Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The 6th Day of Christmas



On the sixth day of Christmas,
my true love gave to me
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

News Year Eve is the 6th day of Christmas. It is a fitting mid-way point for the 12 days of Christmas that lead to Epiphany. We have celebrated in this song symbols of God – the true love.
He has given us:
His Son: The Partridge in the Pear Tree
His Word in Old & New Testament – statements of his faithfulness and covenanted love: Two turtle doves
His Character to tell us who/what he is – Faith, Hope, and Love: Three French Hens
The Gospels Tell of His Son, Jesus’ life – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John: Four Calling Birds
The Torah, Moses’ books that begin the God Story – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers & Deuteronomy: Five Golden Rings
NOW, today we celebrate the beginning of the beginning books – Creation. In the 6 Geese a laying there is birth. The beginning of Genesis recounts the story of creation in six days. Each egg represents a day of creation, the time that God formed the earth. Genesis’ account of creation is not meant to be a debate, but a reminder of God the creator and sustainer of the world, and our role as stewards of God’s creation.
Our Readings:
Genesis 1:1-2 (NASB)
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
2 The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.
Genesis 1:26-31 (NASB)
26 Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."
27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
28 God blessed them; and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth."
29 Then God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you;
30 and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food"; and it was so.
31 God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
Psalm 90:1-2 (NASB)
1 Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations.
2 Before the mountains were born Or You gave birth to the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.
A Prayer:
Lord God, creator and sustainer, we honor you for your awesome power, your attention to detail, your ability to create the varieties and beauties of the world around us. Father, we accept the responsibility of being stewards of the world around us and at the end of this year we anticipate the new opportunities to “tend” your garden of the land we live on. Help us with your Holy Spirit to remind us of those ways to be faithful to what you’ve called us to do. In Jesus’ name we pray.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Fifth Day of Christmas


On the 5th day of Christmas my true love gave to me five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

The days after Christmas are celebrated for 12 days leading to Epiphany on January 6th. At a time in which Catholicism was banned in 16th century England, clerics developed the 12 days of Christmas to teach the faith to children – and as well, probably to adults.
The True Love = God
The Partridge = Jesus
The Two Turtle Doves = The Old and New Testaments, portrayals of God’s covenanted, faithfulness.
The Three French Hens = The Character of God represented in Faith, Hope, and Love.
The Four Calling Birds = The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John which faithfully proclaim the life and ministry of Jesus.
The Five Golden Rings = The Foundation for God’s revelation in the Torah: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
A Reading:
Deuteronomy 30:11-20 (NIV)
11 Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach.
12 It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, "Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?"
13 Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, "Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?"
14 No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.
15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.
16 For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.
17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them,
18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.
19 This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live
20 and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
A Meditation:
The Old Testament opens with these five books called the Torah. The first five books are attributed to Moses and contain the revelation of God concerning his people, Israel, and his purposes – that through them the law would be given and all of the peoples of the earth would blessed as the nation of Israel’s seed would eventually reveal the Messiah, Jesus.
Here we have the character and ways of God. The text reminds us that God’s ways lead to life. His word revealed his character and his truth about life. His admonition was to cling to his ways so that it might lead to life. All that was missing was “who” would interpret those ways. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life…” Through Jesus we have the author of truth and the revealer of God’s ways that lead to life.
In the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas”, whenever we get to the “Five Golden Rings”, we cannot help but slow the tempo and emphasize most clearly these words. May it remind us that God’s ways are still important for us to cling to over against the ways of the world.
A Prayer and Prayer Request:
This Sunday, Jan. 4th, is the first Sunday of the New Year. I am privileged to be able to address my congregation as it’s teacher/preacher. I am going to focus this message on “The Way in which Jesus is the Way”. If you are not a part of Mad City Church, or miss this Sunday, you can access the teaching at www.madcitychurch.org sometime around Jan. 7th. I’d appreciate your prayers as I prepare and on Sunday as I teach.
“Lord, your word is near to us. It is in fact, very near…in our mouths, in our hearts, that we might obey you. In a time in which we are tempted and deceived to follow another ‘way’, I ask you to point us towards your ways and cause our hearts to cling to your ways and to follow you wherever you direct us to…our relationships, our vocation, our lifestyle, our material goods, our response to the world around us…we need your truth more than ever…this we pray in the name of Jesus.”

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Third & Fourth days of Christmas



After falling behind – first time in this Advent season – I’m combining the 3rd and 4th days of Christmas.
On the 3rd day of Christmas my true love gave to me three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.
Christ Jesus is the partridge in the pear tree – a testament to the partridge’s willingness to die for her young. The two turtle doves can be thought of God’s faithful covenanted love which we bear witness to in both the Old and New Testaments (see the previous two blogs).
On this third day God (my true love) gave to each of us three great aspects of his character and virtue: “Faith, Hope and Love”.
Our Reading:
1 Corinthians 13:4-13 (NRSV)
4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant
5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;
6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.
7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.
9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part;
10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.
11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.
12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.
13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
And,

On the 4th day of Christmas my true love gave to me Four Calling Birds,
Three French Hens, Two Turtle Doves, and a Partridge in a Pear Tree.
The Four French Hens signify the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Here we hear God calling to us to follow Christ. He is the epitomy of faith, hope and love.
Our Readings:
John 1:1-5 (NRSV)
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 He was in the beginning with God.
3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being
4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
John 1:14-18 (NRSV)
14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.
15 (John testified to him and cried out, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'")
16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.
John 7:37-39 (NRSV)
37 On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me,
38 and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, 'Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water.'"
39 Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
John 20:30-31 (NRSV)
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.
31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
In the Gospels is the revelation of the Word…the word made flesh – incarnated – and this flesh lived among his people, and still does today.
The greatness of these two days is the revelation of God’s purpose being fulfilled in the witness of his Son… the one who is “full of grace and truth”.
Prayer:
“Father, I thank you for the witness of your character in Jesus. To you Lord Jesus is majesty. You are full of both grace and truth. At times Lord, I can be grace full, but usually struggle then to be totally truthful. At times Lord, I can be truthful, but usually struggle to be full of grace. I ask you for the indwelling presence of your Holy Spirit to make me be like you Jesus.”

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Second Day of Christmas


The 2nd Day of Christmas – Two Turtle Doves
The days between Christmas and January 6th – which is Epiphany – were known as the “12 Days of Christmas”. If you have not read the blog from yesterday, Dec. 26th, you might want to go back and take a look at the background for these days after Christmas.
Most of us know these days through the song – “The Twelve Days Of Christmas”, which begins:
On the first day of Christmas,
My true love gave to me:
A partridge in a pear tree.

On the second day of Christmas,
My true love gave to me:
Two turtle doves,
and a partridge in a pear tree.

The 2nd day of Christmas is God’s gift of the Two turtle doves. I have to admit, from early boyhood the idea of a turtle and a dove brought weird images to my mind. I wasn’t sure whether the song was saying the true love gave a turtle or a dove, but it was confusing to try to put the two together.
Why two turtledoves? What is the significance of there being two? The clerics from the 16th century were using a familiar image of scripture to teach an important facet of God’s redemption. It should be noted, there are several interpretations for the meaning of the gift of these two doves.
Some have suggested it is related to the sacrificial aspect of Jesus’ coming – the “partridge in the pear tree”. The Hebrew sacrificial system provided for the poor. Many could not afford to bring a lamb. So God made a way for them. They could bring two turtledoves in lieu of a lamb. This was the sacrifice offered by Joseph and Mary, the parents of Jesus as they went up to the feast.
Luke 2:21-24 (NASB)
21 And when eight days had passed, before His circumcision, His name was then called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.
22 And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord
23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord "),
24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, "A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons."

