Category Archives: Advent

the most wonderful

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I don’t know about you, but I love Christmas music. And I’m definitely not a purist when it comes to when one is allowed to listen. I’ve been known to listen to Christmas music all during the season of Advent. I’ve been known to even begin listening to Christmas music before Thanksgiving (I just told my students recently it was because there were no good turkey songs). I can even tell that I am truly getting into the spirit of the season when I bust out the Carpenter’s Christmas album. For me it truly is the most wonderful time of the year…and yet for some. Well they struggle with this season more than any other. Often times issues of grief or family drama or financial stress become even more prevalent during holiday seasons. For some this season even becomes the least wonderful time of the year. In a season that is meant to be marked by joy, peace, love, and hope, some find themselves struggling to find these very things in the midst of all the other issues that become more transparent as the holidays take hold.

And on some level I think it all hinges on that last aspect of the Advent practice…hope. The season of Advent, for those who aren’t aware, begins this Sunday and marks the beginning of the church year. Advent is the four Sundays leading up to Christmas and it is both a celebration of the initial coming of Christ and an anticipation of His return. And yet, we so often struggle with finding hope in the midst of this season. Many find themselves placing their hopes in things like the economy, politicians, national defense, etc. and as they often discover; this is no place for hope. When it comes to Advent, our hope takes on an incredible shape. Hear these words from the prophet Isaiah, “He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” – Isaiah 2:4 The Advent hope of Christ return almost seems too wonderful when we read it in the context of our current situation, but this is what true hope should look like.

In a world of shopping malls, black Friday sales, twitter feuds, international diplomatic escalation, racial unrest, cancer, and the like we struggle to take comfort in the story that Advent ushers in. Sometimes it is too much to find ourselves marveling at the story of a young Jewish mother giving birth to a son in the midst of a small town in Judea. Sometimes we struggle to find hope in the shepherd’s vision or the Magi’s quest or the angel’s songs. These stories are too wonderful and too far removed from our present situation for us to take hold of hope in the midst of a competing narrative. Perhaps what is needed is for us to look forward to the coming Advent that will take hold of the broken systems of this world and redeem them. The hope of Isaiah the prophet becomes realized in the words of John the apostle in that concluding hope of scripture. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” – Revelation 21:4 May we come to find ourselves caught up in THIS wonderful season and hopeful promise as we anticipate the Advent of Christ once again.

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a stranger

Since roughly about the 4th century Christians have celebrated the four Sunday season before Christmas known as Advent. Advent, which means welcoming, is a season of preparation for both the commemoration of the original coming of Christ to earth and a celebration of Christ coming again. For many Christians it is sometimes hard to connect these two events. When Christ came to earth as a baby in Bethlehem much of the world went on without noticing. When Christ comes again every knee will bow. How could these two events be more different? The writer of Matthew helped me to find a rather poignant connection this Advent season and it speaks to our world now more than ever. At the conclusion of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew he shares a parable about what His return will be like. In that parable Jesus speaks of the final judgment and those who are judged worthy and he has this to say to them, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For…I was a stranger and you invited me in” Matthew 25:34-35

The story goes on to say that those who performed this kindness were not even aware that it was to Christ himself that they bestowed this kindness and Jesus’ response to them, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” – Matthew 25:40. The Greek word for stranger in the passage above is the word xenos, which best translates as foreigner or alien and it’s where we get terms like xenophobia. But Jesus’ not only speaks of His love for the least of these in His response; He also speaks out of history and experience. If we simply turn back the pages of Matthew’s gospel we read this in the conclusion of the visit of the Magi, When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt” – Matthew 2:13-14 Part of Christ’ original coming to earth resulted in His earthly family becoming refugees, aliens, strangers in Egypt who were fleeing political persecution from an evil political force.

I don’t know about you, but it sounds like our world today very much resembles the world the Savior was born into. Just yesterday a report came out about the fall of Aleppo and how 20 Syrian women chose suicide over the impending rape of the Syrian army. Europe has been overwhelmed in attempts to respond to one of the greatest refugee crisis in human history. And we are concerned as to whether or not we will be able to find a Hatchimal for our kids.

