Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, friends! Thanks for joining me on this year's Advent journey. I've really enjoyed finding new poems, and re-sharing my old favorites. 

Below is the Christmas card I made this year. I mentioned the hymn "Thou Who Was Rich" earlier in December.  It's had a great impact on me this Advent season, so I decided to share it as a card.

May Jesus light the way!

To Grasp the Grandeur

Many, many years ago, the Mayans designed a circular calendar to better understand time and seasons. Scientists today have observed that the last date recorded on this stone disk is December 21, 2012. Countless people around the world saw this as a sign that the world would end. How could the Earth continue past human prospected time? 

As believers in the Lord of all creation, we know this could never be the case. The One who operates outside of space and time is not controlled by man-maid devices. From His Word, we know that one day the world will end. But it will be bookended by Jesus’ return. He will not come softly as He did when the Word became flesh—the humble, lowly birth of a Savior. When Jesus comes again, it will be full of judgment, might, and power. 

During Advent, we focus on the Incarnation—the amazing mystery of God becoming Man. But it is just the beginning: 

When the year dies in preparation for the birth
Of other seasons, not the same, on the same earth,
Then saving and calamity go together make
The Advent gospel, telling how the heart will break.
Therefore it was in Advent that the Quest began...

- C.S. Lewis, "Launcelot", Narrative Poems, p.95

As this Advent season comes to a close and we celebrate the Day of Jesus’ birth, let us indeed heed the Time in which we live, and live in hopeful expectation of His glorious return.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

An Advent Poem by George McDonald

Come, saviour of nations wild,
Of the maiden owned the child
That may wonder all the earth
God should grant it such a birth.

Not of man's flesh or man's blood
Only of the Spirit of God
Is God's Word a man become,
And blooms the fruit of woman's womb.

Maiden, she was found with child,
Nor was chastity defiled;
Many a virtue from her shone:
God was there upon his throne.

From that chamber of content,
Royal palace pure, he went;
God by kind, in human grace
Forth he comes to run his race.

From the Father came his road,
And returns again to God;
Unto hell it did go down,
Up then to the Father's throne.

Thou, the Father's form express,
Get thee victory in the flesh,
That thy godlike power in us
Make sick flesh victorious.

Shines thy manger bright and fair;
Sets the night a new star there:
Darkness thence must keep away;
Faith dwells ever in the day.

Honour unto God be done;
Honour to his only son;
Honour to the Holy Ghost,
Now, and ever, ending not. Amen.

"Advent Hands" by Catherine Adler

I see the hands of Joseph.
Back and forth along bare wood they move.
There is worry in those working hands,
sorting out confusing thoughts with every stroke.
“How can this be, my beautiful Mary now with child?” 
Rough with deep splinters, these hands,
small, painful splinters like tiny crosses
embedded deeply in this choice to stay with her.
He could have closed his hands to her,
said, “No” and let her go to stoning.
But, dear Joseph opened both his heart and hands
to this mother and her child.
Preparing in these days before
with working hands
and wood pressed tight between them.
It is these rough hands that will open
and be the first to hold the Child.

I see the hands of John,
worn from desert raging storms
and plucking locusts from sand ripped rocks
beneath the remnant of a Bethlehem star.
A howling wind like some lost wolf
cries out beneath the moon,
or was that John?
This loneliness,
enough to make a grown man mad.
He’s waiting for this, God’s whisper.
“Go now. He is coming.
You have prepared your hands enough.
Go. He needs your servant hands,
your cupping hands to lift the water,
and place his feet upon the path to service and to death.
Go now, John, and open your hands to him.
It is time.”

I see a fist held tight and fingers blanched to white.
Prying is no easy task.
These fingers find a way of pulling back to old positions,
protecting all that was and is.
Blanched to white. No openness. All fright.
But then the Spirit comes.
A holy Christmas dance begins
and blows between the twisted paths.
This fist opens
the twisted fingers letting go.
Their rock-solid place in line has eased.
And one by one the fingers lift
True color is returned
And through the deepest of mysteries,
The holiest of holies,
O longing of longings
Beyond all human imagining
this fist,
as if awakened from Lazarus’ cold stone dream
reaches out to hold the tiny newborn hand of God.