The sacrifice of doves was distinctly different than the sacrifice of other animals. Sheep and bulls are offered singly and cut down the middle. Yet doves are not cut down the middle. They are offered whole and in pairs.
In the valley of the Jordan an allied species, the palm dove, or Egyptian 'Turtur Aegyptus' (turtledove) is still common today. The habit of turtle doves is that they pair for life - a poetic type and symbol of God’s covenanted love. In the story of the two turtledoves we see a picture of a love relationship.
In the Song of Songs (of Solomon) there are many allusions to the dove. Song of Songs 2:10-14 (NRSV)
10 My beloved speaks and says to me: "Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away;
11 for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.
12 The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.
13 The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.
14 O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the covert of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.

Could it be that the clerics had in mind the symbol of God’s covenanted, faithful love that is fulfilled in going back to the partridge – Jesus? Certainly, there are two completed aspects of God’s covenant that both point to Jesus – The Old Testament gives us the background for Jesus’ coming in the redemptive work of God through repentance and sacrifice. The New Testament shows the completed work of Christ and the direction of God’s work in redemption through the Kingdom of God.
Two turtle doves…God’s faithful love from eternity to eternity.
1 Timothy 3:16 (NRSV)
16 Without any doubt, the mystery of our religion is great: He was revealed in flesh, vindicated in spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among Gentiles, believed in throughout the world, taken up in glory.
A Prayer:
“Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit, great is the mystery of godliness. We are captured by the greatness of your wisdom and love. You have displayed to us your faithfulness…which reminds us constantly to trust in you. You are good to us, your mercies are new every morning. Thank you for your word – the way, the truth, the life.”

Friday, December 26, 2008

The First Day of Christmas


Our Reading:

Luke 2:8-14 (NASB)
8 In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.
10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people;
11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
12 "This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 "Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased."

Welcome to the 12 days of Christmas:

The day after Christmas Day – depending upon where you live – is either the first day of returning presents, or, it’s the first day of post-Christmas shopping, or it’s Boxing Day in places like Great Britain. Boxing Day is a public holiday in Great Britain, as well as in countries that were former colonies of the British empire. It is sometimes referred to as St. Stephen’s day after the first martyr of the church. Depending upon which tradition you have heard, the meaning of Boxing Day varies; but, it is commonly held that it was the day the wealthy Earls and Lords in England gave gifts to their employees – the household servants and land stewards who worked on Christmas day.
For most of the Christian church the day after Christmas day begins the 12 days of Christmas – for centuries the real time for celebrating Christmas! Therefore, the first day of Christmas is December 26, and concludes on January 5th – “Twelfth Night”, the day before Epiphany. Epiphany is traditional celebration of the visit of the Magi in Matthew 2 and in some Christian traditions, it is the true celebration of Christ’s birth. Epiphany is a transliteration of a Greek word that means “to show”, or “to appear”, “to make known” or “reveal”. When the wise men came to bring their gifts after following the star they “revealed” the true nature of the baby born to Mary and Joseph – Israel’s King! There is an excellent article on the season of Epiphany on the web site: http://www.cresourcei.org/cyepiph.html
YET, there is another significant – yet seemingly trivial Christmas season song – reason for celebrating these 12 days that lead to Epiphany. Most of us have heard the words to the song named “The Twelve Days Of Christmas”.
On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree…
The popular song contains references to turtle doves, French hens, calling (or collie) birds, golden rings, geese, swans, maids milking, ladies dancing, drummers drumming, pipers piping, and Lords leaping!
Is the song a simple holiday “diddy”? Or, could it possibly have a further, deeper meaning? For most Americans the 12 days of Christmas are only a cute song that children sing to entertain and imagine with. Epiphany is still celebrated in some churches, but much of Protestant Christianity in America, Epiphany is not a significant celebration – therefore, the 12 days of Christmas have no meaning. The poem of the 12 days lives on, but the purpose and meaning behind the poem is unknown by most believers today.
Historically the Reformation radically changed the face of much of Europe, and in a number of places produced a radical reaction to all things Catholic. In much of the 16th century countries that once were Catholic became Protestant (or at least Quasi-protestant). As a result, and in order to squelch the possibilities that rulers would return to the Catholic church, governments began to enact laws that sought to stop Catholic teachings – even by parents to their children. To circumvent those laws the Catholic Church went underground in many places and sought to hide their more important tenets within poems and stories that conveyed to “the faithful” the real meaning of those teachings. “The Twelve Days of Christmas” was written to keep the Catholic faith alive when anything written down could lead to imprisonment, or even death.
SO, here we are on the First Day of Christmas --
“On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree…”
“My True Love gave to me” – Who is that true love that reappears over and over again in the song? It is the Lord, the Father, our God.
On this first day after Christmas, what the Father has given to me/us reminds us of the true nature of our faith. He has given us Jesus – the Partridge was a symbol that was chosen, because the partridge was the only bird that would die to protect it’s young.

Our Prayer:

Lord, to you belongs worship and praise because you have redeemed us through the gift of your Son, Jesus. Lord Jesus, we honor you, we thank you for your sacrificial life, and on this first day of Christmas we say with confidence and faith that your death has redeemed us from our sins and for that we are full of thanks and praise.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Day Savior


Our Christmas Day Reading:

Luke 2:4-20 (NASB)
4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David,
5 in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.
6 While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth.
7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
8 In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.
10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people;
11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
12 "This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 "Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased."
15 When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, "Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us."
16 So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger.
17 When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child.
18 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds.
19 But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.
20 The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.


Merry Christmas to you!

Advent is a time of waiting, and now our waiting is over…almost. As you open presents and exchange the joy of what God has done in your life, remember the gift of God that has given us in the birth of His Son.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever would believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

The angels message that first Christmas day is worth our meditation and prayer:
Luke 2:14 (NIV)
14 "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

Who are these people on whom his favor rests?
The shepherds…common, everyday workers…coffee shop, waiters, janitors, secretaries, bus drivers, and more of the plain and the nameless. His favor rests on all of those who receive the gift of his life.
You.
Me.

Christmas touches everything in creation. The songs, music, good feelings, liturgies of candlelight and worship services with pipe organs and 200 voices, as well as worship services with a guitar and a congregation of 20. The presents we share, the dinners we eat, the words of kindness and the generosity of giving – all make up our experiences of Christmas.

Yet Christmas is not any of those things. Henri Nouwen in his book “The Road to Daybreak” wrote this so well:
“Christmas is saying yes to something beyond all emotions and feelings. Christmas is saying yes to a hope based on God’s initiative, which has nothing do with what I think or feel. Christmas is believing that the salvation of the world is God’s work and not mine. Things will never look just right or feel just right. If they didn’t, someone would be lying…But it is into this broken world that a child is born who is called Son of the Most High, Prince of Peace, Savior.”

Merry Christmas beloved…Merry Christmas friend!

