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Focus on the Family Broadcast

Celebrating the True Meaning of Advent

Celebrating the True Meaning of Advent

Gary Thomas explains the meaning of Advent, “God with us,” by using a true story about a visit to a ranch where he saw a great word picture: a lone horse and a lone sheep who wouldn’t leave each other’s sides. The rancher explained that there used to be an entire flock of sheep, but they were all picked off by coyote. This one sheep figured out that as long as he stayed near that big horse, he was safe. And he remains there to this day. And we, like that sheep, are safe because of Advent – “God with us.”
Original Air Date: December 8, 2023


Gary Thomas: The message of Advent is that God is with us, and there is no problem in your life bigger than God.

End of Preview

John Fuller: Well, as we enter a really busy holiday season, we have a message of reflection and encouragement for you from Pastor Gary Thomas. Thanks for joining us. This has Focus on the Family with your host, Focus president and author, Jim Daly. And I’m John Fuller.

Jim Daly: As many of you know, Advent began on Sunday, and it is a wonderful practice of focusing on the biblical aspect of Christmas. Advent is when we remember God’s promises to send a Messiah. And we see how Jesus fulfilled every prophecy that had been written about him. We can rejoice in knowing that Jesus’s birth, life, death and resurrection made it possible for us to have a relationship with God, and to one day spend eternity with Him. And today we’re featuring a message from Gary Thomas that will bring you a vivid picture of how we can live out the principles of the Advent season.

John: And if you can’t stay with us, uh, be sure to visit our website where we have a special Advent 2023 resource page with devotionals and videos and even craft projects, uh, that’ll help you make the weeks leading up to Christmas a lot more meaningful. You can find that special page, we’ll link over to it at Here now is Gary Thomas speaking at Cherry Hills Community Church in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, on today’s episode of Focus on the Family.

Gary: When our children were young, we lived in a small college town in Northwest Washington just below the Canadian border. Not a lot happened there. But there’s one season where we heard great, uh, tidings, a Trader Joe’s was coming to town. I’d never heard of Trader Joe’s at the time, but everybody was talking about… This is how small the town was. I heard all the wives talking about it at church. My wife had circled it on our calendar, TJ day, Trader Joe’s is coming to town. Believe it or not, the mayor actually cut the ribbon to open up the store, apparently not a lot for a small town mayor to do in that part of the town. And they had a live radio broadcast, “Trader Joe’s has come to town, let’s all celebrate.” M- my wife was there. She said, “You could not get into the parking lot. They just about empty the shelves.” Everybody was celebrating, Trader Joe’s had come to town.

Six weeks later, my wife and I are coming home from church and Lisa said, “Hey honey, you mind stopping by Trader Joe’s or something, I need to pick up.” I said, “No, I, actually that sounds great. I haven’t seen it yet.” And I said, “What it’s, what’s it all about?” She goes, “You haven’t been to Trader Joe’s?”

Audience: (laughs)

Gary: I said, “Honey, it’s a grocery store.” “Well, I, I just can’t wait for you to see it. You’re just gonna love it.” I’m like, “Okay.” So you just gotta understand as I’m walking into the store, the buildup, the wives, the mayor, the radio, all of this, I’m expecting gold bricks down every aisle, heavenly choir serenading me, maybe pixie dust showering me, I’m just really expecting to be overwhelmed. Instead, I walk into a kind of smallish, funky, organic grocery store. I didn’t really know how to evaluate it. I don’t buy a lot of food in our house because I don’t read the labels carefully enough and sometimes allow ingredients that aren’t allowed into our house. But there’s one item I have bought our entire married life, over three decades, I’ve been responsible for purchasing the toilet paper.

Audience: (laughing)

Gary: And after decades of research, I know toilet paper. If you have any questions, I can answer ’em. I’m your guy. So I’m gonna test this store. I go down the paper aisle, and they only had one option which didn’t impress me. And the one marketing point of this one option was this, 100% recycled. Yeah, see a few of you get it. I, I care about the environment as much as anyone. I love the outdoors. But when it comes to toilet paper, I just don’t like to think of it as being recycled.