Monday, December 17, 2012

"Come Thou Long Expected Jesus"

These last few weeks our root group has been going through some not-so-famous Christmas and Advent hymns--breaking them down, looking at the scripture that inspired them. Last week we listened to "Come Thou Long Expected Jesus." The hymn was penned by Charles Wesley in the middle of the 18th century, and speaks poignantly about the hopeful anticipation of a Messiah. 

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s Strength and Consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

As we were discussing, our group leader brought up the 400 years of "silence" the people of Israel experienced between the prophet Malachi and the birth of Jesus. He turned to me (resident history nerd) and asked, "what was happening 400 years ago?" 

"Well, the Pilgrims were getting ready to sail to America. . ." I said.

And that brought the idea closer to home. What if we had experienced 400 years of God's "silence"? It would be like the Mayflower landing (1620) and us not hearing from the Lord until the year 2020. Wow. We would be really antsy at that point. Definitely eagerly awaiting something. 

The Messiah was undeniably long-expected, long hoped for. He did not come as they thought He would, but he came. At the "fullness of time," Galatians 4:4 says, "God sent forth his Son."

Click here to listen to a new rendition of the hymn by Mars Hill's band, Kingdom Kaleidescope.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

"The Christmas Story"

This is the Third Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Joy! Today the kids at church presented a beautiful little Christmas play I wrote. They did such a great job! You can read the script below:

(Inside Zechariah and Elizabeth’s home)

Zechariah: Shalom, dear Elizabeth

Elizabeth: Shalom, Zechariah. Are you ready for today? You may be chosen to burn the incense of the Lord. Are you afraid?

Zechariah: Oh no, Elizabeth. I am not frightened. I may be a little nervous.  But I’ve been preparing for this day my whole life. If it’s the Lord’s will for me to serve today, He will give me strength. And perhaps he will answer our prayers for a child as well!


(Zechariah and other priests standing together)

Head Priest: Priest of the Lord, I have in my hand a selection of lots. Whoever picks the shortest lot will serve in the temple today. (He reaches forward and they each take one lot. Each man looks at his lot in either disappointment or surprise). (Looking towards Zechariah): The Lord has chosen Zechariah!

(Elizabeth rushes forward and gives him a hug. Head Priest hands him the incense. Zechariah walks into temple).

Zechariah (inside the temple): Blessed are You, Oh Lord our God, God of our ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob . . .

(He is cut off when an Angel appears. He is terrified.)

Angel:  “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb.  And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” (Luke 1:13-17)

Zechariah: Whoa! How is this possible? I am really old, and so is my wife, Elizabeth!

Angel: “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” (Luke 1:19-20)

Priests (outside): What is taking Zechariah so long? I hope he’s okay.

(Zechariah stumbles out of the temple, gripping at his throat and motioning with his hands).

Head Priest: He must have seen a vision!


Anna: Mary, Mary! Come in here. Your Abba and I have something we would like to tell you.

Mary: I’ll coming, Ima and Abba!

(Mary runs in. Her parents are standing with Joseph).

Joachim: Mary, you remember Joseph. (Mary bashfully smiles at him). Well, we have talked it over, and we have decided that Joseph is to be your husband. You will be betrothed for a year and then you will get married.

(Joachim places Mary’s hands in Joseph’s. Mary looks up in surprise, and then lowers he eyes).

Mary: Yes, Abba.


(Mary is sweeping at her home when an Angel appears. Surprised, she drops her broom and stumbles backwards).

Angel: “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” (Mary doesn’t know what to do . . . looks around worried). “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:28-33)

Mary: What? How can this be? I’m a virgin!

Angel: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.  And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:35-37)

Mary:  I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word. (Angel leaves).  Wow. What am I supposed to do now? What will Abba and Ima say? What will Joseph say?