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the world, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve For Little People


An Advent Reading:

Luke 2:1-20 (NASB)
1 Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth.
2 This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.
3 And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city.
4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David,
5 in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.
6 While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth.
7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.


A Christmas Eve for Little People - Meditation

If you and I could have picked up the Jerusalem Post Newspaper on this day, what might have we read in the headlines of the day?
• “Ceasar’s tax decree create scarce accommodations for travelers”
• “Herod decrees new taxes”
• “Roman Army moves on Gaul”
• “Cairo School to open”
Caesar Augustus was on the throne - "the ruler of the entire Roman world" - hence "all the inhabited earth". The great nephew of Julius Caesar was a political pro who had fought and manipulated his way to power. He was called "Augustus" when the Roman Senate threw their support towards him. "Augustus" means "holy", "revered one". Some of the Greek provinces in show of political support had named him a "god" and adopted his birthday as the first day of the year (Sept. 23rd). They hailed him as "savior", even one inscription notes he is "the savior of the world".
The world was caught up in the Caesar cult. No one entertained the possibility of a rival to his throne.
Seen through the tabloids of that day, Joseph and Mary's movements were of insignificant nobodies from a nothing town traveling to pay the tax of the "god" Caesar by traveling to another nothing town south of Jerusalem. No one noticed the movement of a young couple riding a donkey from their home town in Nazareth to Bethlehem. They rode to Bethlehem because that was where Joseph was originally from. Did anyone notice?

The mystery of grace is capsulized in Joseph and Mary's movements that evening 2000+ years ago. The King does not reside in halls of power...not in Rome...not in Washington D.C. The King is King regardless of whether he appears poor and powerless. The world is about to be turned upside down and no one knew of it.

Prophets had spoke of it: Micah 5:2 (NASB)
2 "But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity."
God knew of it. And so this poor couple - she of suspect pregnancy - he of stalwart faith - walked and rode to pay their taxes to the powerful and rich.
The Messiah would indeed be born in tiny, insignificant Bethlehem! As the Virgin traveled, her steady beating heart, hidden from the world, kept time with the busily thumping heart of God.
The Creator had woven Himself
a robe of virgin flesh.


The baby Mary carried was not a Caesar, a man who would become "a god", but a far greater wonder — the true God who had become a man!

Today, all around the world, people will gather in churches, cathedrals, basilicas, and even houses for one purpose - To celebrate the coming of Christ Jesus, our Savior. John Piper wrote this meditation for Christmas Eve and it’s worth contemplating on all over again.

A BIG GOD FOR LITTLE PEOPLE - Luke 2:1-5
Have you ever thought what an amazing thing it is that God ordained beforehand that the Messiah be born in Bethlehem (as the prophecy in Micah 5 shows), and that He so ordained things that when the time came, the Messiah's mother and legal father were living in Nazareth, and that in order to fulfill His word and bring two little people to Bethlehem that first Christmas, God put it in the heart of Caesar Augustus that all the Roman world should be enrolled each in his own town?
Have you ever felt, like me, little and insignificant in a world of 4 billion people, where all the news is of big political and economic and social movements and of outstanding people with lots of power and prestige? If you have, don't let that make you disheartened or unhappy. For it is implicit in Scripture that all the mammoth political forces and all the giant industrial complexes, without their even knowing it, are being guided by God, not for their own sake but for the sake of God's little people. The little Mary and the little Joseph who have to be got from Nazareth to Bethlehem. God wields an empire to bless His children. Do not think, because you experience adversity, that the hand of the Lord is shortened. It is not our prosperity but our holiness that He seeks with all His heart. And to that end He rules the whole world. As Proverbs 21:1 says: "The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He will." He is a big God for little people and we have great cause to rejoice, that unbeknownst to them, all the kings and presidents and premiers and chancellors of the world follow the sovereign decrees of our Father in Heaven that we, the children, might be conformed to the image of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Silent Night, Holy Night.
All is calm, All is bright,
Round yon virgin,
Mother and child,
Holy Infant
so tender and mild,

Sleep in Heavenly Peace
Sleep in Heavenly Peace

Silent night, holy night.
Shepherds quake at the sight
Glories stream from heaven afar
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!

Christ, the Saviour is born
Christ, the Saviour is born

Silent night, holy night.
Son of God, loves pure light,
Radiant beams from thy holy place
With the dawn of redeeming grace

Jesus, Lord at thy birth
Jesus, Lord at thy birth

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Shipwrecks in the Nativity


Our Readings:

Luke 2:1-14 (NASB)
1 Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth.
2 This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.
3 And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city.
4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David,
5 in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.
6 While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth.
7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
8 In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.
10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people;
11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
12 "This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 "Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased."

An Advent Meditation:

Joseph and Mary had their first-born baby in a manger…a cow stall. The nativity scenes all portray the “lowing” of the animals that surround a small rectangular box with hay to surround the baby. They always seem to conjure up images of peace, tranquility and joy.
Nativity scenes include often shepherds and the magi, but it’s clear in comparing Luke 2 and Matthew 2 that the magi are not visitors to the manger since Mary and Joseph are in their house by the time they make their visit.
The nativity scene goes back to 1223 and the work of St. Francis of Assisi who constructed the first one (we know of) outside of his church in Italy. He chose to do this as a teaching tool and brought the nativity alive with people and animals. The emergence of this model spread and by the end of the middle ages much of Europe was using nativity scenes which – like stained glass windows – told the story visually to a population largely illiterate. For children, and perhaps adults, nativity scenes can still serve to visually stir the imaginations of that evening 2000+ years ago.
But, it’s more than the nativity that draws me to wonder at this scene. God, the God of the universe, creator, author of faith and life…this God comes to us in the most commonly of ways. God entered our world, not in glorious displays of grandeur, but in the way of weakness, commonness, earthiness, humility. This is a birth with all of its beauty and joy, it is also filled with pain and what one man once described as “the yuckies”. Why?
The world around us does not understand this “way” of God.
We don’t understand the ways of God!
This vulnerability, weakness is not the efficient, powerful, glorious explosion of God’s power were used to portraying. Brennan Manning wrote a classic entitled – “Shipwrecked at the stable”. He writes about this vulnerability and weakness that makes our meditation on God’s ways more complete:

“We all know how difficult it is to receive anything from someone who has all the answers, who is completely cool, utterly unafraid, needing nothing and in control of every situation. We feel unnecessary, unrelated to this paragon. So God comes as a new born baby, giving us a chance to love him, making us feel that we have something to give him…the infant Jesus was born in unimpressive circumstances, no one can exactly say where. His parents were of no social significance whatsoever, and his chosen welcoming committee were all turkeys, losers, and dirt poor shepherds. But in his weakness and poverty the shipwrecked at the stable would come to know the love of God.”

The shipwrecked at the stable know their weakness and stripped of all control they simply cling to God’s grace.
The shipwrecked at the table come to be possessed by God, not to possess replacement of material goods as idols in his place.
The shipwrecked at the stable seek the peace of Christ over the noise and flurry of activity that the world uses to hide its emptiness and pain.
The shipwrecked at the stable know that Christmas is God’s gift of himself…nothing more, nothing less and that this is enough.

