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Tag: Advent

Christmas Is Not under Control

by Mike McKinniss

If the world always ran in accordance with my wishes (sigh!), there would eternally remain two to three unblemished days on the calendar every week. Naturally, the work day would be busy with productive toil, but at least a pair of evenings would ideally remain sparkling and unsoiled by plans. I’m forever hoarding a bit of space for myself, you see.

It wasn’t long ago—just before Thanksgiving, if I remember correctly—I took a peek at my December calendar, and I rather reflexively expectorated a mild but genuine curse. The whole flippin’ month is jammed full of events. Somehow without my notice, I lost control of my time this holiday season. I don’t like feeling out of control. Read the rest of this entry »

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He Has Promised

by Carol Nicholls

amen-by-ericferdinand_flicr-com_564993108_adfeb4330f_CC BY 2.0

amen-by-eric_ferdinand_flickr-com_564993108_adfeb4330f_CC BY 2.0

For all the promises of God in Him (Jesus) are yes, and in Him…Amen..So Be It!    II Corinthians 1:20

“I say what I mean and I mean what I say.” I really live that sentence. It is a fundamental statement of who I am. On the positive side of things, my word is my bond. On the negative side, I can come across as uncaring.

Most of us have strong convictions on some subject, but we rarely know why they are so important to us. In my case the reason is rooted in childhood. Read the rest of this entry »

Posture of Belief

by Dawn Aldrich

Believe by the unquiet librarian_Flickr.com_5215537173_0aff0e9598_CC BY -ND 2.0

Believe by the unquiet librarian_Flickr.com_5215537173_0aff0e9598_CC BY -ND 2.0

“Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill His promises to her!” Luke 1:45

Believing God’s promises isn’t always easy, especially when He promises the impossible.

I often marvel at Mary’s experience with the angel Gabriel, in the Christmas story. There she was, a simple Jewish maiden, minding her own business, maybe hanging laundry, walking back from the market or drawing water from the well, when suddenly Gabriel greets her as God’s “highly favored” one.

Scripture doesn’t say Mary cowered from his large stature or trembled at the sound of his booming voice. So, not wanting to frighten her, I imagine Gabriel may have seemed a plain man; someone whom Mary would not be afraid. But what did frighten her was Gabriel’s greeting. “Greetings! You are highly favored. The Lord is with you!” (Luke 1:28)

You can fill in the blanks. “Who? Me? Favored? By whom? God? Oh! You must have mistaken me for someone else. I’m just…well, I’m just…I’m only Mary.” Read the rest of this entry »

Everything Old Is New Again

by Mike McKinniss

My mother, as they say, is a saint. And I have witnessed her righteous indignation, expelled in the spirit of Elijah on Mount Carmel, at the insidiously subversive notion that Advent hymns might be too overwrought, lyrically; too dense, theologically; and too passé, musically. The initial accusation might have wrinkled her brow; the second may have elicited a silent shake of her head; the final, however, was outright blasphemous slander.

My mother’s musical blood is purebred, and Christmas songs, above all other genres, make it sing. Others may have rushed to the mall on Black Friday; my mother rushed to her LP’s, cassettes and CD’s to unleash her voluminous Christmas collection. Thus have I been raised with an appropriate reverence for carols, which I gleefully imbibe all December.

Among our favorite carols, often sung at the conclusion of the Christmas Eve services of my childhood, is the rousing “Joy to the World”. It is a favorite of many because of its celebratory tone, yet it also highlights the tensions of Advent.

“Joy to the world,” we sing, and in so doing, we echo the angel appearing to the bewildered shepherds in Luke 2:

But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: today a Savior who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David” (Lk 2:10-11, HCSB).

But these days, with ISIS wreaking havoc in the Middle East, with the bombings in Paris, and with mass shootings popping up across America with far too much frequency, you’d be forgiven wondering whether the birth of the Savior of the world had really happened two thousand years ago.