I’m not sure I know what the answer is this Advent season. Right now…pray. Pray for Christ to return. Pray for every hurt, every tear, every pain to be wiped away. There are also ways you can give.

1. Nazarene avenues for donating to anything happening inside seem to not exist at this time. But, Nazarenes are working with Syrian children and families who flee the war and are in Lebanon and Jordan. This is a powerful option for helping: http://www.ncm.org/phone/christmas.html

2. There is also and organization that some of our Nazarenes have looked into called Preemptive Love that seems to be responding well: preemptivelove.org They help people who are still trapped in Syria.

3. You can also consider donating to Central Europe Refugee Response: https://give.nazarene.org/donate/f/125967 which is the Nazarene Courage for the Journey response across the Balkans and Greece to refugees in transit or resettling.

I guess my prayer for all of us in the midst of our world and this season of Advent is that we don’t forget what this season is really about. It reminds us that our God took on flesh and came into the world to show us that life is most Holy when we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, invite a stranger in, clothe the naked, care for the sick and those in prison. May we all embrace that calling this Advent season.



with abandon

As I sit here in the stillness of the morning I find myself transported once again. I can’t seem to get away from the Bethlehem hills this Advent season…

The night is still and shrouded in darkness while the smell of sheep surrounds you. It’s been a long day and you know the night has potential to be even longer. You and your fellow shepherds get to exchange watch throughout the night to protect your charge against potential threats. So you strain against the darkness not knowing what is out there, but being completely on your guard. Suddenly the darkness is broken by a violently bright and unfathomable light.Everyone is on their feet and yet cowering as well, not knowing what this new danger may be. Out of the light you make out a figure that is both lovely and terrifying and you suddenly hear a voice, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” – Luke 2:10-12

Then it is as if the remaining darkness explodes into thousands of points of light as the messenger is joined by scores of other heavenly beings who burst forth in song, ““Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” – Luke 2:14 It seems as if time is standing still and then all of a sudden it’s over. You and your comrades are left speechless in the cool night air wandering what just happened. Then someone speaks up, “Could it be true? If so, what are we waiting for.” Quickly you make your way into town completely forgetting about your responsibility in the hills and you find everything just as the messenger had said. Here he is…a newborn baby…wrapped in cloths just like your family did with you. The promised Messiah…David’s own descendant and you are some of the first to lay eyes on him. The joy and energy bubbling up inside of you is uncontrollable. As you and your fellow shepherds prepare to leave you know it is going to be a noisy exodus, but you don’t care. Everyone you bump into is going to hear about this story. Friends, strangers, pharisees, tax collectors, drunkards…even the sheep are going to hear all about the miraculous event that you have just been included in. With abandon you become the first witnesses to the redemption of God for all mankind.

I wonder where you find yourself today, 2,000 years later? Do you need to experience the in-breaking of Heaven again? Do you need to be reminded that there is nothing to fear? Do you find yourself caught up in praising and glorifying God as witnesses to God’s redemption brought about through the birth of Jesus? Or do you find yourself fearful of what others might think or whether or not this story could even make a difference in the world around you. Take heart! The angelic announcement still rings true today and we are now ambassadors of that same gospel announcement, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” May we find ourselves proclaiming this same message with abandon for the sake of the world that God has not abandoned.

 

 


versions

In 1992 there was a film released starring Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise that received a lot of notoriety known as A Few Good Men. Although I am sure many of you, like me, may not have seen the entirety of this film, we are all on at least some level familiar with it…or at least one scene. The plot deals with a Marine Colonel Jessup who ordered a code red on a fellow marine that ended up costing his life. Tom Cruise’s character Attorney Kaffe is trying Jessup on this account and it all culminates in one of the more famous dialogue exchanges in all of cinema. “Col. Jessep: You want answers?” “Kaffee: I think I’m entitled to.” “Col. Jessep: You want answers?” “Kaffee: I want the truth!” “Col. Jessep: You can’t handle the truth!” You can’t handle the truth…wow. And yet on some level he was right. Kaffee, like many other characters in the story and many of us have a version of the world that exists in our minds that if it gets challenged could really upset the balance.