Don’t lose sight of the nativity as a place of weakness, vulnerability and a display of the “way” of God. Go ahead, have that cookie, exchange presents, go caroling, give to the poor, attend a candle light service, call your distant family and friends…do it all, and do it in the name of Jesus. Be captivated by joy and wonder…be overwhelmed by God’s “unmighty” display.

Brennan Manning finishes his “shipwrecked at the stable” with a story:
“In 1980, the day before Christmas, Richard Ballenger’s mother in Anderson, S.C., was busy wrapping packages and asked her young son to shine her shoes. Soon, with a proud smile that only a seven-year can muster, he presented the shoes for inspection. His mother was so pleased she gave him a quarter.
On Christmas morning as she put on the shoes to go to church, she noticed a lump in one shoe. She took it off and found a quarter wrapped in paper. Written on the paper in a child’s scrawl were the words,
‘I done it for love’.”

May each of us come to Christmas eve with this same worship.


An Advent Prayer:
“Father I cannot look at you and shake my head…you completely amaze me. Soon it is Christmas day and the sense of anticipation for family and sharing is bursting inside. You are the baby in that manger…quiet baby cries and humble vulnerabilities…I cannot fathom the willingness to be “not in control”, but you were. You are willing to be born of the flesh so that I can be born of the Spirit…there in that manger, here in my house…it all is beyond me, but it is real and that’s all I need to know. Amen.”


Away in a manger,
No crib for His bed
The little Lord Jesus
Laid down His sweet head

The stars in the bright sky
Looked down where He lay
The little Lord Jesus
Asleep on the hay

The cattle are lowing
The poor Baby wakes
But little Lord Jesus
No crying He makes

I love Thee, Lord Jesus
Look down from the sky
And stay by my side,
'Til morning is nigh.

Be near me, Lord Jesus,
I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever
And love me I pray

Bless all the dear children
In Thy tender care
And take us to heaven
To live with Thee there

Monday, December 22, 2008

Word Made Flesh


Advent Readings:
2 Corinthians 4:6 (NASB)
6 For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
John 1:1-18 (NASB)
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 He was in the beginning with God.
3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.
4 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.
5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
6 There came a man sent from God, whose name was John.
7 He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him.
8 He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light.
9 There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.
10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.
11 He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.
12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name,
13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
15 John testified* about Him and cried out, saying, "This was He of whom I said, 'He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.' "
16 For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace.
17 For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.
18 No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.

Did you see the verse in John’s Gospel that says Jesus “tabernacled” amongst us… He “took up residence” is what the NIV translates the Greek words as.
The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the unique Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. JOHN 1:14
It is a great thing to meditate on the glory of God coming to live among his creation. Calvin Miller wrote a meditation on this – God’s glory coming into our midst.
THE GLORY WE BEHELD
The glory we behold in Christ is the light of grace and truth. Consider this great trinity of words: glory; grace, and truth.
Glory! It is the state of being that transcends our poor, dull, ordinary lives. It implies a dazzling illumination, a splendor in seeing, a heightened euphoria, a state of elevated reality. Glory is that moment of elation when truth and reward come together to kneel before the grand approval of God. Have you never felt His exhilarating glory? Then you have never confessed your sin and turned your face toward the wonderful face of your Redeemer. Glory is the glistening garment of God—a garment that He is all too eager to throw around us, to welcome us into His everlasting light. Glory is the food of the believer. Eat it once, and a kind of joyous addiction is born in your life. One taste and you must eat it forever.
Grace! It is the unmerited smile of God. If glory is our dance with God, grace is the ballroom—wide and free. But grace is not a tiny little dance with thin music and stingy steps. This dance never constricts. It is set to the open steps of elation. Grace saves with celestial music and redeems us, with Christ as our life partner.
Truth!.This is the mortar that binds grace and glory together. Truth is Jesus; He never told a lie. He never sinned. He is never out of love with those for whom He died. Truth says that when you take any action, needing God to be there, He will be there. Truth says that if Jesus has said it, it is settled; you may count on it.
Jesus was revealed to us in glory. That glory is full of grace and truth. The moment you received Christ, all three—glory, grace, and truth—were united as a trinity of lovers to rule from the throne of all your dreams.”
Excerpted from: The Christ of Christmas By Calvin Miller
We have grown so accustomed to this particular coming of Christ—this baby-in-a-manger coming, this wise-men-and-shepherds coming—that we sometimes forget to be watching for His next coming. What keeps His next coming from being a more real part of your life? ‘What is here now that won’t be so much better then?

A PRAYER:
Lord, I have beheld Your glory; full of grace and truth. What a life is now mine—glory, grace, and truth bulging in the same small space I once gave to dullness, stinginess, and deceit. And what a life now awaits me—glory, grace, and truth in greater measure than I have ever imagined. I love You for filling my heart with Your presence, for being just what my dull heart needed.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Advent Poetry Only God Could Do


The fourth week of Advent has as its theme: LOVE.
The previous three weeks had as their themes: PROMISE, FAITH, AND HOPE. God had promised to Israel a coming Messiah – the law and the prophets had testified of this. Those who longed for his coming cried out to God for the Advent of the Messiah.
Those who trusted in God had faith to believe the unbelievable; and their hope was that God would do what he had promised.
What they longed for, and looked for, was one who would come to deliver them from their Roman oppression. What they didn’t understand, perceive, or believe, was that God was going to send his Son through a virgin as a baby – hidden from everyone save a few shepherds and a young poor Jewish couple.
All of this was an act of God’s love. He came to bring His Kingdom upon the earth, and to make a way through the obedience of His Son to sow the seed of His Kingdom – a seed, like yeast in the dough that would grow and grow until the whole world confesses Jesus Christ is Lord.

Advent Readings:

Matthew 1:18-25 (NASB)
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.
19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly.
20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.
21 "She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins."
22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23 "Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son, and they shall call His name Immanuel ," which translated means, "God with us."
24 And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife,
25 but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.

Luke 2:1-7 (NASB)
1 Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth.
2 This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.
3 And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city.
4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David,
5 in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.
6 While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth.
7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

An Advent Meditation,
This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet,
“Out of Egypt I have called my son.” - Matthew 2:15
by Joan Vinall-Cox

It was a dark time -
Mary had wanted to be glad
Joseph had chosen her
but that strange dream ...
and old Elizabeth, swollen with child,
calling her blessed, saying a
Child was growing in her
too, yet she’d never...
except in that strange dream;
and she had swollen
and Joseph,
angry and sad and puzzled,
had planned to hide
her disgrace, but he dreamed too,
and married her but slept apart and would not look at her.
It was a dark time.

It was a dark time -
the rulers had decided
to count them all where
their ancestors had lived
so Joseph and Mary must walk
for days, weeks, and her so
large and tired, and both so
puzzled and hopeful and fearful.
Could the Holy One really have chosen them?
Still they must walk,
as the rulers
demanded, in the cold,
in the darkening time, they must
walk into Bethlehem, this ancient
town, filled with others obeying
the rulers who wanted to count them and did not care
about walking, or a room for a
young woman with her time
pressing on her,
with the Holy One’s Gift demanding
His time on earth,
and no room for this family
It was a dark time.

