Christmas 2019

But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Titus 3:4-7

Happy Christmas, friends and fellow heirs!

Thank you for joining me this Advent.

Advent 2019 – Day 24

“Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights.  I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations.  He will not cry out or raise His voice, nor make His voice heard in the street. A bruised reed He will not break and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice.  He will not be disheartened or crushed until He has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands will wait expectantly for His law.”

Isaiah 42:1-4

There are very few in scripture who are distinguished as “chosen of God.”  Saul makes the cut, along with Moses and David – other than that, this phrase is used for the people of Israel as a whole, until we come to Isaiah.  In Isaiah the “chosen ones” are told of “My chosen one” who will be fully inhabited by the Spirit of the LORD, who will have the hand of God upon Him.  His significance cannot be overstated, nor can the significance of His calling.

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Advent 2019 – Day 23

O Come, O Come Emmanuel Verse/Antiphon 7

O Come, Desire of Nations bind in one the hearts of all mankind,

Bid Thou our sad divisions cease, and be Thyself our Prince of Peace.

Fair warning – Today is really scripture heavy.

Then King David rose to his feet and said, “Listen to me, my brethren and my people; I had intended to build a permanent home for the ark of the covenant of the LORD and for the footstool of our God.  So I had made preparations to build it.  But God said to me, ‘You shall not build a house for My name because you are a man of war and have shed blood.’

1 Chronicles 28:2-3
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Advent 2019 – Day 22

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over His kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.

Isaiah 9:6-7

We have come to the fourth and final Sunday of Advent. So far we have lit the candles of Hope in the promise of the Messiah, Faith that God will fulfill all that He has promised, and Joy in anticipation of the Messiah’s arrival. Today we light the candle of Peace, the Peace the Messiah brings – and Peace is the entirety of His purpose.

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Advent 2019 – Day 21

Since Saturday has been a day for sharing art as reflection and worship, today I wanted to share some of my own.

I am a great fan of balance and symmetry. And I am perpetually captivated by the beautiful symmetries of scripture: the fulfillment of prophecy, God’s perfect alignments of His story, the shadows and glimpses found realized in Christ….

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Advent 2019 – Day 20

O Come, O Come Emmanuel Verse/Antiphon 6

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high, and order all things, far and nigh;

To us the path of knowledge show, and cause us in her ways to go.

Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age?  Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?  For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.  For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles, foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

1 Corinthians 1:20-24

Nothing about the story of Jesus makes sense.  Why would a Holy, Mighty, Jealous God choose to come as an infant?  Why would the arrival of a liberator be hidden away in Bethlehem?  Why would it be announced only to shepherds?  Why risk the ridicule and skepticism of a virgin birth?  Why would the news be carried by a madman in a wilderness?

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Advent 2019 – Day 19

But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.  Because you are sons, God has sent for the Spirit of His Son into our hears, crying, “Abba! Father!”  Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.

Galatians 4:4-7

This time of year inherently turns our hearts to thoughts of home.  Between stockings hung by the chimney with care, Pennsylvania homemade pumpkin pie, snow, mistletoe, presents on the tree, and all the other things of Christmases just like the ones we used to know – the imagery is inescapable.

There is a reason this nostalgia is timeless – and marketable. We were created for relationship.  We were created in the image of God and God is relational.  At the core of every human being is the desire to be known, the desire to belong. 

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Advent 2019 – Day 18

O Come, O Come Emmanuel Verse/Antiphon 5

O come, Thou Key of David, come and open wide our heav’nly home;

Make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery

“Then it will come about in that day, that I will summon My servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, and I will clothe him with your tunic and tie your sash securely about him.  I will entrust him with your authority, and he will become a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah.  Then I will set the key of the house of David on his shoulder, when he opens no one will shut, when he shuts no one will open.”

Isaiah 22:20-22

God’s words here are spoken as His people face a series of sieges.  They have seen the walls of Jerusalem breached (v. 9) and have pulled down houses to fill the gaps with their rubble (v. 10).  But as they scavenged resources and looked to their own devices for fortifying the city, God has this against His people: “you did not depend on Him who made it, nor did you take into consideration Him who planned it long ago.” (v.11)  In fact, when God called them to mourning and prayer, they chose feasting and drinking “for tomorrow we may die” (v.13) instead.

Isaiah 22 is one of the unending examples of people relying on the wisdom of man rather than the plans of God – and God is having none of it.  These particular verses are part of God’s rebuke to the steward who has been leading the royal household in this time. 

