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Posts Tagged ‘#advent’

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end

Isaiah 9:6-7

This is the week!

Not just Christmas, but, for those of us in the Northern hemisphere, the darkest day of the year is this week. Therefore, we can now look forward to days gradually getting longer, filled with more light.

It is not lost on me that we begin to see the days lengthen during the week of Christ’s birth, the week following the fourth advent Sunday … when the JOY candle is lit and we celebrate that One who brings. who is hope, peace and love.

unto us a Child is born

Six words, that changed the world. The promise from Isaiah that was anticipated centuries before the arrival of the king of kings in a humble stable, to humble parents, in humble circumstances.

This babe, the gift and Son of the God of creation … born so that we might not die to eternity, but that we might have the hope of the presence of the spirit of peace, that we might know and be known by love himself.

There is no other song that can produce the experience of joy like Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee. Though Beethoven, in his creation of his 9th Symphony, never knew of the lyrics Henry van Dyke would construct when he wrote Joyful, Joyful we Adore Thee, he did know of the original poem, written by german poet, Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller. It is the final stanza that, I believe, may have inspired both Beethoven and van Dyke:

Brothers, above the starry canopy
There must dwell a loving father.
Do you fall in worship, you millions?
World, do you know your creator?
Seek Him in the heavens;
Above the stars must he dwell.

May we, this day, everyday, know the joy of the child who will lift us to the joy divine.

Ode to Joy (Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee)

Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee,
God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flow’rs before Thee,
Op’ning to the sun above.

Melt the clouds of sin and sadness;
Drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness,
Fill us with the light of day!

All Thy works with joy surround Thee,
Earth and heav’n reflect Thy rays,
Stars and angels sing around Thee,
Center of unbroken praise.

Field and forest, vale and mountain,
Flow’ry meadow, flashing sea,
Singing bird and flowing fountain
Call us to rejoice in Thee.
Thou art giving and forgiving,
Ever blessing, ever blest,
Wellspring of the joy of living,
Ocean depth of happy rest!

Thou our Father, Christ our Brother,
All who live in love are Thine;
Teach us how to love each other,
Lift us to the joy divine.

Mortals, join the happy chorus,
Which the morning stars began;
Father love is reigning o’er us,
Brother love binds man to man.

Ever singing, march we onward,
Victors in the midst of strife,
Joyful music leads us Sunward
In the triumph song of life.

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Peace …

a word that ignites images of a dove, an olive branch, the three lined peace symbol, paper cranes, an image of a lion and a lamb.

Today, this second Sunday in advent, it is peace that we consider, but …

not peace that the world gives

When we think of peace we immediately think of an absence of war, or conflict. This is garden peace. Peace that existed only in the Garden of Eden, prior to the entry of sin into the world, into the human condition.

The peace that the Messiah gives, this is not an absence of conflict or war, brutality or abuses. It is the presence of peace in the midst of conflicts, wars, brutalities, abuses and storms.

It is peace beyond our human understanding, for who can fathom a sense of peace while in the thick of struggle?

This is peace that comes from the knowledge that we are not alone in the storm. This is the peace that Jesus brought to the world, to us. Once he arrived and fulfilled his mission (which he is still fulfilling … in, through and in spite of us) he left us the Spirit, so that we would carry His peace with us.

What was promised in the Old Testament:

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).

Was given in the New Testament:

“The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you” (Romans 8:11).

As Jesus was speaking to his disciples on the night before his death (John 14), it is clear that they were feeling anxious about his communications that he was going away. It was clear too, that he wanted them to know that they would be okay (he was offering them peace apart from his physical presence). He was consoling them, encouraging them, equipping them for what was to come.

He was also doing the same for you and I today, reminding us that his death opened the door to the Spirit to be with us, at all times, in all circumstances.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

John 14:27

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This week we moved into our new home. A bit of a whiplash feeling hit me last night, as only two months before (to the day) we decided to just check out a place. Now, here we are in a new location, surrounded by boxes and disorder.

As I have been unpacking the kitchen I have been working hard to fit our goods into less cupboard space than we had previously. It has been a bit like playing Tetris to provide room for our stuff in this smaller kitchen. Believe me, this place has ample space, with a fantastic storage closet down the hall, I just need to prioritize what will take up precious room in the kitchen.

Odd, though it might sound, this process has encouraged me to be focused on a familiar phrase at Christmas and a song from church last Sunday.

prepare him room

This morning I was reading from the Gospels about Mary and Joseph, expecting to read about their preparations for the birth of their son. I am certain that they did prepare, but … they were on a road trip up until the time of the birth of their son. There was nothing noted about baby clothes (or cloths) gathered, prenatal classes, the construction of a cradle, or doctor visits. They simply followed the path that was laid out for them.