There was light at His birth -
light in Mary’s eyes and
light in Joseph’s smile and
light flowing out, pulsing out
around the wondrous Child
light that brought the amazed shepherds,
and star light that
brought the Wise Ones from
afar to worship Him
and light that the eyes in
the dark could see, whispering to
a man with too much power
that he was nothing
beside such Light,
and the Holy One sent another
dream to guard the Light, to
hide it in a foreign land
and Mary and Joseph fled
into Egypt, carrying the Light
away from the darkness of
Herod’s massacre of babies.
It was a dark time.

It was a dark time -
waiting in a foreign land,
watching Him grow, and learning
patience and trust, waiting
for a new dream, yearning for
home
and then

out of the dark time,
the dream came.


Here’s the words of a Michael Card song:
The Lord God said when time was full
He would shine His light in the darkness.
He said a virgin would conceive
And give birth to the Promise.
For a thousand years the dreamers dreamt
And hoped to see His love.
But the Promise showed their wildest dreams
Had simply not been wild enough.
The Promise was love
And the Promise was life.
The Promise meant light to the world.
Living proof “Jehovah saves,”
For the name of the Promise was Jesus.

- Michael Card, “The Promise”

I love the words, “For a thousand years the dreamers dreamt and hoped to see His love, but the Promise showed their wildest dreams had simply not been wild enough.”

What is it in your life that you’ve dreamed of concerning God’s promises?

Have you ever thought that your dreams have not been wild enough?

Can you say with Joseph, “I don’t understand how, but I will trust in you Lord?”

A Prayer: “Lord, the beauty of your ways is the mystery of them. You do not do what we would do...you are not safe, but you are trustworthy...you are not tame, but you are kind...you are not controlled, but you are purposeful in all that you do. Yes, Lord, the promise is Jesus...Jesus you are love, you are life...both are what I need in my life today."

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Joseph - God Knows


A Reading:

Matthew 1:1-25 (NASB)
1 The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham:
2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers.
3 Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez was the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram.
4 Ram was the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon.
5 Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab, Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse.
6 Jesse was the father of David the king. David was the father of Solomon by Bathsheba who had been the wife of Uriah.
7 Solomon was the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asa.
8 Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah.
9 Uzziah was the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah.
10 Hezekiah was the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amon, and Amon the father of Josiah.
11 Josiah became the father of Jeconiah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.
12 After the deportation to Babylon: Jeconiah became the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel.
13 Zerubbabel was the father of Abihud, Abihud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor.
14 Azor was the father of Zadok, Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud.
15 Eliud was the father of Eleazar, Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob.
16 Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.
17 So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.
19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly.
20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.
21 "She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins."
22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23 "Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son, and they shall call His name Immanuel ," which translated means, "God with us."
24 And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife,
25 but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.

An Advent Meditation:


Joseph is at the end of a long line of people! Think about it, we live in a day that many people get excited by the discovery of their genealogical history. Who is it that is in your line? Mine were all Germans from Northern Germany who came over in the mid-1800’s. Some people can trace their genealogy back through several generations. It’s an interesting thing to discover your Great-great-great-great-great… Grandparent was _________ (fill in the blanks) in __________ (fill in the country).
Matthew spends a great amount of energy telling us about Joseph’s lineage – the human line of Jesus’ birth goes all the way back to Abraham. While ordinary and common in his own time, Joseph came from a long line of “covenanted” leaders. Fourteen from Abraham to David…from the promise to be a “people” of a nation to the nation’s greatest leader. Fourteen from David to Babylonian Exile…from the nation’s highest to the nation’s lowest…from success, honor and nobility to failure, shame and slavery again. Fourteen from the Babylonian exile to Jesus…from that failure, shame and slavery to “Immanuel” – the one who would “save his people from their sins”.

May it remind us that God knows you and I. He knows where we come from, and He knows who we are – through and through.

Look at the list – not everyone in this list is known for doing great things: Jacob, who deceives; Judah, who sleeps with Tamar; David, who bore Solomon, but very clearly took Uriah’s wife to do that (notice Matthew doesn’t say Bathsheba). There’s Uzziah, who makes a huge mistake and suffers the consequences of his sin, and Manasseh (no one was called more wicked as a ruler in Judah). Altogether Matthew lists 42 names that precede the final name – Joseph.

It’s Joseph who is in the final chapter of God’s knowing-the-geneaology.
It is Joseph who becomes Jesus’ earthly dad.
It’s Joseph who God trusts in to hear Mary’s unbelievable story.
It’s Joseph that doesn’t understand what-in-the-world is going on until the Angel of God visits him in the night.
It’s Joseph who hears God in another dream and takes him to Egypt to avoid the insane King Herod’s violence.
It’s Joseph who fades into oblivion from the life of Jesus in the story of the Gospel.
What happened to Joseph? How long did he live? Did he get to see Jesus the Man, or did he fulfill his purpose in Jesus the Boy?

We don’t know…but this we do know, God Knows. He knew the right time, He knew the right people to entrust his gift to the world, and He knows you and me too!

Can you say with Joseph, “I don’t understand how, but I will trust in you Lord?”

A Prayer: “Lord you surprised Joseph with this out-of-the-box request. You asked him to do the unthinkable – to seemingly break your own law. Yet he responded in faith, belief, trust, and dignity. May I learn to do the same in all that lay before me in life.”

Friday, December 19, 2008

Mary's Magnificat

A Reading:

Luke 1:46-56 (NASB)
46 And Mary said: "My soul exalts the Lord,
47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
48 "For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.
49 "For the Mighty One has done great things for me; And holy is His name.
50 "And His mercy is upon generation after generation Toward those who fear Him.
51 "He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart.
52 "He has brought down rulers from their thrones, And has exalted those who were humble.
53 "He has filled the hungry with good things ; And sent away the rich empty-handed.
54 "He has given help to Israel His servant, In remembrance of His mercy,
55 As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and his descendants forever."
56 And Mary stayed with her about three months, and then returned to her home.

Advent Meditation:

Read the prayer/praise of Mary. It’s called the “Magnificat” – A magnificent proclamation of Mary's faith and hope. She is quoting Habakkuk, the prophet, who wrote similar words several hundred years before.
Habakkuk 3:17-19 (NASB)
17 Though the fig tree should not blossom And there be no fruit on the vines, Though the yield of the olive should fail And the fields produce no food, Though the flock should be cut off from the fold And there be no cattle in the stalls,
18 Yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
19 The Lord God is my strength, And He has made my feet like hinds' feet, And makes me walk on my high places.

He ended this prophecy with words that say succinctly – “I do not know what is going to happen to me/us, but this I do know…I choose to trust and have hope in you Yahweh.”
This is Mary as the words spill forth in praise and adoration. She is humbled, God is mighty and merciful. She is awed by the honor of being chosen and links all of this back to the covenant promise of God through Abraham.
This is important. Our faith and hope don't rest on empty promises. They are founded on the faithfulness of God. It's the character of God that we "lean back into" and rest in. No matter what the circumstances surrounding our lives, God is faithful and we can rest/trust in him.

As we come to the end of this third week of Advent, where can we say, “O God, I don’t know what is going to happen with ___________, but I will trust in you, and in you and you alone, I put my hope.”

In 1524, Martin Luther penned the words to this old hymn as a way of giving testimony to the awesome character of Mary’s obedience. It’s worth reflecting on the words, and giving some time to reflecting on the character of our own obedience to Christ Jesus.

