pick them up or buy them Taco Bell afterward. If they say yes, text them the address and remind them the day before. 

When you are ready to have a conversation with someone about the gift of Jesus, start with your story. When the word about Jesus' healings spread in the stories we read, it was because ordinary people shared stories about what they'd seen.

You too have a story worth sharing. Whether God has been a part of your story since the beginning or just a few weeks, your story of faith is one people need to hear.

If people have questions about what you believe, be honest, even if the answer is, "I don't know." Decide that you can figure it out together.

Remember, it's okay if you don't feel qualified to tell others about God. God isn't looking for experts — God has always used ordinary people to tell the story of Jesus.

This week, pray for the people you know who need to hear about the gift of Jesus, invite them to journey with you, and continue learning to tell your story of faith. Because you really can share God's gift with others.

Questions To Think About:

Have you every felt like you were unqualified to do something you were asked to do?

How confident do you feel talking about the gift of Jesus with others?

What do you think qualifies someone to talk about their faithful publicly? What do you need to know to speak about it confidently?

Have you ever seen or learned something you couldn’t wit to tell others about? What was it, and why did you want to share it?

What was so compelling about Jesus that the people we read about above just had to tell others about Him?

Have you ever talked about Jesus with any of your friends? What were some things you learned?

Read Matthew 9:35-38. Jesus yes a metaphor to say something important to His disciples - what is He saying?

Who is someone you want to pray for this week?

Who is someone you want to invite to attend or experience something with you? What will you invite them to?

What’s your story of faith?

Some prompts to help you with your story…

  • Before I knew Jesus I believed…
  • I was first introduced to Jesus by…
  • What made me want to know Jesus was…
  • God has changed my life by…
  • Right now, I believe God is teaching me…

God's Gifts Can Be Surprising.

Week 3: December 15-21, 2019

Read Matthew 3:1-11

John the Baptist was a prophet of God that came onto the scene before Jesus began His ministry and teachings. John’s purpose was to share the gift of Jesus with other people. God used to John to prepare people’s hearts for the message of Jesus. 

Why was John's message so extraordinary? Here are a few reasons:

  • First, John was claiming the thing Israel had spent hundreds of years waiting for was finally here. They had been waiting for peace, and for a Savior who would change everything. According to John, the Savior was here! This was huge news.
  • Second, this news was surprising because of who God's people were expecting. They knew a Savior was coming, but they were expecting a powerful king, or important political leader — not someone who would be announced by a guy from the desert who ate bugs.
  • Third, John was telling people to change the way they lived. He told them to prepare their hearts, start acting differently, and let the coming Messiah (who was about to be revealed as Jesus) change their lives.

Religious people of the day (like the Pharisees and Sadducees) didn't like this. They believed that, in order to get God to accept you, you had to follow the rules (both God's rules and the rules the religious leaders had created), and that they had everything figured out when it came to God.

The religious leader didn't believe John's message, so they created a stir that got John thrown in jail. You can imagine how much of a downer that probably was, but while he was there, John got some good news.

John heard about all the great things Jesus was doing, and how Jesus' ministry truly was a fulfillment to the prophesy he’s been delivering. The message God has asked John to share with others was coming true.

I don't know what was going through John's head while he was in prison. Maybe because of his imprisonment, torture, and impending death, he needed some reassurance. Maybe he was still a little surprised that the Savior of the world was his own cousin.

John asks his followers to go talk to Jesus and make sure He was the Savior John believed Him to be.

Read Matthew 11:1–6

No matter how certain John probably felt about the message he had been preaching for so long, I'm sure the news that he hadn't been mistaken was still a little bit surprising. The news was so good — almost too good to be true — that maybe John couldn't help but be surprised to find out it really was true!

Jesus tells John's disciples that John was right all along. And now that He (the Savior) was there, it was time to rejoice!

The coming of Jesus was a surprising gift from God that caused people to rejoice. But God's surprising gifts didn't end there. Along with His presence, the hope of Jesus is the promise that . . . 

  • The blind will see.
  • The lame will walk.
  • The sick will be healed.
  • The dead will be raised.
  • The poor will receive good news.

The surprising news of Jesus was that God isn't impressed by our ability to follow the rules or be good people. Jesus came to change everything. He defied customs, expectations, rules, and even the laws of the universe, to miraculously change everything.