Audience: (laughing)

Gary: C- call me obstinate, I, I just like my toilet paper fresh. I, I want it straight from the tree. So very underwhelmed by the arrival of this new grocery store. But this week we’re celebrating Advent and believe it or not, some seemed underwhelmed by the arrival of God in the flesh. Some d- didn’t believe it. But those that did, just couldn’t even imagine. How is this poss- the arrival of God in the flesh into the world he’s made. Think one of the first people to be astonished must have been Joseph when God appeared to it in a dream and said, “Here’s the son, he’s gonna come, uh, from your fiancé. His name is Emmanuel,” which you know, God with us. God with us. Imagine the astonishment in heaven when God revealed his plan. He said, “I- I’m gonna win ’em back.” “How are you gonna do that, God?” “I’m gonna become one of them.”

Ho- how does that work? Ho- how is that even possible? But it happened. God did the impossible. He became a baby, Colossians 2:9 says this, “For in Christ, all the fullness of the deity lives in bodily form.” For young people understand, regardless of what you might hear at schools or others, Jesus didn’t come just as a wise teacher, or a powerful prophet. The Bible says all the fullness of the deity, this was God in the flesh, and what seems even more astonishing, God as a baby came to visit us. And here’s the encouragement for us today, this week of Advent, the God who has done the impossible, God becoming a baby can, do the impossible. At its root, Christianity is a supernatural faith where God, in a present tense, enters the world he has made and does impossible things, which opens up… This is a message, which opens up a whole new realm of living for his followers.

We’re not limited by the seemingly impossible, we have a God who does the impossible. So the impossible becomes I am possible, because of I am. See what I did there? For the followers of Christ, the impossible becomes I am possible, because of I am. And that gives us tremendous peace. Whatever your impossibility seems today, you can have tremendous peace. Five years ago, I was taping the curriculum for my marriage book, Cherish, and they chose the place, this out of… Nowheresville, Texas really is where they filmed it, there’s this ranch house, I’d never been in that part of Texas. And in between sessions, I would go out just to sort of relax. And I saw something, I was really curious. If you look in my app, you could see it. If you’re up in the balcony, you’ll see it on the screen. There’s this picture of this horse and this sheep. And, uh, uh, uh, every day I saw ’em, they were together.

The- I never saw them apart. If that horse was lying down, the sheep was right next to it. If the horse is standing up, the sheep is under its legs. And I’d never heard of a friendship between a horse and a sheep. But I, this is weird. And so the owner came in the next day, just to check up on things. And I asked him about it and he laughed. When he bought the farm, there were 200 sheep there in that pen. And because nobody was no- no longer living there, coyotes came in and they were stealing off the sheep one by one. And this one sheep figured out (laughs) it’s impossible for me to stay alive, unless I find a protector and he found it in the horse. The coyotes wouldn’t bother him if he’s by that horse. He would not leave that horse. The coyotes were real. But the horse was stronger than the coyotes. And the sheep had peace and safety because that horse was with him.

The message of Advent is that God is with us. And there is no problem in your life bigger than God. And so Advent ushers us into a God with us like never again do we have to be alone. Never again do we have to face any challenge on our own. We face it with God. For some of you this morning, maybe you feel like family life has become impossible. You had all these dreams. You prayed for kids, you were so happily in love. And now you’re married with all these kids. An- and, and sometimes you wanna wonder if you’re honest, God, can we give a couple back?

Audience: (laughing)

Gary: Maybe not forever, but for the weekends. We’re just exhausted. Sleep is a memory. We don’t have any time for each other. And it’s young life. The- I, I hear these stories all the time because of what I do. Here’s what one wife said. This is a real story. “It was 1 AM and I heard a cough. While my husband slept soundly, I bolted from my sleep to a running position and in one leap, made it to the bathroom and flipped on the light. My 6 year old daughter Sarah was sitting on the edge of the tub. She’d thrown up all over the floor, the lid of the toilet and herself. I cleaned the floor and the toilet and then placed Sarah in the tub. That’s when Sarah told me, “‘Mom, I threw up on Colette too.’” Colette is her 9 year old sister who happens to share the same bed. “I met Colette in the hallway whimpering that Sarah had thrown up on her.”