In fact, it hardly takes headline grabbing atrocities to stretch our faith. We may each be a cancer diagnosis, car accident or downsizing away from wondering whether Jesus had truly brought “peace on earth to people [God] favors” (Luke 2:14b). The tension can be all too real.

But the tension is not new.

The Christmas season, naturally, is the right time to review the nativity stories from Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2. Seldom, however, do we arrive at Matthew 1 by way of Malachi 4. That is, we too often begin reading these celebrated Christmas passages without their historical context.

When the angels burst into the shepherds’ lives in Luke 2, the Jews of Palestine had already been living under the Roman thumb for 60 years. Before that, with the exception of a few notable years, Jews in the Near East had been cruelly governed by the Seleucids for 140 years.  Before that, the Ptolemies had come from Egypt and harshly ruled the Jews for 120 years. Just seven years or so before that, Alexander the Great had swept through the Middle East, making everything Greek. One hundred years prior, Malachi had prophesied in a Jerusalem under Persian jurisdiction. And though the Persians were generally beneficent toward other cultures, they certainly were not Israelite descendants of David, whose throne God had promised to uphold eternally (2 Sam. 7). And before the Persians, who controlled the land for 200 years, came a half century of Jewish captivity in Babylon, which itself had been preceded by 150 years of captivity under the Assyrians.

All told, by the time Jesus was born, God’s people had been waiting over 700 years for the Lord to restore the fortunes of His people, to bring “peace on earth”.

Everything that’s old, as the saying goes, is new again.

Advent is, as it ought to be, a celebration. Yet it is further, as it ought to be, bittersweet. Like a Van Gogh painted upon a postage stamp, Advent is a frustratingly stunning portrait of how the world ought to be. Indeed, it is a premonition of God’s aim for the creation—tantalizing in the glimpses we get of that hope; frustrating in the long wait for Christ’s return, when the angels’ song for peace on earth at last will be made fully real.

This Christmas, then, I will again be singing “Joy to the World” with full throat. I will do so as a declaration of history, for those with eyes to see, and as a prophetic act: Joy to the world, the Savior reigns!

What are we waiting for?

by Dawn Aldrich

Image by Marcy Leigh https://www.flickr.com/photos/marcyleigh_CC BY-ND 4.0

Image by Marcy Leigh
https://www.flickr.com/photos/marcyleigh_CC BY-ND 4.0

“But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Savior.” Micah 7:7

While we set aside lawn rakes for snow shovels, pumpkins for poinsettias we usher in the Advent season – the season of waiting and inward preparedness. But what exactly are we waiting for? And how do we prepare for it?

Are we awaiting a birthday celebration – the remembrance, the anniversary of the Christ child? Yes, in part. The incarnation of God’s love for mankind through Christ is certainly a divinely significant event to celebrate. Yet, if that’s all we celebrate – an anniversary- then we are left wanting after all the presents are unwrapped, the decorations torn down and put away. For what power does Christ’s birth have for us here and now without understanding the hidden cross inside his lowly manger on Christmas night as our hope of salvation and resurrection? (Watch for the Light, 2001 Orbis Books).

The First Advent – the birth of Christ – brought God’s kingdom from heaven to earth. And through Christ’s death, we gain salvation, adoption by God as heirs to his kingdom – the present and future. This future kingdom – when all heaven and earth passes away and Christ returns – this Second Advent – this is what we await with great expectation.

We wait and we prepare our hearts, first by remembering Christ’s humble birth and the hope hidden within him and through him and because of him. And secondly, we prepare our hearts as little children – ever hopeful, ever faithful, and ever watchful – for God’s light until it permeates and changes us.

This Christmas, what are you waiting for? Which traditions help prepare your heart for remembering the First Advent? Will you look at them differently in light of waiting for the Second Advent?

The Story Approaches Its Climax

by Mike McKinniss

Ramon Casas’s Jove Decadent via wikimedia commons

If you’re like me (alas, too few are), it is the worst kind of torture to have to set a good book down just as you are speed reading your way towards its glorious and compelling climax. Like yanking a still-beating heart from its protective rib cage, so it is to seize the life-giving novel from my fingers.