God's gifts can be surprising. And because they are surprising, they cause us to rejoice.

God's people thought they were waiting for an earthly king or political leader to save them, but the Savior they got was so much better than who they were expecting. Jesus didn't just come to make political changes in the world — He came to make changes in our lives.

  • He can heal us of our bitterness, anger, and selfishness.
  • He shows us that we're loved.
  • He helps us find peace.
  • He changes our lives from the inside out. 

And that's a reason to rejoice. 

This week, I hope you'll let God surprise you with the gift of Jesus. I don't know how Jesus wants to show up in your life right now, but I know He wants to. Just like He came to change everything two thousand years ago, He is still changing everything today, and that's a reason to rejoice.


This week, what if anytime something good happened, you rejoiced?

  • Get extra fries in your Happy Meal? Rejoice.
  • Get a day with no homework? Rejoice. 
  • Your mom makes your favorite dinner? Rejoice.

Can you imagine how your heart might change if you thank God for the small things you've been given each day?

But what if something disappointing happens or you have a bad day? What if you think, "I can't find a single thing to rejoice about right now”? I've been there, trust me. But here's what I've learned — even when everything is awful, there is always a reason to rejoice. Even if all you can manage is, "God, thank you that tomorrow is a new day," or "Thank you for how this pain is going to make me stronger," I want to encourage you to rejoice.

Can you imagine how your heart might change if you thank God, even when the last thing you want to do is rejoice?


There might be someone in your life right now who is struggling to find a reason to rejoice this Advent season. Maybe God wants to use you to surprise someone with a reason to rejoice.

  • Maybe you can surprise someone in your life with an actual gift — maybe not an Amazon gift card, but maybe you could do something to serve, encourage, or love them.
  • Clean your sibling's room or take up one of their chores.
  • Write a letter to your parents about how much you appreciate the sacrifices they’ve made for you.
  • Bake or make something for a friend of yours that you know is struggling.
  • If someone on the street asks you for money or is in need of charity, spend time getting to know their name, where they are from, and what their story is.

You don't have to spend a ton of money or do something elaborate in order to give someone a reason to rejoice.

If they ask you why you did that for them, let them know that you know what it's like to receive an unexpected gift — and that the love of Jesus has changed you from the inside out.

That's the kind of gift worth celebrating and making a part of your Advent tradition.

Questions to think about:

What's the most surprising gift you've ever been given - good or bad?

When you hear the word rejoice, what comes to mind? When might you see someone rejoicing?

Why did the people of Jesus' day rejoice when they knew He had come? What was so surprising about Jesus?

Have you ever seen Jesus change someone's life? What did it look like?

What's one was you need Jesus to save, heal, or change you right now?

Read Philippians 4:4-7. What do you think it means to rejoice always?

What's something you can rejoice about right now?

How do you think rejoicing could help us combat worry and stress?

What's one way you're going to remember to rejoice this week?

Who is someone you could help rejoice by surprising them with a gift this week? What could you do for them and why did you choose them?

The Best Gift Is God's Presence

Week 4: December 22-28, 2019

When many people think about Christmas we think of joy and peace and happiness. People think about spending time with family and loved ones. But not everyone feels this way.

For some Christmas can be a lonely time. And there are a lot of reasons why people might feel lonely at Christmas. Maybe…

  • Holidays with your family aren't exactly happy.
  • You feel like no one you'll spend the holidays with really knows you or cares about you.
  • You wish you could spend the holidays with someone else.
  • Someone you love passed away or is no longer in your life, and you really miss them.

Or maybe none of that sounds familiar to you. Maybe the relationships in your life are all pretty healthy, you love your family, and everything is going great!

That's awesome. But even if you aren’t physically alone during this season, there are still reasons you could feel alone. 

Maybe you feel a little lonely right now because there's something going on in your life that's messy — something that's making you anxious, or sad, or insecure.

Sometimes we don't show people how messy things are in our lives but, chances are, there's something going on that we're not sure what to do with on our own.

Fortunately for us, the Bible is filled with stories of people whose lives were a little messy too. But even though their lives were messy, they were able to experience and be used by God in incredible ways.