Now Praise we Christ, the Holy One,
The blessed virgin Mary’s Son,
Far as the glorious sun doth shine
E’en to the worlds remote confine.

All honor unto Christ be paid,
Pure offspring of the favored maid,
With Father and with Holy Ghost,
Til time in endless time be lost.


Prayer:

Father God, I know you to be gracious, merciful, kind and worthy of praise and trust. Please help me this day to turn my concerns and worries over to you and to rest in the hope that comes from your faithful love. I rest in you, even as Mary rested in humble submission before you also.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Elisabeth and Mary


An Advent Reading:

Luke 1:24-25 (NASB)
24 After these days Elizabeth his wife became pregnant, and she kept herself in seclusion for five months, saying,
25 "This is the way the Lord has dealt with me in the days when He looked with favor upon me, to take away my disgrace among men."

Luke 1:36-37 (NASB)
36 "And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month.
37 "For nothing will be impossible with God."

Luke 1:39-45 (NASB)
39 Now at this time Mary arose and went in a hurry to the hill country, to a city of Judah,
40 and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth.
41 When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
42 And she cried out with a loud voice and said, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!
43 "And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me?
44 "For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy.
45 "And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord."

A Meditation on the Possible:

Elisabeth is somewhat quietly in the background for much of this passage in Luke 1. Zechariah meets Gabriel in the temple. Then coming home, he cannot say what happened! Elisabeth has what many wives have – a non-communicating husband! So, it’s interesting to ponder her situation. Zechariah does not speak, but he makes love to her…they are older, past the age and yet somehow this time, much different than all other times, something happens. She becomes pregnant!
Laugh, Elisabeth, laugh.
Something happen that seemed impossible.
After so many years…years that began with hope and expectation, but turned towards barreness and shame – the impossible became real. “Behold, says the Lord, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth: do you not perceive it?” (Isa. 43:19).
Her older frame starts to get rounder and her belly sticks out. She who endured the shame of barrenness is now proudly walking in a place of blessing. She is quietly happy, joy-filled, and wondering…after all these years of trying, crying, and missing…why now?

There are months of quietness for her household. Zechariah is still not speaking, and she has kept her condition a secret – why?, perhaps it appears so unreal at first, perhaps she is concerned whether she’ll carry the baby to term, perhaps it’s just her personality…we don’t know. It’s in the sixth month that her younger relative Mary shows up. Elisabeth has not communicated with family, and Mary has not communicated her news either. Mary’s journey to her is spurred on by her own news and yet both are unprepared for what is to take place. Without a word spoken, something happens…the baby within Elisabeth “leaps inside of her”. No words have been spoken, but yet volumes spill out in that second. Mary whispers the word, “Elisabeth”, and before she can respond, the baby inside of her responds for her. The baby is prophesying even in the womb. He is already doing what he was sent forth to do!

The older Elisabeth should be the one honored – she is married and has waited for this pregnancy for years. Mary is the young virgin needing to explain why she is still a virtuous woman. But it is the younger Mary that receives the blessing of Elisabeth’s Holy Spirit filled phrase: “And she cried out with a loud voice and said, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!’”

Now it is not in private. Now more than one knows the miracles that have occurred. Now there is a stirring in the world that will begin with the two mothers and their two babies, and the ripple of that “fruit of your womb” has not stopped since then.

The first Advent only two knew what was happening…but they celebrated the announcement in private, sharing their joy with each other, and with the child(s) in their wombs.

Impossible?

Sorry, you can’t say God and impossible in the same sentence.

An Advent Prayer:

Oh Lord, Christmas is coming. O Lord, not just a day to open presents and be with family and friends, as wonderful these blessings are; but Lord it is a day that reminds me that you can do the impossible. You are coming Lord and I can’t wait. My heart beats with joy and beats faster knowing that expectations grow with each passing day. Elisabeth laughed…I bet she did! And Lord, I can’t help but laugh also. Lord, send me to others that need to laugh. Send me to others that need to know you are the God of impossibilities. Send me to another that I might share this joy that Christmas is coming!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Of The Father's Love Begotten

Today’s Readings:

John 1:1-14 (NASB)
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 He was in the beginning with God.
3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.
4 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.
5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
6 There came a man sent from God, whose name was John.
7 He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him.
8 He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light.
9 There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.
10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.
11 He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.
12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name,
13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Luke 1:34-37 (NASB)
34 Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?"
35 The angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.
36 "And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month.
37 "For nothing will be impossible with God."

AN ADVENT MEDITATION:

I wonder if Mary understood what the Angel Gabriel meant when he said to her: “the power of the most high will overshadow you…”? Mary’s question was reasonable. Yet, the answer isn’t based on human reason. The answer is not grounded in creation, but in the creator. The Creator supersedes the creation; that is, He is not bound by created things and does not have to obey the laws of creation.
For Mary, the words that Elisabeth is also pregnant must have been reassuring words that made her feel more at ease with the Angel’s words. After all, Elisabeth was not young – but barren. Now, Mary realizes that neither barrenness, nor her virginity were problems for the Creator God for whom nothing is impossible. “No baby has ever been conceived apart from a man and woman” is what Mary is saying. The angel says, “This is no mere baby, this baby’s father is God the Father.” Here is the mystery of the Incarnation – the baby boy, man, Jesus is both Human and Divine at the same time. Impossible for minds of mere human reason, but not for those who believe in the Creator God… “The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us, full of grace and truth”. To that all I can say is “WOW”.

In the 5th Century, a saint of the church (Aurelius Prudentius) reflecting on the incarnation penned the words below. The hymn was retranslated and modernized in the 19th century (John Neale & Henry Baker). “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” still beautifully states the incarnational mystery.

Of the Father’s love begotten,
Ere the worlds began to be,
He is alpha and omega,
He the source the ending He,
Of the things that are,
That have been,
And that future years shall see
Evermore and evermore.

O, that birth forever blessed, when the virgin,
Full of grace,
By the Holy Spirit,
Bear the Savior of our race,
And the babe,
The world’s redeemer,
First revealed his sacred face,
Evermore and evermore,

O ye heights of heaven,
Adore Him; Angel Hosts,
His praises sing;
Powers, Dominions,
Bow before him and extol our God and King,
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Every voice in concert ring,
Evermore and Evermore.

Christ, to thee with God the Father and,
O Holy Ghost, to thee Hymn
And Chant and High Thanksgiving
And unending praises be,
Honor, Glory, and Dominion,
And eternal victory,
Evermore and Evermore. Amen

A Prayer:
Father, because I cannot comprehend the mystery of the Incarnation does not mean I disbelieve. Lord I believe the incomprehensible, the inconceivable, the wonder of you as creator God. Lord I believe that you are God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit…without confusion, co-equal and co-eternal. Lord, I long to enter more deeply into the mystery of your Godliness personally in my own spirit and soul. Forever I am committed to your great love that has brought grace and truth in perfect balance to all that I am. Amen

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Which King Are We Looking For?

Please Note the Prayer Request at the end:

Four Readings:

Luke 1:31-33 (NASB)
31 "And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.
32 "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David;
33 and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end."

Psalm 2:7 (NASB)
7 "I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to Me, 'You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.