Well, it’s not that fun to be woken up that way. “I turned on the bedroom light,” I’m sure none of you have ever seen this, “and much to my amazement there was the dreaded sight of Sarah’s dinner on five blankets, two pillows, two sheets, a baby blanket and Colette’s pajamas. I bundled it all up and took it downstairs to the washer. I put fresh bedding on the bed, finished washing up Sarah and Colette and placed the bucket beside Sarah. Exhausted, I crawled back into my own bed, at which time my well covered half asleep husband inquired, w- what’s wrong?”

Audience: (laughing)

Gary: Now, I know that there isn’t a Cherry Hills dad and father and husband who would ever feign sleep while his wife is cleaning up a vomit fest. But you know, there are those seasons of life that just challenge your sleep, your affection for each other, your ability… ca- can we even do this? It feels impossible. But the message of Advent is God who has done the impossible, become a baby, can do the impossible, help you raise one. Not because you have all of the wisdom or strength or patience that you need but because God is with you. I can do all things who, through Him who gives me strength. You are the right mom, the right Dad for the job, because God put you there. And God says you’re not there alone. I’m with you, every moment of the day. Now, the bad news for some of you younger couples is it doesn’t, that doesn’t mean relationships get easier just when the kids leave. The challenges change but there are still challenges.

We started traveling all the time. When the kids were young, Lisa didn’t travel with me as much. When we were going to the airport, there was an Uber driver who’d had through a couple of broken marriages of her own. And she’s asking how long we’ve been married. And Lisa said, 30 some years at the time and she goes, “How? How do you do that?” I said, “Do you want a one word answer?” She goes, “Yeah,” I said, “It’s God.” When you live a God with us life, you’re willing to live with each other because we don’t live a single day of our marriage alone. It’s not easy being in relationships, but we have a God who says I will walk through it with you. And you might be a point, at point in this Advent, where can we even keep going? Will this be our last Christmas? And, and maybe God is saying, “It’s not all on you. I came in the first century, I come in the 21st century, I will be here, I will help you forgive, I will help you learn. I will help you grow. Make your family, a God with us life.”

John: This is Focus on the Family and that’s Gary Thomas, who has a great book on how to pursue that kind of life, a God with us life. And, uh, the book is called Sacred Pathways: Nine Ways to Connect With God. We’ll send that to you for a gift of any amount to the ministry today. And we’ll also include a free audio download of Gary’s entire presentation, featuring extra content. Donate and request those resources at Or when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459. Alright, let’s return now to more from Pastor Gary Thomas.

Gary: Some of you the challenge might not be your family, it might be your job, it might be a calling. You believe God created you for something and it’s just not happening and you start to feel it’s impossible. The message might be this morning, and maybe God brought you here this morning just to hear this word, maybe it’s not time to give up just yet. It’s felt impossible. The patriarch Abraham was 75 when God told him, you’re going to become the father of many nations. Moses was at when he stood at the burning bush. And maybe Advent is a season for you to remember, I’ve been trying to do this on my own. Am I living a God with us life? I say God, a- am I trying to do this without you? Independent of you? Am I willing to live a supernatural life of God with us and see where that brings me?

Some of you, it’s not an impossible family life, it’s not impossible vocational challenge. It’s impossible for you to feel happy this season ’cause you’ve had a terrible loss this past year. People are seeking joy to the world, what joy is there when you’ve lost a loved one? This past year, I spent some time with a couple named Joe and Janelle in Houston. They told me a story of just tragedy and faith. They had one son named Garrett. Janelle said, “Gary, I wouldn’t say we made him an idol but he got a lot of attention.” The focus of their marriage, focus of their life. He was a good kid. He did a lot of wonderful things, had some issues. When he went to A&M, he started drinking too much and his dad actually went up there and said, “Garrett, you’ve gotta stop this. You know that’s not right.” But two weeks later, Garrett did it again. He was drinking too much, he’d driven his truck to the bar and he thought, it’s not safe for me to drive home so he decided to walk back to the dorms.