As if the preparations were within and completed over the years of their lives.

In this season we are preparing for the celebration of the birth of the Christ child. But, what preparations are taking our time and energies?

Decorations? Baking? Shopping and gift wrapping?

What if the past 365 days have been all the preparing that has been required of us? What if, each day of our lives, our hearts have been open to hearing God’s voice, his call on our lives. What if, like Mary and Joseph, simply living in blind trust of God was all the preparing we did?

“The question, you see, is not to prepare but to live in a state of ongoing preparedness …”

Henri Nouwen

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A blogger friend recently wrote about the Sears Christmas Wish Book and her memories had me drifting off into Christmas past.

What a delight it was each year when that shiny paged catalogue arrived. I remember gazing longingly at each page, dreaming of how much better life would be if I could have everything I wanted from it’s pages.

I remember staring longingly at the Barbie’s and all of their available possessions, the science kits, the board games and, as I got older, the clothing.

The anticipation was real!

Anticipation … that’s a word that adequately describes hope.

Hope … that is a theme as we anticipate what Christ brings to the world, during this time of advent.

Why hope?

Well, when sin entered into the human experience in the garden, it tarnished us, leaving us in need of a Savior, one to redeem us from sin. For when Adam and Eve sinned, they made a choice that, let’s face it, we all would have chosen, for we all want what God has and we forget that He has a plan, that we can rest in his wisdom.

But Jesus, he was the anticipated Messiah, the hoped-for Savior.

The oft spoken verse from Isaiah 7:14 will be read in this advent season,

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel (which means God with us).

Immanuel … God with us.

Immanuel … God with us.

Immanuel … God with us.

There is not greater hope, than to have the presence of Immanuel, the Savior, Redeemer and King with us. It is the guarantee that we will not be alone, ever. He is with us! The most anticipated wish come true.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace, as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

 

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One of the words, opposite joy, is despair. When I think of despair, I think hopeless, lacking in peace.

It is interesting that today, this third Sunday of advent, we focus on joy, following peace and hope. Perhaps it is because we, our lives, are absent of joy if we have not received the hope and peace that only Christ can give?

Joy is not just a product of hope and peace, joy is, much like those, a choice.

Psalm 71:23 says, “My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you; my soul also, which you have redeemed.” Notice first section, “my lips will shout for joy” … it is a statement of dedication, determination. The Psalmist is committing, vowing that whatever befalls he will shout for joy. He is making a choice. Charles Spurgeon has said of this Psalm, “this Psalm may be regarded as the utterance of struggling, but unstaggering, faith.”

Anyone out there struggling right now? We are in a pandemic people … we are ALL struggling with something in this time in our lives, in the history that is presently being written. We all have struggles that challenge our hearts and souls (and bodies). This is our current, common human experience.

But …

if we can look to the source of hope and peace,

if we can choose, by our will and our unstaggering (well … most of the time) faith to force joy from our lips … it WILL COME BACK TO OUR SOULS!

Joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). It is good medicine (Proverbs 17:22). It is new every morning (Psalm 30:5). The joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). Angels experience joy when one person repents (Luke 15:10). We should eat and drink with a merry (joyful) heart (Ecclesiastes 9:7).

Rejoice always, 
pray without ceasing, 
give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

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Hey reader …

did you know that we are in the midst of a pandemic?

did you know that Christmas is coming … but so much of what is part of our Christmas season, is not going to be the same as previous years?

do you feel tired?

Someone has said,

I saw this quote awhile back and it has been tossing and turning in my thoughts.

I think it stuck with me because … I am tired and

all I want for Christmas is to stop being tired

Do you know what I mean?

Do you feel the fatigue too?

I am tired of:

  • missing family
  • longing to travel
  • telling students to pull their face masks over their noses
  • death counts and numbers in hospital ICU
  • missing singing as a congregation
  • the days that are dark and gloomy and short on light
  • words like cohorts, bubble and anti-maskers
  • Christ-followers who are focused on ‘their’ rights in a broken world
  • the people who just won’t do what must be done so that we can be together
  • this pandemic … all of it

And when I focus on these things … then I feel even more tired!

When I focus on Christ, though I am still tired, I feel something else, something that provides strength, comfort and purpose.

When Christ is the focus of my thoughts, my prayers and my attention I have a relief of this tiredness through the peace that only he can provide …. an acceptance of God’s control in my life, in the lives of those I love … all in the midst of a pandemic.

