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The Love of Advent: Day One

December.23.2012

Christmas is close. The air is thick with anticipation, as each step has a little more meaning to children, to adults making last minute arrangements, and to families coming together. The roads are full of individuals excited to make it to their destinations, eagerly awaiting their traditions that add a little more meaning and make it feel like Christmas. There is a quickened pace to everything that is happening, a longing for this Christmas to be special. 

But the truth is, it’s difficult to make any Christmas special. With anticipation comes expectations that might not be met, with family comes history, with last minute details comes stress, with gifts come disappointment, with travel comes a pure, unadulterated rage for anyone else ever given a driver’s license. That last one might be a bit of an overstatement, but there are moments we all have wondered how “that person” was able to qualify to operate a moving vehicle around innocent people. 

And in the middle of all this, this longing exists. We long for restoration and peace in our families, for our gifts to fill something that is missing, for joy and tradition to fill us with significance. All these moments, with each moment of tension, each unmet expectation, even each gift that is loved, they all drive us to be reminded what true fulfillment looks like… fulfillment that came as a baby, born to a virgin, for the hope of the world to show us love.

When Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of in the scroll of the book.’”

“And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

      – Hebrews 10:5-7, 10

Jesus entered the world because no matter what traditions, no matter what law, no matter what we put into place would ever be able to make us clean, to fill that longing. “When Christ came into the world” reminds us that there was purpose behind every moment, every encounter – a purpose driven by a complete love. 

And so we are remember that behind the hope, the source of peace and the experience of joy is love. Love put on our humanity so that we could be made whole, and the quickened pace, the air thick with expectation reminds us that the coming of Jesus was an act of love from a God who would do anything and has done everything for us and that he is coming again. May we know deeply that love in a new way today and may we demonstrate that love to all those we encounter. 

The Joy of Advent: Day Seven

December.22.2012

“Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.  Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.”

John 16:19-24

Few phrases give me such hope as “your joy will be complete.” It sounds so… full, and in a season where we are trying to find joy in our everyday, there is this knowledge that our joy will always be lacking something, that it will always be temporary or fleeting. I love that Jesus uses the analogy of a woman giving birth, of the agony and pain of the process disappears because of the joy of bringing a child into the world.

I especially love that Jesus used this analogy because of the season we are in. In the midst of 400 years of not hearing from God, in a time when God’s people were mourning their lives as the world rejoiced around them, their mourning turned to joy in the form of  a baby, in the form of a woman giving birth to a son, who would answer everything and who would restore joy through a life of grace, peace and forgiveness.

Today, may your joy be restored, may we remember that though we wait, though we mourn, there will come a time when our joy will be made complete. So be it.

 

The Joy of Advent: Day Six

December.21.2012

This morning, in a moment of honesty (and a little bit of laziness), I told God that I’m tired of writing about Advent. I have hit a wall, 4 days from Christmas. I feel like I have been reading/praying/saying the same thing for weeks now. As I sat down to pray this morning, I didn’t feel inspired, nor moved by the narrative.

And that broke my heart. In my own selfishness, I lost my anticipation. I lost my wonder, I lost some of my gratitude. And the whole point of all of this has been to remind me daily just how important this story is, to remind me that I am alive in Christ, that in the midst of a season that can cause people to feel forgotten, to feel disappointed and downtrodden, that causes people to just feel done, that there is hope and joy and peace and love in the midst of all of this and there always has been.

We are soaked in the grace of a story and a plan that has been in place for thousands of years, the story that prophets yearned to tell of a coming King who would change everything. And no matter how discouraged or tired or ____________ we feel, that the truth of this season is still very real and makes a difference.

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor bears a son, and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites. He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And he will be our peace when the Assyrians invade our land and march through our fortresses.”

– Micah 5:2-5

I have gotten tired after several weeks of walking through this story, and I started wondering, I wonder how the people of Bethlehem felt with every child born, if with every birth they let their hopes up only to be let down eventually, to the point where they stopped caring at all about the prophesy spoken over them, to the point where the would ignore a pregnant woman and her husband arriving in town, not bothering to offer them a room, causing them to move to the stable. I wonder how long it took for them to lose the joy of the promise of the coming salvation.

I am reminded so much more today to find my joy in a God who has literally had this salvage plan in place from the beginning, “whose origins are from of old, from ancient times,” and though I’m distracted by everything around me to the point where I find myself jaded, I will rejoice. I will praise God in these moments of distraction and waning strength, because unto us a child is born, and he is Immanuel and there is such deep joy that resonates from a God who would leave heaven to be with us.

Come, Lord Jesus.

The Joy of Advent: Day Five

December.20.2012

And Mary said, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me –  holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.”

– Luke 1:46-56

Like everyone who encounters the story of God as man, I walk away more and more impressed with Mary. I walk away humbled by her faith, completely dismayed by her experience and totally conflicted on my own intentions and faithfulness. I’ve heard God several times in my life, but fortunately(?), I have never had to experience being asked of anything so drastic.

Then I think through what God has called me toward, and the many times I have backed down or justified my way out of how he asks me to engage our world and the people I encounter. He has called me to some seemingly drastic things, but I have yet to love my neighbor as myself well, or lay down my life for a friend in every aspect, or sell more of my possessions so that I can give more and more generously.