He took a shortcut that led him up to a hill that had the railroad tracks. Investigators aren’t sure what happened, either he tripped and hit his head and was knocked out. Or he just passed out and stayed asleep. But he was laying on the railroad tracks when a train came through early that morning. And Joe and Janelle not lo- lost not just their son, but their only son. And not just their only son, but their only child. The first year was a fog. Janelle grabbed one of her friends and said, “Look, I’ve seen so many couples torn apart it seems impossible that we can keep our marriage together.” You gotta pray, you gotta stick with this. And that first year, it was just a numb experience. She said the pain really hit the second year ’cause the numbness started to wear off and it’s another Christmas without Garrett, another Thanksgiving, another New Year’s and everything that’s happening, it’s an ongoing loss. It wasn’t a one-time pain that morning when they heard because every holiday was a holiday without Garrett, every time his friends graduated from college, that could have been Garrett that got married, who would Garrett have married?

And some of you who’ve faced loss this year know that and your loss might be different. Some singles are just… I, I, I feel like I live that… And I know many that are very thankful to God for their singles. They thank God every day they can be single. I, I, I think it’s a wonderful life. I know many that are serving God but some I’ve talked to and you’re feeling that loss. Another Christmas, and I’m still not married. Another New Year’s Eve and there’s no one to kiss at midnight. God, how long does this go on? How can I have joy? W- where is hope? Where is God with us when a loss is gone and they’re not going to bring it back? Janelle told me, “Gary, I know that God didn’t just call Garrett from us. He called Garrett to something.” She goes, “I know a lot of my friends, they, they have concerns because their adult kids, they could be breaking their hearts or making some poor choices,” she goes, “I don’t have any of those concerns with Garrett. I rejoice every day, because I believe to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. And my Garrett is serving God perfectly. And I thank him.”

Yeah, she misses him but she has joy in the midst of her grief. It seems impossible that she could be happy but she is. But the most important, impossible that Advent addresses isn’t family life, it’s not our vocation and it’s not our unhappiness. It’s the impossibility of our salvation. It’s this impossible philosophical problem. If anyone in this room is let into heaven as you are, it ceases to be heaven. How can you have a perfect place that lets in imperfect people, it’s no longer perfect. And yet God wants to show us his mercy. He wants to show us his grace. But he lets in imperfect people, it no longer stays per- it seems impossible to solve that. And yet, God found a way to do that. And some of you this morning, you might be broken down by your sins. You might be saying, “It is impossible for me to live a righteous life. I have tried. I’ve gone to the groups. I’ve repented, I’ve promised, it just beats me.” And there’ll be a day after this Earth, when we see God face to face, and there will be an accuser.

“Do you know he did this? Do, do you know she did that? He should have done that. She let that go on and never said anything.” And we’ll be standing there and saying, “That’s right. I didn’t. Wish I would have. I didn’t. I, I, I wish I wouldn’t have done that. I, I did that.” And it will feel impossible. And we’ll never want something more than that salvation. We’ll see God’s glory, we’ll see the beauty. More than anything, I want that. But it’s impossible. “For God so loved the world,” John 3:16, “That He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him… God loved the world so much that He sent His Son that whoever puts their trust in Him shall not perish but have eternal life for God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” He did the impossible to bring us back. Whoever puts their trust in Him is not condemned. But whoever does not put their trust in Him stands condemned already, because they have no not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

There’s a glorious truth and a horrible truth in here. The glorious truth is, you can sin your way past God’s mercy. You mean even if I did that? Yeah, God will cover that. Even if I didn’t do that? Yeah, God will cover that. There’s no expiration wait of God’s mercy. But there is an expiration date. When I read through the Gospels, I was just reading this this morning in Matthew, Jesus, so would, would promise God’s mercy and forgiveness when people would repent on this earth and say, “I want to put my trust in you the thief at the cross, uh, trust, ca- can I trust you?” Jesus said, “Yeah, you’re with me in heaven today.” But after people have died, when you hear Jesus talk about those parables, there’s an expiration date of that mercy. Depart for me, I never knew you. Where’s your wedding clothes? Be thrown out where there’ll be weeping and gnashing of teeth that will never end. And God’s mercy to bring you here, if you haven’t put your trust in Jesus, is for him to remind you because he loves you. Because he does not want to condemn you, put your trust in my son, so that you can be saved.

