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Posts Tagged ‘#advent’

It rained … five out of our first seven days home. We returned to work, dealt with jet lag, exhaustion. The schedule was still too packed to do what, humanly, was most needed … mourn.

Saturday morning arrived like cool balm on a hot burn. The schedule open, the pace relaxed. Then it happened … the emotional processing of what the mind had been containing.

The sadness that is very real. The recognition of what I lost when my dad died. The acknowledgement of the earthly permanence of death.

How do we prepare for the Christmas season, when our heart is filled with sorrow?

On my way to work one day this week, I turned on the CD in my vehicle. It is my only Christmas music CD. As I reached to push play, I paused, specifically negotiating whether or not I was ready … prepared for Christmas music, or if it might ignite a teary downpour, leaving me to enter work looking like Tammy Faye Baker (I know, it’s a dated comparison). I was specifically fearful that Joy to World might be on the CD. Thankfully, Josh Groban’s, Noël was safe for my emotions on the edge.

But that song, Joy to the World, had already infested my thoughts, causing my memory to sing it, over and over, like the song that never ends.

Joy to the World, written by Isaac Watts, was printed in 1719 … three hundred years ago! It is a song which tells of the redemption of the world, through the blood and sacrifice of Jesus.

As I write this I wonder how it came to be a Christmas song, as opposed to an Easter one.

Yet, we cannot have one without the other. For the babe in the manger grows up to become the sacrifice on the cross.

And it is in this juxtaposition of images … newborn babe sleeping, man bloodied and dying that allows us to both mourn and celebrate at the same time.

It reminds me of our time at the funeral home (not two weeks ago), when we would feel the sadness of what we were doing one moment, and laughing to the point of belly ache the next.

Psalm 69:29-32 (Message) also speaks to such juxtaposition:

I’m hurt and in pain;
Give me space for healing, and mountain air.
Let me shout God’s name with a praising song,
Let me tell his greatness in a prayer of thanks.
For God, this is better than oxen on the altar,
Far better than blue-ribbon bulls.
The poor in spirit see and are glad—
Oh, you God-seekers, take heart!

How the Psalmist starts out speaking of their pain, their need for healing, then goes on to shouting praises, thanks to God … this praise in the pain is better than “blue-ribbon bulls”, or as Amy Grant sings, Better than a Hallelujah to the ears of God.

How do we prepare for the Christmas season, when our heart is filled with sorrow?

We sing through the sorrow, we celebrate through the sadness, we praise through the pain.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King!
Let ev’ry heart prepare Him room,
and heav’n and nature sing,
and heav’n and nature sing,
and heav’n, and heav’n and nature sing.

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Hope … that is the word on this first Sunday of Advent.

As we enter this season of waiting, we begin with hope …

because hope is what helps us to take one step, after another.

As I awoke this morning, I felt the heaviness of the day … it took effort to convince myself of the hope that is promised. I left to head across the country. I left my mom to do the things, internally and externally, that follow death. My heart aches for her, for her heartbreak, for her loss of her life’s love and the things that need to be done after a life is all done, buried. I felt hope slip through my fingers and toes, as I tried to imagine her grief, exhaustion …

like wandering through the wilderness.

That is what today, what hope is for … to help us put one foot in front of the other, as we walk that pilgrim journey through the valley of dark shadows.

The hope of the world is Jesus, from the first hints in the Garden to the manger in a dusty, dirty stable in Bethlehem. We put our hope in what we cannot see, Jesus, the very Son of God, the rescuer and redeemer of our weak and weary world. 

Jesus … the rescuer of those who grieve, those who are heartbroken … like a cane for the lame, he steadies, supports as we place the weight of our world on him.

I know it’s all you’ve got to just be strong,
and it’s a fight just to keep it together
I know you think that you are too far gone,
but hope is never lost

hold on, don’t let go
Just take one step closer,
Put one foot in front of the other
you’ll get through this
Just follow the light in the darkness
You’re gonna be okay

I know your heart is heavy from those nights
but just remember that you are a fighter.
You never know just what tomorrow holds
And you’re stronger than you know

When the night is closing in
don’t give up and don’t give in.
This won’t last, it’s not the end
You’re gonna be okay

“Out of the depths I call to you, Lord!
Lord, listen to my voice;
let your ears be attentive
to my cry for help.

I wait for the Lord; I wait
and put my hope in his word. 
I wait for the Lord”

Psalm 130:1-2, 5-6

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Can you feel it? Hear it? It is emerging from all over our communities. It comes cloaked in joy, noise, warmth and excitement. It begins to appear when the summer is full, but now it does so boldly, loudly, brightly.

It’s the hustle and bustle of the coming season. It’s the red cups, and colored lights, and festive music, and craft fairs, and peppermint everything, and cardboard packages delivered to our doors.

For the next six weeks this season of celebration will be in the forefront, singing out it’s song in extrovert fashion.

