The first candle of Advent
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder. For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.
Isaiah 9:2-7 NIV
These are the words that begin Christmas for so many of us. However we rarely read the whole verse. We do the ‘unto us part’ and leave out the rest. God saw the sin and death and destruction and pain and bloodshed and said to Himself, ‘I have to send somebody,’ God knew He had to send His son because He was the only one who could right the wrongs caused by the devil through people, He knew that only Jesus could save us, and He knew the pain they would both feel for the sake of our souls. He knew all this and loved us enough to create us anyway, He knew all this and yet loved us enough to send His most beloved treasure to save us. The prophet speaks of more than a baby and a king, he speaks of God ending the darkness and sending His light, and he also is speaking of a Father’s love for His broken and lost children.
One Christmas tradition that often gets over wrapped in tinsel and stage perfection is the tradition of having a Christmas pagent.
I used to love the pagents. Every year but one I was a sheep, and everyone knows that the sheep has the best role. We get to go all over the stage and crawl on our knees and bahh every so often. No elaborate speaches or moments of forgetting lines. Just being there, part of the show.
Perhaps that is the problem with Christmas these days. We get so caught up in what we should do we forget to just be part of the story. We feel we need to put on a great spector of glitz and glory more suited to the glittery gifts of the Wisemen but we forget to be the lowly sheep, on our knees before the King. No words to say. No spotlight. Just there. Part of God’s story.
What is one big thing that marks the Christmas season? Christmas music!
Songs that most people only listen to one season a year. Why is singing and music so important to us? Not why the scientists say it is, but why do you say it is? I can’t help but wonder if it’s all the angel’s fault that we break out in song on the street while walking in the afternoon, or that we hum while doing the dishes. When Jesus was born the angels didn’t beat box, or recite a pledge, or do the hokey pokey- as far as we know. What the angels did do was sing. Angels we have heard on high ring any bells? Lot’s of the old hymns and some of the new ones are based on specific scripture verses. Which is why dancing to ‘oh come let us adore Him’ or ‘away in a manger’ makes me uncomfortable. They aren’t just songs to sing, if that is all they are worth you might as well just listen to ‘boogy woogy Santa’ and get it over with. No. The carols were written from a connection to the Biblical and spiritual birth of Jesus Christ. The angels sang because? Who knows? Because they were filled with profound awe at their king’s sacrifice? Because He was a baby and they knew He would love the music? Perhaps because they knew that every great story starts with great intro music? I think they sang for the same reason most of us do, because they didn’t know what to say, how to phrase their emotions, and when you don’t know what to say, you sing. Right? They sang to praise their king, our king. Why do we sing at Christmas? Is it for Jesus? I’m not saying not to spin in the snow and belt out ‘winter wonderland’ absolutely do that! I do that often. But when you sing a carol, a song based on scripture, what does it mean to you?
Molded by His hands
Ginger bread houses. One Christmas tradition that we love is making gingerbread houses. Crafted by hands that desire ingestable art. If you ask the child with the house that has broken walls and missing gummy lights if their house disappoints them do you know what they will tell you, “it still tastes good.” Even with it’s missing parts and broken hearth the gingerbread house still has the quality of tasting good. And the artist loves that part of it, so the artist loves the whole of it. Just like how God loves us. We are His. That’s enough. He loves all of us, from our shattered dreams to our scarred pasts, He still loves us. Why? Because we are His. And He knows that we still have the chance to become what He wants us to be, and He hasn’t given up on us. Just like our gingerbread house, falling apart on one side, we still can serve our initial purpose. We can still, “taste good” no matter what we look like, it’s what’s inside that counts.
Let’s build a snowman!
Since the beginning of time people have loved to create. Not just useful things to our survival but wonderful things that grab our attention and hold us in awe. We even create fleeting things, like snowmen. Why do we build something that is just going to fade with the sun? Why does the ball shaped man bring us so much joy when he smiles? Good questing. Perhaps it’s because all throughout every other season God is constantly creating. He makes flowers and babies, He causes the leaves to change color and the grass to grow, and grow and grow and grow, if you live where I do. When winter comes, however, everything goes dormant. It’s almost like God is letting His creative arts take a break. Outside of the beauty of sunrises and sets, and the horror frost, nothing new really happens. We are so used to creating that the pause makes us sad and restless, so what do we do? We create while waiting. Now we see snowmen and forts and garland on trees. Why not? We aren’t as amazing as the Creator but we love doing it, and it gives us a small look into what God does every day. We feel the snow crunch together under our fingers and soon there is a snowball fight. We find the perfect carrot in our fridge and we begin the human construction of a snowperson. Without God having created the snow we wouldn’t have anything to work with. But because He has we suddenly have a new world that we can play in.
Where faith may fail
Do you ever feel as though your faith has failed?
Ya, me too.
You build yourself up with courageous words and scripture verses to make your heart feel okay, but deep down you still feel faithless. A nagging voice says, ‘you know God doesn’t operate like that anymore! You know that those kinds of miracles ended before the 20th century began. So why pray for it? Why run after something that you will never catch? You’ll just end up looking silly for trying so hard. Give up. Faith has no ground.’