Perhaps you’re not like me (it’s OK; we’re all welcome in God’s kingdom), and you wish {re}fresh were a video blog. The analogy changes, while the truth remains. You’ve reached the final season of your favorite TV drama, you’ve nestled in with popcorn and beverage, you’re ready to binge watch via Netflix to the grand conclusion. Aaaaaaand the internet conks out.

My apologies for eliciting such awful images. But the point is made: We all love a story, and every story needs its climax.

In a way, this is what Advent is all about. In the relatively brief nativity narratives that Matthew (chapters 1-2) and Luke (again, chapters 1-2) give us, the gospel writers are telling us, in their own unique ways, that the birth of Jesus signaled the beginning of the zenith of Israel’s story.

Matthew, for example, begins his gospel with a genealogy (Mt 1:1-17). What could be more boring than that?! But Matthew’s list of “begats” tells a story. What began with God calling Abraham (v. 2), reached great heights in King David (v. 6), seemed lost in the Babylonian exile (v. 12) is now landing squarely on Jesus (v. 16).

Or in Luke’s account, the angel Gabriel appears to Mary and makes an announcement: “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end” (Lk 1:32-33, NIV).

Gabriel is hitting all the main talking points from an old message given to David by the prophet Nathan. In 2 Samuel 7, God promises that David’s son will be His own son (v. 14), that this son of David’s will also be king (v. 12), and that this kingdom will be eternal (v. 16).

This story, which had begun some 15 centuries (give or take) earlier with Abraham’s faith to follow this strange new God; this story, which saw its high water mark some 10 centuries earlier in the worshiper David’s kingship; this story is now beginning its breakneck run toward the conclusion.

So settle into your favorite overstuffed chair, get a nice hot drink, and guard against all interruptions, because Advent is here. And it’s all racing ahead toward one grand conclusion.

To learn more about Mike McKinniss, please visit our Contributors Page.

Don’t Allow Your Heart to Get Old

by mandyade

Image from polysyllabicprofundities.com

Image from polysyllabicprofundities.com

“Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” Galatians 6:9

Zechariah and Elizabeth were barren –they prayed and waited for years for the  but it never seemed to come. Finally, an angel appeared to Zechariah in answer to his prayers, but Zechariah’s heart struggled to believe. His response to this heavenly encounter was, “How can I be sure of this?” He had believed once, but had seen no answers; gradually he had stopped hoping and developed an unbelieving heart.

Zechariah’s unbelief worked against the promise; his powerful mouth was silenced until his heart came into agreement with God. When he finally made a public declaration of his agreement with God his tongue was loosed. Now he was able to speak into the promise of God.

We can unintentionally become like Zechariah.  When our promises goes unfulfilled for years, our hearts may begin to age just like our body. It may become calloused, weary and hopeless. Losing hope ages our heart like time ages our body. When it is too painful to keep hoping we might build up a thick skin against hope in an effort to protect ourselves from disappointment.

But, it’s easy to hope when you have never been disappointed, that’s why children can believe in anything. Once disappointments start to come many of us lose our hope. We not only lose hope in our prayers being answered but sometimes we lose hope in God.

So how do we maintain our hope when we have waited for a lifetime? The answer lies in where we place our hope – our hope must not be placed in the promise but in the God of the promise. He is the source of all good promises and He cannot fail.

When weariness tries to make you old, position your heart to become young again.

Receive your childlike heart by meditating on the following:

1. God is my kind Father who favors me and is tender toward me.

2. My life is vulnerable before my Father because He is my hope and safety.

3. Father’s goodness is over my life (no matter what I see or feel) because He is good and faithful to me.

A childlike heart will naturally be able to believe. Now when your body ages and promises seem far away, your heart will be kept young and you will be like the young girl Mary who was able to grasp her life-altering word from God with joy!

To learn more about Mandy Adendorff please visit our Contributors Page.

 

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