I wonder if this is ever something we struggle with when it comes to our living out the life of Christ? I especially tend to think on this during this season in the life of the church known as Advent. It’s a season of preparation and expectation for the coming of Christ. But all to often it becomes a season of stress, busyness, economic abundance and distractions that couldn’t be further from the truth of what the Christmas story was all about. Even though the book of John doesn’t formally retell the Christmas story, the writer does give us a testimony as to what this story was all about. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14 The Word of God himself, Jesus, took on flesh and came to us full of grace and truth. I love this last phrase. Full of truth…what is that truth? That we are hopelessly lost without God. What is that grace? God has made a way for us to be found.

Sometimes I think we haven’t been able to handle this truth. I don’t care if you are a brand new believer, still seeker, or someone who has been in the church all your life. To think you have a chance at making it without God’s grace daily being poured out into you and through you is another version of the truth altogether. Even the apostle Paul, towards the tail end of his faithful ministry had this to say, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” – 1 Timothy 1:15 I wonder if we live out of this truth or if we somehow have started living into another version. A version that says, ‘I’m okay’. A version that validates our comfort, our possessions, our indifference towards others, our embracing of ideologies not of God or our piety. Jesus himself said that He was the truth and here is someone who was called a friend of sinners, prostitutes, drunkards and tax collectors; a blasphemer and the son of the devil. How often does our truth align with Him? Or has our version of truth aligned us so well with society that we don’t subvert the selfish norm anymore?

Maybe during this season of Advent we might find that we can’t handle the truth…but that through the grace offered to us through the Word made flesh, we just might try.


awaken

It was just over a year ago. The shot opened on a barren desert landscape and a deep sinister voice comes over the scene, “There’s been an awakening. Have you felt it?” And with that millions of Star Wars fans (present company included) became enraptured with excitement as we got our first look at what would be the new Star Wars Film from J.J. Abrams, The Force Awakens. And now today/tomorrow many of us will flock to theaters around the world to live out our full nerdery as we get to follow one of the greatest story lines of all time displayed in cinematic fashion. It really is quite a marvel to see how much hype, hysteria and excitement has been brought on by all of this. I don’t think its any accident that the writers chose the title, The Force Awakens.

Of course anytime there is something fun or exciting that I am a part of in life, I can’t help but somehow relate it back to the church. After all, that is my life. And here we are, in the season of Advent, and for many of us nerds today the waiting is over. The anticipation will be met with joyous rapture or more mediocre reflection, depending on our opinions of the movie. But for many of us who bear the name of Christ, the waiting continues. Yes we have moments of celebration like Christmas and Easter and Pentecost, but Advent is the season which should characterize our lives. A season of waiting for Christ’ return. A season of waiting for God to redeem all of creation. A season of expectant hope.

So the question before us today, what do we do in the waiting? Some people tend to think that waiting is an excuse to simply exist…maybe even do nothing. But in his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul takes quite a different approach, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord...This is why it is said: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity…” (Ephesians 5:8, 14-16a) This is how we are called to live in the meantime; in the waiting…fully awake, making the most of every opportunity and walking in the light. 

Tonight for many people will be the end of that anticipation they have had from the first time they heard that voice in the Star Wars trailer say, “There’s been an awakening…”. And then at some point, regardless of their opinion of the film, there will be a let down. At some point all of the geeks (present company included) will find something else to be geeked about. But for those of us who follow the risen Christ, the anticipation continues to build. We continue to awaken to the calling of Christ knowing that the fulfillment will make the anticipation all the sweeter and the joy found in the full presence of God will never end. This is why I say to you today, “Awake O Sleeper”.


enough

Sometimes I look around at the evil in our world and wonder when will it all end. When is enough, enough? Yesterday we all were witnesses to another mass shooting in the United States. Our world is being plagued by violent acts on a daily basis. Roughly 780 million people do not have access to clean drinking water and 3.1 million children die of starvation related illnesses each year. Each of us know of someone effected by cancer or some other horrible disease that is crippling them or their family. We are surrounded by political rhetoric promising a solution to national and international problems and I find myself wondering again, when is enough, enough?