Wow. Say ‘hello Devil, when did you get here?’ because that’s the voice I hear when I hear such words. It is clearly the Devil saying such things; eating away at your Faith like a monster devouring flesh, but that doesn’t stop us from believing such wicked and common lies. We hit a wall where our Faith feels powerless and we just can’t fight through. I realized something the other day. Why do we fight with our Faith? Faith isn’t a weapon. It’s a shield. The Holy Spirit is the weapon! Our Faith feels battered because we are using it to beat down our enemy. We drop our sword, take our shield in both hands and smack our enemy with it with all our strength! And we get knocked back on our belt of hard truth. The truth is that with our own strength we can’t do anything. But if we attack our enemy with the sword of the Spirit the enemy will fall! Because we are using God’s strength to win! Our Faith gets battered because we wield it as a weapon. Which it isn’t. But as a shield, as our defense, our Faith is unmatched in power because our Faith is in the unmatched, powerful God. Whose name is Jesus.
So then, put on the full armor of God-Ephesians 6:10
What gifts do we bring Him?
The Shepherds brought their time.
The Magi brought their riches.
The disciples brought their lives.
His parents brought their faith and obedience.
So what do we bring Jesus?
He gave us everything we have. Hope, joy, healing, sustenance, peace, grace, love. He gave His dignity and His relationship to God. His pain is ours to unwrap, His grief and suffering, His sorrow. We can untie the bows on His glory and goodness. We can shake the box full of His kingdom and receive all He has given us. So, what are we giving Him?
What part of us does He ask for? All of us. Our heart, soul and mind, right? It can be a difficult request to fill, but isn’t that what He brought us? His heart, His soul, His mind. Ask and you shall receive, so maybe what we should ask for is the will and ability to be like our Savior. If we are more like Jesus then perhaps we will be able to bring Jesus more.
Love you all!
May your season and year be filled with Christ’s peace, His hope, His love, and His joy!
The cold mountain air burns the lungs of the young astronomer as her eyes take in the night sky. Orion winks at her playfully and her gaze swings as she grins back at him; she sees a star larger than the rest and her heart takes her back to a time when a similar star drew men from far and distant countries to a small town called Bethlehem.
These days we don’t have a star to help us find Jesus, but we do still have guides. The Bible, word of mouth, pastors, musicians, artists. God sends us ‘stars’ to guide us. Little lights that show Jesus.
Many say to look to the sky for your answers, read the stars, listen to their voices. I am no astronomer, but that night when God sent a special star to guide people to the stable must have been wild. Angels dropping from Heaven into our night sky and praising their God?!? It would have been a light show like no other. Look to the sky to for your answers? why not? Look up and see 100 billion or more Galaxies and hear them answer you. ‘Yes! There is a God, and He made all this… and He made you!’ Follow the stars around you to the stable and find Jesus.
Life, Death, and Resurrection all held within this baby’s tiny hands.
The very first Christians led to the stable, by a star.
When all the lights go out
Crunch, crunch, crunch. Each footfall leaves another indent in the snow, a small trace that you were once there. A tiny blaze is nestled close to your chest as you carry a candle for just a little added light. There are other lights around you, barely visible, just a flicker, like woodland sprites dancing among the trees. The lights make their way softly through the woods and into the town. There, in a single window, is a candle; like the one you carry except for the meaning behind it. Your candle is for light, this candle is for hope. Inside the house you know you will find others like you, Christian worshippers gathering secretly to praise Jesus. You blow out your candle and step inside.
This story you have entered feels like it happened a lifetime ago to someone you will never know; But even today Christian families are having to hide from those who would seek to harm them. I wonder how many are gathering tonight? Slipping through the streets with candles to light their way?
Surprisingly I found many different opinions on the origin of lights on Christmas trees, but the one that I like the best is the one that says that Christians used to come and gather in the woods, to worship in secret because the Government wanted one religion and Christianity was not it. They would put lights deep in the branches of a tree so that the glow would be muted but visible. Even if that is not the origin I wouldn’t be surprised if it did happen. Maybe that is why lights on the Christmas tree feel so warm and homey. I would go so far as to say they make one feel secure.
On this Advent Sunday I want to send out a simple feeling. Gratitude. I am grateful for the Christian people who are faithful to the point of meeting under the cover of a midnight sky, maybe even outside in the cold, so they can keep the candles of Faith burning. Isn’t that the first place Jesus was worshiped? A cold manger stall, the only light probably a candle. Think of that as you feel warmed by your Christmas tree lights and let it fill you with a sense of wonder.
Have you ever noticed that when you buy a manger scene these days there are 3 Wise men and maybe 1, or sometimes 2 shepherds? I was contemplating this while fiddling with the presents and staring at our lit – up manger when suddenly the answer whispered in my ear. The Wise men are prettier than the Shepherds. The Wise men are powerful and high class with elegant clothes and sparkling gifts. The Shepherds are low class, even looked down on. Bearing no presents and wearing no shoes as they peek into the manger. The Shepherds were afraid, the Wise men were not. The Shepherds smelled like travel; That Is one thing they shared with the Wise men. The other thing they shred was a sense of awe at the wonder of the baby. The Shepherds were invited to come, the Wise men were not. God knew that the Wise men wouldn’t get there until Jesus was around 2 years old. If He had wanted the Wise men at the manger God would have made sure they were actually there, but this was the Shepherds’ moment. Their night. They were the first to see the baby, the Messiah, our Emmanuel, no one else. I think God kept the Wise men back for more than one reason. One of those reasons being that He knew they would upstage the Shepherds, like they do every year on our manger scenes. God loves the dirty and unloved. He lifts high the fearful and those considered of low value. They are His precious , unrefined treasures. His favorite treasure to work with. Don’t worry if you are not a Wise man. Shepherds hold the highest honor anyway.