Because you have chosen to trust in what is unreliable, God says, I will remove you from this position and put my chosen, Eliakim, in your place – and he will have control over this city.  Everything he does will be certain and secure.

And right now you are thinking, “How is this Advent-y?”

“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says this:  I know your deeds.  Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name.”

Revelation 3:7-8

In contrast to God’s people in Isaiah 22, the church in Philadelphia kept their hope and trust in God amidst their persecutions.  And now Jesus has the key of David on his shoulder and tells them that He is making certain and secure their place in the New Jerusalem.

We find here this truth: Those who trust in God can rest in their security.  Christ has opened the door for us – and no one can shut it.

“After a little while the world will no longer see Me, but you will see Me; because I live, you will live also.”

John 14:19

This, then, is our joy.  In Advent we remember not only that Jesus lived on earth, but that He lives and we live with Him.  Ongoing.  Without end. 

Advent 2019 – Day 17

In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night.  And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”  And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”  When the angels had cone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.”  So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger.  When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child.  And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds.

Luke 2:8-18 

“Look what Santa brought me!”

We’ve been exchanging Christmas gifts at my office this week.  Shortly after the last batch was delivered yesterday, I heard the pitter patter of fully grown feet running to my door.  My colleague burst in with eyes dancing, her hands stretched out to show me the present she had just received.

Why is joy so utterly contagious?  And why do we find it so uncontainable?

We might credit the shepherd’s immediate response – going into Bethlehem to search for the Child – to the awe of having been overwhelmed by angels with a message from God.  But I’d wager it was joy that sent them out to tell everyone what they had found. 

There is another part of the shepherd’s story that I find remarkable:

“for today in the city of David there has been born < for you > a Savior”

Have you ever received something that was grander than you had expected or even hoped for?  Or watched a child’s eyes as you add an extra scoop of ice cream to an already hearty sundae?  When we think we’re being spoiled – receiving more than we deserve – we tend to react with the same incredulity: Is this all for me?

The angels didn’t need to include the “for you” in their message.  Surely it would have meant as much to the shepherds to know the Savior had been born, yet the message made it clear that the Savior was personally theirs.  It’s not an interpretive choice either, the Greek has the tiny personal pronoun σύ– sy = you.  It’s there, intentionally there.  This Savior, this long-awaited-fulfillment-of-every-promise-of-God-and-every-prophecy-of-hope is born for you.  Believe it.

The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as been told them.

Luke 2:20

As we come to the last week before Christmas, we may be overwhelmed with what still needs done – gifts to buy, Chex mix to make, and all the things that need caught up at work before the year end.  I encourage you, friends, to pause and remember what an abundant gift Jesus is.  He is certainly more than I deserve.  Yet He is given to me and you.  A Savior has been born for you.  Believe it.

Advent 2019 – Day 16

O Come, O Come Emmanuel Verse/Antiphon 4

O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer our spirits by thine advent here.

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight.

A Song of Ascents — Out of the depths I have cried to You, O LORD.  Lord, hear my voice!  Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.  If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?  But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared.  I wait for the LORD, my soul does wait, and in His word I do hope.  My soul waits for the Lord more than the watchmen for the morning; indeed, more than the watchmen for the morning.  O Israel, hope in the LORD; for with the LORD there is lovingkindness; and with Him is abundant redemption.  And He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

Psalm 130

The dawn has long been a symbol of hope and joy, its light spreading over the earth to drive out the fear of those things that so menacingly loomed in shadow, things that our eyes could not comprehend.  So too, Jesus comes as the hope bursting into our world of darkness.

The Hebrew for morning in this Song of Ascents is בֹּקֶר or boqer meaning: morning, end of night, coming of daylight, coming of sunrise, bright joy after night of distress – all fitting, and glorious, epithets for Jesus – but there is something richer for us to find here.  Boqer comes from the root בָּקַר baqar, a verb meaning to seek, to enquire, to cleave apart looking for.  It is the verb God speaks to Ezekiel when he says “Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out” (Ezekiel 24:11).

Jesus the Dayspring comes not only as a source of hope, but as the fulfillment of everything that we have been desperately, single-mindedly, frantically, or diligently been seeking after.  He is the realization of all aspirations and the source of complete, fearless, Joy.

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David His servant – as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old – Salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show mercy toward our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant; the oath which He swore to Abraham our father, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.  And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the LORD to prepare His ways; to give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins, to give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. 

Luke 1: 68-79