I don’t mean to sound fatalistic, but there is something severely broken in our world. There is something wrong with where things are headed. And yet…in the midst of this brokenness and ugliness I hear the words of an ancient prophet in Israel, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2) The Hebrew for “deep darkness” is probably best translated as “death’s shadow”. There is no denying that in our world and the age of technology we can almost always feel we are living in death’s shadow. We hear of war, death, destruction, hatred, racism, and violence in a never ending stream of news. And yet…a light has dawned.

The season of Advent is always one in the Christian calendar that I think we struggle with. We are in a rush to get to Christmas and we tend to skip right over the waiting when we are not careful to pay attention to it. But Advent is the celebration of the “light that broke into the darkness”. That same light has proclaimed to us, “You are the light of the world”. (Matthew 5:14) In the midst of ‘enough’, we have been called to be ‘more than enough’. We have been charged with being the light in the darkness, the hope to the nations, the love of God for a world so broken and marred by tragedy it’s hard to imagine a better way. But Advent reminds us of that. Advent reminds us that the Kingdom of God is both now and coming and we are ambassadors of that Kingdom.

So maybe enough is enough. But we are called to go beyond all of this and wait with patient anticipation for Heaven to break into this ugly mess and proclaim with the angels, “We Bring You Good News of Great Joy, Which is for Everyone…The Light has Shone into the Darkness, and the Darkness will not win”!


it’s time

One of my favorite activities in all the world is to be early for something. You don’t believe me? Ask my wife. (Of course it seems one of her favorite activities is to be marginally on time or even late for things) But I love to be early for all sorts of events. I love arriving early for movies (I’m really good at the trivia), for church (and not just because it’s my job), or even for dinner. But one of my favorite places to be early to is the airport. Specifically I love being to the airport early if I am picking someone up. Anticipating the arrival of someone, granted it’s usually close family or friends, at an airport has always been a great experience. However, my favorite of these experiences was when we joined about 80 or so others to welcome home Amelia, our close friends’ adopted Guatemalan daughter, who we had been anticipating and praying over for almost eight years. The excitement in the room was tangible and as we saw her come through the doors with her parents and brother (granted she was now one of seven) the place exploded. And then it got so quiet you could feel the holiness of that moment in your very soul. I’ll never forget that arrival for all eternity.

2,000 or so years ago the world experienced a similar arrival. The world had been waiting with eager expectation for the fulfillment of prayers, prophecies and longing for something better. For things to be set right. For messiah to arrive. Then suddenly the night was shattered by the voices of an angelic chorus announcing to the world His arrival. “I bring you good news for all people…Glory to God in the highest and on the earth peace to those favored by God” (Luke 2:10,14) And then the earth was silent again. A holy stillness lay upon the earth as most did not even recognize the salvation that had been ushered in.

Today in the church we celebrate this anticipation of Christ arrival as the season of Advent. Advent is a Latin term that means “to come” and so the practice of Advent is literally the practice of anticipating the once and soon coming arrival of Christ. It is as if we take on the voice of the prophet, “A voice of one calling:“In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together.For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 40:3-5 The fear that I have is that we might find ourselves not ready as much of the world was at that first arrival. Maybe because we just forgot what it is like to anticipate His arrival. Maybe because we have fallen out of practice in welcoming Jesus. Jesus may not come to us with angelic announcement every time. Maybe He comes to us in the form of a child, the least of these, someone needing food, clothing or shelter, etc. and the question before us…are we ready for his Advent? It’s time. May we prepare our hearts for the once and future coming of our King this season.

 


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