It’s impossible for you to be saved any other way. But this way, it’s possible if you trust in I am. Your sins are weighing you down. It’s not about trying to do more. It’s not trying to be better. It’s about putting your trust in God. In the end, Christmas is God with us. And when God is with us, nothing is impossible. We can have families that make it, the coyotes seem like they’re picking off every other family. They’re not making it. They’re not making it. No, no, stay with me. Stay near with me, God with us, the impossible becomes the possible. Because this isn’t coming through… I’ve, I’ve tried to serve you, I’ve tried to do this, it’s just not gonna make… Stay with me, and the impossible becomes the possible. God with us. How could I ever laugh again? How could I ever jo- You know what I’ve lost, it’s possible with hope, and faith, and trust in me. You can laugh again. But God, I’ve done so much you can’t forgive… Yes, I can forgive that. God with us. Put your trust in me. And here’s the thing when God is with us, grace is with us. Empowering strength is with us. Joy is with us. Hope is with us. And even more importantly, peace is with us. The piece that we celebrate today at Advent.

Because if God can do the impossible, and we’re with him and he’s with us, what do we have to be afraid of? The, the coyotes are real, they’re vicious. They have us in their sights, but he is stronger than the coyotes. And we can have supernatural peace. The coming of Jesus was to bring peace in Luke 2:14 when the angel said to the shepherds, “Peace on earth, goodwill to men, th- the coming of Jesus comes peace.” And what did Jesus say just before he left this Earth? The last dinner he had with his disciples, John 14:27, he says this, “I am leaving you with a gift, peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give you isn’t the peace the world gives, so don’t be troubled or afraid.”

If God has done the impossible, he can do the impossible. If he’s with us, why are we anxious? Why are we worried? He’s got this. So it’s about keeping our family together even though it seems impossible, doing what God created us to do, even though it seems impossible, finding joy in the midst of brokenness and heartache, even though it seems impossible, finding spiritual rest, even though it seems impossible, because if God has done the impossible, he can do the impossible. Impossible becomes I am possible because of I am.

John: What a message of hope and peace for this busy Christmas season from pastor and author Gary Thomas.

Jim: Man, that was good stuff. And I really appreciate Gary’s emphasis on making this season one of reflection, and not the busyness that so easily entangles us at this time of year. And I hope you’ll join us in honoring the truth meaning of Christmas through the free Advent devotionals and videos that we’ll post on our website. I know your family is gonna enjoy it.

John: You’re gonna find that Advent 2023 resource page when you visit

Jim: As Gary said earlier, this can be a very difficult time of year for those who have lost a loved one. And if that’s your situation, let me encourage you to call us, our friendly staff would be honored to hear your story and pray with you. And if needed, uh, we’ll set up a call back from one of our caring Christian counselors. Please allow us to come alongside you in that way. And I’ve said this a few times recently, but it bears repeating. We are here to bring help and hope to families around the world. And we need your help to do that. Our research is showing that less than 1% of our listeners actually donate to Focus on the Family. Less than 1%.

And we thank God for those faithful donors, but I can’t help but imagine the good we could do together if we doubled that number, just doubled it. So please make a generous gift today to Focus on the Family. And when you make a donation of any amount, we’ll send you the book by Gary Thomas called Sacred Pathways: Nine Ways to Connect With God. Gary will help you improve your spiritual walk by exploring how to worship God in ways that suit your specific personality. And right now, truly special friends of this ministry are offering to double your gift dollar for dollar, so your donation will have twice the impact in reaching people. So get in touch with us today. And let me say thank you in advance for doing so.

John: Donate and get that book, uh, Sacred Pathways, when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY, 800-232-6459 or you can donate online and request the book at And remember when you request the book from us, we’ll include a free audio download of today’s presentation with extra content from Gary. Next time, comedian Kenn Kington shares a humorous look at everyday life in one of our most popular shows of the year.

Kenn Kington: Say, “Can I have a hotdog?” She goes, “Yeah, would you like anything on that?” I said, “We- well, what do you got?” She goes, “Well, you can get mustard or nothing or both.”

Audience: (laughing)

Kenn Kington: Well, give me both.

Audience: (laughing)

Kenn Kington: I wanna see you pull that one off.

Audience: (laughing)

John: On behalf of Jim Daly and our entire team, thanks for listening to Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller inviting you back as we once more help you and your family thrive in Christ.

Today's Guests

Sacred Pathways

Sacred Pathways: Nine Ways to Connect with God

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