There will be those of us who join in the dance, like a conga line, embracing that which brings us feelings of joy, nostalgia. There will be those who oppose the flamboyance of nativities, conifers and carols, calling them religious indoctrination.

In the midst of this season of hustle and bustle, of financial cost, of parties, and refreshments, and decorating, and songs of the season

quietly grows a branch

Zechariah 6:12 says,
“tell him this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the Lord” (my servant the branch – Matthew Henry Commentary)

Jeremiah 33:15 says,
“In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land” (the branch of righteousness – Matthew Henry Commentary)

Isaiah 11:1 says,
“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit” (a rod out of the stem of Jesse and a branch out of his roots – Matthew Henry Commentary)

and Isaiah 4:2 says,
“in that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory” (the branch of the Lord – Matthew Henry Commentary)

Christ is the branch that grows, whose arrival is reason for the season … but Christ is not the reason for the hustle and bustle.

The environment of Christ’s birth was filled with hustle and bustle. His parents had travelled to the homeland of his earthly father, Joseph, to be counted for taxation purposes of the government. Bethlehem was packed with the noise and smells and stresses of the people and animals that descended on the town.

Advent, the season of anticipation, of waiting, has not even begun … but still, in the hustle and bustle grows a branch. In the quiet, it grows, stretching out, for us … to give life, to produce the fruits of this branch.

O come, thou Rod of Jesse, free
thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
from depths of hell thy people save,
and give them vict’ry o’er the grave.

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We are walking in the season of light, in the season of darkness.

As I sit in the quiet of my living room, taking in the light of the Christmas tree, I am amazed at the light it provides, how such dainty bulbs can illuminate the room on such a dark night.

Christmas is about the light of the life of Christ, illuminating a world in the midst of the darkest darkness … a world filled with and ruled by sin.

Sin is a hard thing to talk about. It is not an in word to use. It doesn’t feel good, because other, uncomfortable words accompany it. Words like guilt and shame. Those are the darkest of words to one’s soul.

It is not that they are the wrong things to accompany sin, for they belong together perfectly. 

The good news is that when Christ came, as that babe in Bethlehem, he did so to take away our guilt, our shame, our sin. His birth, his life, pushed away the darkness of our guilt, and shame and sin. He lit with world with his light, illuminating all the dark corners of our life.

John 1:5 reminds us, 

“The light shines in the darkness, 
and the darkness has not overcome it.”

The darkness still has not overcome it.

Sure the world has dark corners, sad world events, politics that make us shake our heads, sickness that … makes us sick, heartaches that carry the weight of the world, relationships that just seem impossible …

and then Jesus comes, and says, “I’m possible”,”my light is still shining” …

and the darkness … it still has not overcome it.

Look toward the light, it’s still shining.

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“It’ll hurt, but once we rip the bandaid off, it’s over” said one of my parents when I was a young child, with an owie, covered by a bandaid.

They were right. It did hurt to pull it off, but not nearly as long or as much as I had feared. 

We are just days away from the advent season, which heralds in a new year in the church calendar. We go from the old of this year towards the coming of Jesus … something we need to go towards.

I only just realized recently that advent is the beginning of the year, not the end. As Christians we are to start the year in anticipation, for advent means to come, as we celebrate Jesus’ first coming, as a babe, and anticipate his second promised coming.

As I read about the Sunday Next Before Advent, one of the Gospel readings led me to John 1, and I was particularly intrigued by verses 35-37:

“The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 
When he saw Jesus passing by, he said,
“Look, the Lamb of God!”
When the two disciples heard him say this,

they followed Jesus.

John (the Baptist) had followers, in this passage they are refereed to as his disciples. He was their leader, their teacher, and they were his students. They followed him because they wanted to hear what he said.

His primary teaching was about the Messiah … the long anticipated redeemer, the light of the world.

“There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.” (v. 6-8)

John led his followers to the light he was born to point to. He knew that it was Jesus’ light that all should follow.

“He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’” (v. 15)

These words are intriguing, for John was born before Jesus. It was when his mother, Elizabeth, was greeted by Mary, the mother of Jesus, that John made his very first movements, in utero. John knew that Jesus had existed before the beginning of time, for he was known by Jesus even before he was born.

“John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” (v. 23) 

Over, and over, John pointed to Jesus.

“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!  This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’” (v. 29-30)

John was constantly reminding people that he was not who they were looking for, but that he knew who they wanted to find.

“The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 
When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, 
“Look, the Lamb of God!”
When the two disciples heard him say this, 

they followed Jesus.” (v. 35-37)

John was so good in his leading of people to Jesus that, when his followers saw him, they left John, heading off to follow Jesus. It was as though John had been their bandages, initiating their healing from sin, but when Jesus was near, it was time to rip that bandage, and go towards the great physician.

As we begin a new Christian calendar year, may we remember that he alone can set us free, not just from the bandages of the year past, but the bondage that they have on us.

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.

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