(In Mary’s home with her mother, Anna).

Anna: Mary, this is not the best time to be visiting your cousin, Elizabeth. Why don’t you wait until after the harvest, when there is less work to be done?

Mary: I must go now. You wouldn’t understand . . . but I’m certain Elizabeth needs me with her now.

Anna: Alright. We will arrange for you to travel with a caravan in the morning.


(Mary approaches Elizabeth’s house. Elizabeth runs out to greet her).

Mary: Elizabeth, I’m here!

Elizabeth: Oh! Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! Why should the mother of my Lord should come to me? For when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord. (Luke 1: 42-45)


[SONG] O Come O Come Emmanuel (Oniawa)


Mary: Zechariah, Zechariah! Come quick. The baby has been born. You have a son! (Zechariah comes running, his face joyful). Isn’t that wonderful news? What will you call him, Zechariah?

(Zechariah comes into the room.)

Zechariah: His name shall be John.

(Elizabeth and Mary look up in surprise).

Mary: John?

Elizabeth (at the same time): He speaks! Praise the Lord! Come here, Zechariah. Hold your son.

Zechariah (holding the baby up in the air): And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people  in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God (Luke 1:76-78).


Joseph: Mary! You’ve returned. It is so good to see you . . . (Joseph looks down and sees Mary’s swollen belly.) Oh Mary. What has happened? What have you done? (He storms away. Mary crumples into a chair, dejected.)


(Joseph is sleeping, tossing and mumbling in his sleep. An angel appears before him.)

Angel: “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21)


Joseph: Mary, Mary! Will you forgive me? How could I have known? I was so scared. When I saw you like that, all I wanted to do was end our betrothal. But I didn’t feel right about it. And then last night while I was sleeping an angel appeared to me. He told me everything.

Mary: Oh Joseph! An angel came to me too. I was so scared at first, but then he told me about God’s plan. How could I say no?

Joseph: Mary, I still want you to be my wife. But we have to leave Nazareth. Caesar Augustus is issuing a census. We must travel to Bethlehem, the city of my ancestor David. Will you go with me?

Mary: Yes, of course I will go with you. The Lord will keep our baby safe on the journey.



Mary: Are we there yet? I can tell this baby isn’t going to wait much longer.

Joseph: We’re almost there. Hold on for just a little longer. The Lord has brought us this far! (Joseph and Mary approach the door of an Inn. Joseph knocks on the door.) Hello? Does anyone have a room where we can stay?

Inn Keeper (Jacob): Hold your horses. I’m coming. I’m coming. (He opens the door). It’s a room you want? Can’t you see this whole town is full of weary travelers? I don’t have any empty rooms. I am sorry. Good bye . . . (and he begins to close the door. His wife is standing behind him with her arms crossed and an irritated look on her face).

Inn Keeper’s Wife (Ruth): Jacob! How rude of you. Can’t you see this woman is expecting a child. Have some compassion!

Jacob: But we don’t have any rooms, Ruth.

Ruth (to Jacob): I know, I know. But I have an idea. (To Mary and Joseph): Please excuse my husband. This census has all of us stretched thin. We don’t have any rooms inside, but I have an idea. Follow me around the back. (She leads them to a animal stall.) It’s not very clean, but it’s warm and dry. Will this do?

Mary: Yes, it’s perfect. May the Lord bless you for your kindness!


[SONG: Oh Little Town of Bethlehem]


Shepherd 1: I wish these sheep would find some place warmer to graze.

Shepherd 2: I wish this was more exciting. Sheep are boring.

Shepherd 3: Quit complaining. At least we have work. (He is cut short when an Angel appears, with a host of other angels. The shepherds are terrified.)

Angel:  “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12)

Lots of Angels: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14)

Shepherd 4: Whoa! Let’s go see this baby!

Shepherd 5: He must be pretty special if the Lord sent a whole host of angels to tell us about him.


 [SONG: While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks]

(The shepherds find Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus, and gather around them).


[SONG] Away in a Manger


The End