Every year I encounter Mary’s song, and every year I am reminded that it is not for my glory in the least, but that my life should always point to the holiness of a God who rescues, just as Mary reminds us. Mary rejoiced in one of the most uncomfortable, awkward, shameful circumstances I can imagine, and this Advent season I am reminded of my role to rejoice in the fact that God loved me, that he did all of this for me. And for you. And for us. That the God of all rulers, the God of Abraham used a mere girl to have his son enter the world for the salvation of all. And in that reality I find rest, and in that knowledge I find a joy that can’t be explained.

May the joy of a God that would do everything to be in relationship with you fill your heart and warm your spirit. And may we reflect that hope, peace, and joy to each person we get to encounter. Amen.

The Joy of Advent: Day Four

December.19.2012

“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.”

– Phil. 4: 4-7

If there has been a theme to the 2012, or a passage that has been constantly put in front of me, it is this one in Phil. 4 and I don’t think that there is a better time of year to spend a day focused on these verses.

It’s supposed to be 65 degrees in Nashville today, we are in the middle of a bunch of boxes, there have been a lot of birthday celebrations going, and in the midst of this it hasn’t remotely felt like Christmas – at least not in the traditional, sentimental aspects – but when I read this passage this week, when I have been thinking about it, I keep hearing this phrase:

“The Lord is near”

The Lord is near. He knows. He’s coming. This peace of God is will guard our hearts, protecting us from the busyness, the stress, the distractions, the value we have placed in other things, and because of this peace, because God knows that we default to anxiousness, we rejoice. We find joy and delight in the Lord. In his coming as a baby. In his death on the cross. In his conquering of death. We rejoice when we find anxiety creeping in, when we feel those tugs to be pulled back in the darkness, we rejoice in a God who is close.

The wise men saw the star and they rejoiced. The shepherds in the field rejoiced and worshiped with Heaven. Elizabeth’s baby rejoiced in her belly when Mary walked in the room. Our posture is to be one of joy in the knowledge that Jesus is close.

Today may we find joy and great delight in the everyday moments of our day, may we rejoice in a God who sent his son to walk through these very mundane moments, these dark experiences, in the hope of the season, and to let the cause of our joy in the middle of it all be a God who is near. Amen.

The Joy of Advent: Day Three

December.18.2012

Last night, thanks to a generous birthday present from a friend, we had the chance to experience the Ryman Auditorium for the first time – the mother church of music here in Nashville. It was a lot of fun walking around and seeing all the posters of past performers and seeing the history of that place.

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The show was Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb of God, his annual advent concert. It was an amazing night of talented musicians sharing their gifts as they tell the story of the coming of Christ.

It was a great night, full of expectation of the coming of Jesus into a dark and broken world. I sat there experiencing a quiet, content joy at what was being sung, what was being expressed with hope, and I was reminded of how important these moments are in our preparation for Christmas.

“Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation.” With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. In that day you will say: “Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world. Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.”

– Isaiah 12:2-6

This expression of singing, of writing songs, is linked to joy through scripture. “Sing for joy, for great is the Holy One among you”. Worship. Sing. Praise. Joy is found in these moments, and this concert was such a deep reminder that joy comes from response, from recognizing that the Lord is our strength, our defense, our salvation, and that should move us to a place of joy.

Today and this week, may there be opportunities for you to sing, to praise, to rejoice in your own way, to find joy in a creator who has done glorious things, and will do glorious things. And then take that into a world so desperate for a glimpse of where joy happens. May we make it known among the nations. Amen.

The Joy of Advent: Day Two

December.17.2012

I’m pretty sure this is going to be the week that is most outside of my comfort zone as we move closer and closer to celebrating Christ’s birth. I am quite comfortable praying for more hope, a deeper peace, but I am not sure I have ever really prayed and sought after God for joy.

And it’s not like I haven’t been depressed or despaired, but I don’t think I have ever asked to experience true joy, or really know what that looks like. Like I stated yesterday, there is an absolute difference between joy and happiness, and I know that there are times in my life where I have experienced a profound undercurrent of joy, but it’s not something I go after. If anything, I am most often surprised by joy.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birthinto a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.  In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy”

– 1 Peter 1:3-8

This is not a traditional advent verse in the least, but when ever I am confronted with my lack of joy, this is the passage that consistently comes to mind. Yesterday at church we had the opportunity to take communion, which is one of my favorite things we do as a community. It is such a sacred place and I love that it was a part of our worship as we move to the birth of Christ, because with every step towards the manger is one more step closer to the cross.

And the cross is where we find our joy. That is where we find grace, our purpose, forgiveness, and true love. All these trials we experience result in a deeper faith in who Jesus is and what he did and our response should be pure, unadulterated joy.

Joy that in the midst of trials, in the midst of doubt, in the midst of the darkness, that Jesus was born a baby, lived a blameless life, allowed himself to be killed on the cross, and rose from the dead. And that should fill us with a “inexpressible and glorious joy.” May it be that way today, and each day forward. Amen.