Someone who might be able to relate is Joseph. We know him as Jesus’ earthly father and the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

When we meet Joseph in the book of Matthew, we find a hard-working guy who’s engaged to a girl named Mary, only to find out that Mary is pregnant. And here’s the shocker: he’s not the father.

Read Matthew 1:18-19

We learn from Scripture that the child appeared miraculously through the Holy Spirit. Mary told Joseph the whole story, but . . . well, it’s not a very believable story, is it? If someone were to try to use that explanation on you, I'm guessing you'd be skeptical too.

This was an especially big deal back then, because Mary could have been put to death if people didn't believe her story. So, Joseph decides to divorce her quietly in the hopes of keeping the pregnancy a secret.

Read Matthew 1:20-23

God sends an angel to Joseph, who says, “Joseph, God has a plan. What Mary has told you is a part of that plan. Everything is going to be okay.”

Not only does the angel say the baby's name will be Jesus, meaning, "He will save His people from their sins," but that He will be known as Immanuel, which means, "God with us."

This is huge! This is the best gift! Because of Jesus, for the first time, God's presence could really be with us, both here on earth and forever.

Throughout Scripture, you will see God described in three different Persons — God in heaven, God in the flesh as Jesus, and God as the Holy Spirit. 

  • GOD 
    In the Old Testament, God occasionally showed up on earth, but only briefly. God's presence was sometimes expressed in fire, or smoke, or great winds, or a voice, or in other mysterious ways. But God's presence was too powerful and too holy for humans to experience in its fullness. Some people in the Old Testament died because they got too close to God's physical presence. For a long time, humans couldn't really experience God's presence in an ongoing way.
    But when Jesus came to earth, He changed everything. For the first time, God walked among us. Humans could stand in the physical presence of God and not die. God came to us in a way that we could experience. When Jesus was put to death and then resurrected, He took this a step further. Not only could we finally stand in God's presence on earth, but through Jesus' sacrifice, He gifted us the ability to be in God's presence forever in eternity. But God still wasn't done. After Jesus rose from the dead, He did not stay among us on earth forever — instead, He said He'd send us Someone whose presence would be even better than Jesus' physical presence.
    Before Jesus left earth, He told us He would soon send His Spirit so that we never had to be away from God's presence again — not for a moment. 

Read John 14:16-20

Although Jesus is no longer walking the earth, we still have access to God's presence in a greater way than ever before. Through Jesus, we have access to God at all times because, if we know Jesus, God dwells within us. If we've accepted the gift of Jesus, His presence is always with us. 

Because of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the presence of God can always be with you. If you've accepted the gift of Jesus, the Spirit of God already dwells within you.

That means you never have to spend a single moment feeling alone. When the God of the universe dwells within you, you never have to be lonely, or hopeless, or powerless — not when God is with you.

Thanks to Jesus, the best gift is God's presence — in this life and for eternity.

Maybe you are struggling with feeling alone this Advent because:

  • You're struggling with something, and you don’t know how or where to get help.
  • You have a friend who is struggling, and you aren’t sure what to do.
  • Your life or family is a mess, and you could really use some peace.
  • You're mourning a loss, and it still hurts. 

Even if you're unsure about what the next step is for the situation you're in, you can at least know you aren't alone.

"Immanuel" means Jesus is always with us, even in our most desperate hours. He might not show up in the way we expect Him to show up. He might not give us the exact solution or plan that we were hoping for, but His presence will always lead us to something even better than what we could design for ourselves.

Thanks to Jesus, God is with us. We are reminded of that every Advent. This season is not only a season of anticipation, preparation, sharing, and rejoicing — it’s also a season where we're reminded we are never alone.

Questions To Think About:

Who do you celebrate the holidays with?

In one word, describe how you think you're going to feel on Christmas day this year.

What are some reasons people might feel lonely, especially at this time of year?

Have you ever had to face a difficult moment or challenge alone? If so, how did you get through it? How could the presence of God or others have helped you?

Is there anything challenging happening in your life right now? If so, how can our group encourage or pray for you?

Do you think you've ever experienced God's presence? What was that experience like?

How would you explain the differences (and unity) between God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit?

Read John 1:14. Who or what is "the Word," and what does this verse tell you about who God is?

Who is someone who needs to be reminded they're not alone this Christmas? What can you do to be more present in their life?

What can you do this week to spend time in God's presence?