When I give my attention and thoughts to the peace of Christ, I begin to experience relief of some of the fatigue. And through my reception of this peace, the tiredness isn’t as intense, isn’t the focus.

Peace I leave with you;
my peace I give you. 
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled 
and do not be afraid.

John 14:27

“Come to me, 
all you who are weary and burdened,
and I will give you rest.

Matthew 11:28

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In Isaiah “a voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (40:3). This voice that Isaiah is referring to is that of John the Baptizer.

It is interesting to me that today, the second Sunday of advent, the Sunday where our focus is on peace, that it is this man, John, who is part of the focus.

John, the cousin of Jesus, the one who leapt in his mother’s (Elizabeth) womb when Mary (early pregnant with Jesus) came near. He was the son that was a miracle baby for old Zechariah and his post menopausal wife. They had been waiting … waiting as we are waiting during advent. John’s choice of clothing (camel hair) and food (locusts and honey) may make him a little less relatable than others.

He was a man who took his calling as messenger seriously, “preparing the way of the Lord, (to) make his paths straight” (Mark 1:3). He did not mince words, did not deliver a happy-clappy message … he “proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (1:4). And people came, confessing their sins and having him baptize them. But, he never left them there, at their moment of public confession and being baptized. He would remind them of what … of who was to come, inviting them into the anticipation of waiting … “I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (1:8).

Some thought he was the Messiah, but he was quick to put them straight, saying, “the one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals” (1:7).

John did not shy away from his beliefs and (literally) lost his head for sharing his perspectives on the divorce of King Herod.

So, John the Baptist and peace …

Here’s the reality, the real, might not be what we want to hear, reality …

John the Baptist was firm on three things, for then and for now …

  1. he was the messenger … not the Messiah (we all need to be reminded of that in our own lives)
  2. repentance of sin is the only way to peace
  3. baptism is a public and physical act of an inner change

Jesus called John his “messenger” who prepared the “way”.

This was the way for those who followed and listened then, it is the “way” now, for us.

It is only through the peace of Christ … the peace that passing all human understanding, that we can truly be at peace …

at peace when the sun shines … and when the monsoons come

at peace when we are soaring in our academics … and when we are not making the grade

at peace in the healthy birth of a child … and when our child is ill

at peace when celebrating birthdays … and when standing at a graveside

at peace when planning a wedding … and when asked for a divorce

at peace when celebrating Christmas with parties, and concerts, and church services and family gatherings … and when we are looking to a quiet Christmas, separated by the realities of a pandemic.

Peace can come only through Christ, the Messiah, for those who have repented of their sins. This is the peace of Christmas

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

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After months of advertising online, displays set up at the ends of aisles, the advent calendars are now daily being opened each day, normalizing chocolate as a breakfast food. So, each evening we go to bed anticipating the delight of a piece of chocolate to start the next day … a joyful waiting.

This is part of this spiritual practise of waiting, of counting down, of anticipating the celebration of Christ’s birth and the hope that he brought and continues to bring.

Waiting has also been a common practise during this pandemic. We wait, providing space for others, in the aisles in stores. We have waited in lines to get into stores and businesses. We wait to get outside of workplaces, stores and businesses to remove our masks from our faces. Teens have had to wait to get the varying levels of driving license. We wait for the day when travel re-opens. We wait for the day when church doors re-open for the whole of our church family to be together physically again. We wait to hold our elders, living in care homes, again. We wait …

This waiting, this frustrating, sometimes lonely, confusing practise of waiting is intensified when we do not have a known number of days, weeks and months, each with a chocolate token for our patience to countdown to the end of this waiting game. We all cry out,

I just want this to be done!
I want to be on the other side of this waiting!

We are weary from this waiting. Our patience is waining. And that is when our good side starts to get shadowed by impatience and we spew nastiness with our words and even our actions.

It’s good to hope, it’s the waiting that spoils it.

Yiddish Proverbs

And we do hope …

This first week of advent we are ruminating over the hope that is to come, but …

it’s not here yet!

… or is it?

“Before the first advent, the people of God were waiting in the dark. As we await the second advent, we are waiting in the light.” Rev Dr Glenn Packiam

As Christ-followers, our hope has already come … we are not living as hopeless people. We still are awaiting his second coming, but we are doing so in the light, already having Emmanuel … Christ with us.

So, as we wait, for Christmas, for the end of this pandemic, let’s remember the wisdom of the Apostle Paul,

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people,
holy and dearly loved,
clothe yourselves with compassion,
kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”
Colossians 3:12


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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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