2 Samuel 7:8-17 (NASB)
8 "Now therefore, thus you shall say to My servant David, 'Thus says the Lord of hosts, "I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, to be ruler over My people Israel.
9 "I have been with you wherever you have gone and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make you a great name, like the names of the great men who are on the earth.
10 "I will also appoint a place for My people Israel and will plant them, that they may live in their own place and not be disturbed again, nor will the wicked afflict them any more as formerly,
11 even from the day that I commanded judges to be over My people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. The Lord also declares to you that the Lord will make a house for you.
12 "When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom.
13 "He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.
14 "I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men,
15 but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you.
16 "Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever.""'
17 In accordance with all these words and all this vision, so Nathan spoke to David.

Isaiah 9:1-7 (NASB)
1 But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; in earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles.
2 The people who walk in darkness Will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, The light will shine on them.
3 You shall multiply the nation, You shall increase their gladness; They will be glad in Your presence As with the gladness of harvest, As men rejoice when they divide the spoil.
4 For You shall break the yoke of their burden and the staff on their shoulders, The rod of their oppressor, as at the battle of Midian.
5 For every boot of the booted warrior in the battle tumult, And cloak rolled in blood, will be for burning, fuel for the fire.
6 For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
7 There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.

An Advent Meditation:

In this Advent, one question we might ask is “what kind of a Jesus am I looking for?”
Mary was told he would be the “Son of the most high…who would reign over his Kingdom (of which) there will be no end.”

We might be tempted to be like David and say to God, “I will build something for you God.” Still, it is God who makes it clear, “I will make you a house.” And what is that house? It is the presence and power of the Kingdom of God. Jesus came to release the Kingdom as a reality against the kingdom of darkness that engulfed the world. In his Kingdom there is freedom from sin, releasing of oppression, freeing of captives, joy and love instead of hatred, anger and sin.

The Kingdom of God is – not was, but is – Jesus’ great delight. He came announcing – not only his own presence – but the freeing, liberating, powerful presence of the Kingdom of God. All who come to him, enter into relationship with the Father through him, and submit their lives to HIS rule, enter into his Kingdom.

As you reflect on these passages, how does the idea of being a citizen of the Kingdom of God hit you?
Do you realize the idea of Jesus’ Kingship? If you have never thought about that consider watching this video called “My King” - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yX_7j32zgNw
After watching the video, now what do you think about in relation to Jesus as King.

Do you feel that you are submitted to Jesus in all things? If not, where do you feel that you may need to go to Him and tell him that you need help with this or that?

Go ahead, Sing this quietly or out loud with all your might:

Joy to the World, the Lord has come,
Let earth receive her King,
Let every heart, Prepare Him Room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and Heaven and nature sing.

Joy to the world, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove,
The glory of His righteousness,
And wonders of His Love
And Wonders of His Love
And Wonders, Wonders of His Love
-Isaac Watts, 1719

A Prayer: Besides Praying this Advent prayer, would you also please lift up a prayer for my nephew Greg. He's in ICU in a hospital out east with an infection of the sac around his heart. These next two days are critical.

"Lord in this season of celebrating your incarnation, may I be filled with the childlike wonder of your Kingdom. Rule over me with truth and grace and help me to know the wonders of your love. I know you are King…King of heaven and of earth and all authority is yours, whether that authority knowingly commits itself to you or not…I want you to know I commit myself to your Kingship rule this day and on. I pray for Greg's healing and for strength and consolation through your Holy Spirit to his family. Amen."

Monday, December 15, 2008

Advent and Mary


A Reading:

Luke 1:26-38 (NASB)
26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth,
27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.
28 And coming in, he said to her, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you."
29 But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was.
30 The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God.
31 "And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.
32 "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David;
33 and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end."
34 Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?"
35 The angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.
36 "And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month.
37 "For nothing will be impossible with God."
38 And Mary said, "Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her.

An Advent Meditation:

The story of Christ’s birth is centered around a young virgin who is engaged to a man named Joseph. The angel comes and states, “you are highly favored…the Lord is with you”. Put yourself in Mary’s place. Right now…at whatever age you are…go back to when you were 16, especially if you are a girl, imagine the thought of Angel saying these words… “you are highly favored, the Lord is with you…You will be with child and give birth to a son…” I can’t imagine what raced through Mary’s mind that day of God’s visitation. I can’t imagine the conflicts within her as she wrestled with the implications of it all.
“What will I tell my parents?”
“What will I tell Joseph?”
“What will people believe about me?”
Her mind is racing, “How can this be?” It is beyond all comprehension.
What I love in this story is the authenticity of her humanness in vs. 29, “Mary was greatly troubled at his words…” Mary now is in good company. When Isaiah came into the temple after the death of King Uzziah the glory of God broke through the temporal veil of human sight and all around were seraphim and cherubim and God’s glory, and Isaiah was troubled – so much so he fell on his face and proclaimed himself unclean (Isa. 6). When Moses came to the Sinai mountain to receive the law from God, he and all Israel backed away when the glory of God descended and they “were afraid to come near” (Ex. 34).

I fear we have lost that sense of the fear of the Lord…that sense of being troubled with who we are in the presence of God. Arrogance and lack of humility leads anyone to presume upon the grace of God; but humility and a sense of grace leads to a thoughtful response. Mary is sobered by all of this…the words weigh heavy upon her and she makes a decisive step of obedience: “I am the Lord’s servant...May it be to me as you have said,”

We should be troubled by God in good ways, but we also need to hear his voice: “Do not be afraid, I bring you great tidings of joy” …don’t fear, be released from that and live in freedom of love.

In your time of reflection and prayer:

1. Lord, do I have a proper fear of you? Holy Spirit, please reveal to me any sins that I may not have confessed to you and help me to receive the grace you offer in forgiveness.

2. Mary is a picture of someone who God asks to humbly serve even though there would be repercussions. Where is God asking you to humbly serve him?

An Advent Quote to Meditate on:

“St. Thomas says somewhere, ’Deprive a man of spiritual joys and he will seek to compensate with sensual pleasures. Only, no amount of sensual pleasure will ever compensate for the lack of spiritual joy.’ Hope is a spiritual joy and so many people are starved for the spiritual joy of hope. So many people are seeking to compensate for this lack of hope by chasing whatever pleasure they think can be wrested from the moment and so are moving deeper into hopelessness and spiritual emptiness…The message of Advent is a message of hope. The time of the Messiah has come…The savior is here. There is healing for us, the power of a new life for us in the meeting with the One who has been crucified and raised and who sends His spirit. The evidence is everywhere. See how people are being healed. See how enemies are being reconciled. See how the poor are being lifted up by charity and by participating in the dignity and joy of the celebration of the goodness and power of the savior…Don’t give in to the contagious hopelessness of this age. Remember what God has done for you. It is just a preview. Don’t be caught napping.”

In this Advent, what can you look back on in your life and NOW say, “Thank You Lord, for even though this was hard, I am now a much better person because of it”?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Advent Sunday, Week 3

The first week of Advent emphasized PROMISE. God had promised through the prophets the coming of one who would bring freedom for captives, light for those in darkness, and the reign of God’s Kingdom upon the earth.

The second week of Advent emphasized FAITH. Not all of those who received word of the promise being fulfilled responded in faith. Zechariah was one of those, and yet God still broke through the barriers of human fallibility to bring about his fulfillment.

