Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas!

Love is the Key

This post is a day late. Let’s pretend it’s still December 24.

A few months ago, I heard a sermon in which the pastor quoted a passage by author and preacher, Donald Barnhouse. It was in response to the Fruits of the Spirit passage in Galatians (5:22-23). He said, 
“Love is the key.
Joy is love singing.

Peace is love resting.

Patience is love enduring.

Kindness is love's truth.

Goodness is love's character.

Faithfulness is love's habit.

Gentleness is love's self-forgetfulness.

Self-control is love holding the reins."
I had never heard such a simple, and yet profound way of describing the fruits of the Spirit. Today, as we light the fourth Advent candle, the candle of fulfillment and love, it is all the more appropriate.
We can see each of these played out in the Christmas story:.

Love sang through the angel chorus.
Love rested on Mary’s lap.
Love endured since the time of the Garden.
Love brought truth when the Word became flesh.
Love showed its full character through sacrifice and meekness.
Love’s habit wove the threads of Christ’s story throughout generations.
Love’s self-forgetfullness emptied himself and took the form of a man.
Love came down to forever hold the reins against sin and darkness.

And we love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).

God knew full well what He was sending Jesus into. To quote the sermon I heard yesterday morning, “He knows we are all a mix of mess and beauty.” But His response is what makes all the difference. Instead of distancing Himself further from our sin, He took a giant step towards us in gracious love.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4-5)

Love is the key. Christ has come.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

"Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light"

Tonight I'm sharing the first verse of Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light, by 17th century poet and hymn-writer, Johann Rist. Do a quick Google search to hear it on Youtube. You won't be disappointed.


Thursday, December 21, 2017

Blue Christmas

Today was the shortest day of year. Tonight is the longest night. Tomorrow, we will have one more minute of day light. How easy it is to take  light for granted, until that day we celebrate the mere moments of brightness given back to us, and we remember just how powerful the Light is.

This evening, like the past three years, I attended a Blue Christmas service. It was a time to reflect and pray for the broken things of this world. And also a time to proclaim,

The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it
(John 1:5).

We began the evening with a reading of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. It really isn’t an Advent or Christmas passage, but it fits so well, and it’s something my heart needed to hear:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

The story of Christ’s birth is not a stationary story. It is made up of so many opposing moments, many of which hold immense pain and suffering, but which God, in His wisdom, has brought together to form the history of His people, Israel. Just as Advent is a time to celebrate Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love, it is also a time when we can do just the opposite. We can climb into the pain with those who are hurting; kneel beside those who are weeping; scream at the injustice of it all; question God’s timing . . . and then stand up, re-read the message of the prophets, and look Heaven-ward with expectation.

We can trace Christ’s lineage from its humble, broken, weary beginnings, and see the residue of God’s faithful plan in every smooth and rugged crevice.

That’s when we know: we have all walked in deep darkness, but on us, a great Light has shined.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Prepare the Way of the Lord

Let’s take a look at John the Baptist.

Now when the Gospel of Luke begins, John is not yet born, not yet a fetus in his mother’s womb. Yet the shape of the narrative indicates that this child to be born to Zechariah and Elizabeth, in their old, will be someone special. They had waited a long time for a child. Just as Israel was waiting long and hard for the Messiah. 

There is plenty of waiting to go around in this story. And I’m 100% certain that it was all intentional and purposeful. Hindsight almost always carries such certainty. But I resonate deeply with Elizabeth and Zechariah’s long experience of expectation. As I write these words and read their story, I sit in a long season of wondering, is my waiting intentional and purposeful?

I think the next chunk of John's story might shed some light:

John’s first interaction with Jesus is when a pregnant Mary goes to visit Elizabeth, whom the Angel Gabriel says is carrying a child herself:

And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.  And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” (Luke 1:41-45)

After his birth, we don’t see John again for 33 years. That’s a long time to wait for one’s job to begin. But I don’t think his waiting was passive. John would have grown up seeing little Jesus on occasion. His parents would have constantly kept him mindful of his miraculous beginning. John’s waiting was all about preparation. So that at the right time, he could come out of the wilderness and proclaim the words of the prophets:

Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight.
  Every valley shall be filled,
    and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall become straight,
    and the rough places shall become level ways,
  and all flesh shall see the salvation of God. (Luke 3:4b-6)

The remaining three Gospels show John the Baptist’s second recorded interaction with Jesus. In John 1:29-31, he says,
 “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.”
Why do I bring this all up? As Advent comes to a close, and Christmas quickly approaches, I always experience a pang of sadness. I’ve loved celebrating this season so much, and then it all comes to an abrupt end. Sure, we see the secular vestiges of the season around for a few more weeks, but what of this holy expectation for Jesus’ birth?

Can you see the paralleled joy John the Baptist demonstrated, both as an fetus and a grown man? He knows something big is happening. And through all of this, John shows us that Christmas is just the beginning. Jesus didn’t come just for Christmas Day. He came for the day after, and all the days to come. But most specifically, He came for that fateful Good Friday on the cross.

So what would it look like to keep Advent in our hearts all year long? Living in holy expectation of God’s power to be made known each new day, just like that glorious first Christmas morn? It might make the waiting a little easier.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Within Sacred Space and Time

It take a lot of stamina to write something for each night of Advent. But it is also my natural response to what I see, hear and read around me. As much as I want to prepare for this season each year, the steam-roller of those 24 days always sneaks up on me. I have so many good things I want to read and listen, fodder for my own thoughts, but sometimes all I am able to write is what the Holy Spirit inspires as my fingers plod across my keyboard.

On nights like tonight when I am tired and don’t want to plunge into another article or list of poems, I find myself thinking about the two millennium’s worth of people just like me who have sat and contemplated the miracle of Christ’s birth.

Only the Word made flesh could possibly hold so much mystery in one tiny body. Only the Son of God could move galaxies, peasants, and empires to align. Only the Prince of Peace could bring a message that transcends human error and expectation.

I am humbled by the magnitude of God’s plan. I am encouraged by the depth of His love. I am awed by the way he uses you and me, to share in this story which began two thousand years ago. No, back further still. Since the dawn of time. He has chosen to use the least of these, in order to show us just how very big and glorious He is.

I write during Advent to share this sacred season with all of you. But I also write for myself, to remember what I see and hear God doing in all these tiny moments that make up this world. Because right on the other side of this sacred space, are hardships, and fear, pain, and worry. Things that weigh us down about our jobs, our churches, our relationships, our neighbors. Even the dirty dishes piled high in the sink.

One of my favorite Christian inspirational writers, Lysa TerKeurst, penned these words in her book, Uninvited:

“So even as the closed doors and rejections seem more prevalent than the new opportunities you’d like to see, even as you’re seeking to readjust your thinking, remember that there is an abundant need in this world for your contributions to the kingdom . . . your thoughts and words and artistic expressions . . . your exact brand of beautiful” (p. 125).

That is why I write during Advent.