This week, the third week of Advent, we emphasize HOPE. Faith is the evidence of things “hoped” for…the evidence of which is not seen (Heb 11:1). We know that Jesus has come, and we hope for his coming again. Those in the first Advent had hope for a Messiah to come. They had prayed for it, and they hoped for it. Still hope is an active exercise of faith. It is the willingness to align ourselves in character and obedience to the fulfillment of what is “hoped for”, but not yet seen.

Romans 8:24-25 (NASB)
24 For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.

SUNDAY - Dec 14th

Read: Luke 1:13-25 (NASB)
13 But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John.
14 "You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.
15 "For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother's womb.
16 "And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God.
17 "It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children , and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."
18 Zacharias said to the angel, "How will I know this for certain? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years."
19 The angel answered and said to him, "I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.
20 "And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time."
21 The people were waiting for Zacharias, and were wondering at his delay in the temple.
22 But when he came out, he was unable to speak to them; and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple; and he kept making signs to them, and remained mute.
23 When the days of his priestly service were ended, he went back home.
24 After these days Elizabeth his wife became pregnant, and she kept herself in seclusion for five months, saying,
25 "This is the way the Lord has dealt with me in the days when He looked with favor upon me, to take away my disgrace among men."

Romans 5:1-8 (NASB)
1 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
2 through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.
3 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance;
4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope;
5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die.
8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

There is much to meditate around the theme of hope. Zechariah seemed to have lost hope in both the birth of a child and the coming of the Messiah. That’s worth meditating on/thinking about. Our hope is usually layered…we hope, or don’t hope, in more than one thing at a time. In this world of fast-lane technology and disposable materiality, hope is under assault. It’s easy to get impatient and lose faith in the things we hope for, and much more difficult to persevere and remain faithful as we hope for God’s promise and wait in faith.

So, take some time to ask yourself, “What am I hoping for in God? In this time of Advent while you are giving yourself to seek his face to see the beauty of Christ in Christmas, what are you hoping for in your life, in your future, in your family and friends, in your fellowship together with other Christians, in your work, in your pleasure, and even in your sorrows?

Here’s a short prayer from Henri Nouwen to help us focus this week:

“Lord Jesus,
Master of both the light and the darkness,
send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas.
We who have so much to do
seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day.
We who are anxious over many things
look forward to your coming among us.
We who are blessed in so many ways
long for the complete joy of your kingdom.
We whose hearts are heavy
seek the joy of your presence.
We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light.
To you we say, “Come Lord Jesus!”

Saturday, December 13, 2008

St. Lucia's Day in Advent

Read – (one last time! ),

Luke 1:5-25 (MSG)
5 During the rule of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest assigned service in the regiment of Abijah. His name was Zachariah. His wife was descended from the daughters of Aaron. Her name was Elizabeth.
6 Together they lived honorably before God, careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God.
7 But they were childless because Elizabeth could never conceive, and now they were quite old.
8 It so happened that as Zachariah was carrying out his priestly duties before God, working the shift assigned to his regiment,
9 it came his one turn in life to enter the sanctuary of God and burn incense.
10 The congregation was gathered and praying outside the Temple at the hour of the incense offering.
11 Unannounced, an angel of God appeared just to the right of the altar of incense.
12 Zachariah was paralyzed in fear.
13 But the angel reassured him, "Don't fear, Zachariah. Your prayer has been heard. Elizabeth, your wife, will bear a son by you. You are to name him John.
14 You're going to leap like a gazelle for joy, and not only you—many will delight in his birth.
15 He'll achieve great stature with God. "He'll drink neither wine nor beer. He'll be filled with the Holy Spirit from the moment he leaves his mother's womb.
16 He will turn many sons and daughters of Israel back to their God.
17 He will herald God's arrival in the style and strength of Elijah, soften the hearts of parents to children, and kindle devout understanding among hardened skeptics—he'll get the people ready for God."
18 Zachariah said to the angel, "Do you expect me to believe this? I'm an old man and my wife is an old woman."
19 But the angel said, "I am Gabriel, the sentinel of God, sent especially to bring you this glad news.
20 But because you won't believe me, you'll be unable to say a word until the day of your son's birth. Every word I've spoken to you will come true on time—God's time."
21 Meanwhile, the congregation waiting for Zachariah was getting restless, wondering what was keeping him so long in the sanctuary.
22 When he came out and couldn't speak, they knew he had seen a vision. He continued speechless and had to use sign language with the people.
23 When the course of his priestly assignment was completed, he went back home.
24 It wasn't long before his wife, Elizabeth, conceived. She went off by herself for five months, relishing her pregnancy.
25 "So, this is how God acts to remedy my unfortunate condition!" she said.

An Advent Meditation on a Woman of Faith

Today, in Sweden, is St. Lucia’s day. It marks the beginning of the Christmas season for much of Scandinavia. On this day – the longest day of the year in much of Northern Europe - a very special/lucky girl is chosen to represent St. Lucia. Who was St. Lucia? In tradition she was an Italian Christian who lived in the 4th century who refused to marry a wealthy man who was not a believer. For that, according to tradition, she was placed in a fire to be burnt alive, rather than compromise her faith. The story of her faith as a light that shined in darkness gave her status as a saint. The story of St. Lucia was brought to Scandinavia by missionaries and embraced as a symbol of great faith in dark times (remember Scandinavia was the land of the Vikings, and that’s not the Minnesota ones).

For most Swedish girls, there is great honor in being selected the “Lucia Bride”. Early in the morning of Dec. 13th, the girl selected would walk with a crown of candles on her head to bring coffee and St. Lucia buns (saffron rolls) to her parents. In more public ceremonies, the St. Lucia girl leads a procession of other young girls who also carry a candle – in schools, shopping malls, old people’s homes, and churches – singing carols and handing out baked goods. The candles symbolize the light of faith in the midst of a dark world.
At the end of week 2, one last thought from Zechariah:

Zechariah can’t believe it…or doesn’t. Ok, here’s a sign that accompanies that; “You shall be mute until the day these things come to pass.”
God keeps his word…he keeps his promises.
It wasn’t all that bad that Zechariah was mute.
Embarrassing at first, and strange to those who wanted to know what happened to him “in there”.

Unto us, Jesus said, “Surely I am coming soon.” (Rev. 22:20)

And what do we say to the promise of that second Advent? Are we more consumed by the world around us that we cannot believe we’ve been courted for a wedding? Does the bride disbelieve the date of her wedding? No…she anticipates, prays, and dreams of what the wedding and marriage will be.

Let us be a people who are like a bride awaiting the day of her wedding. Let us anticipate, dream and pray for our bridegroom to come… “Even so, now, Come Lord Jesus”

A Saturday Prayer:

Father, Grant me a heart that is pure, wide-open in faith towards you, even as I anticipate coming tomorrow together with others to worship you.
Jesus, I long for you to come…I want my life to serve your Kingdom and to await your second Advent…even as now, I celebrate your first Advent.
Spirit, Grant to me a heart full of faith and wonder. Help me, guide me into truth, and show me anything in my heart and mind that prevents me from saying yes to you Lord God, three in one.


Something to Do Today – Bake a St. Lucia Crown:


________________________________________


Santa Lucia Crown

Makes 1 crown.

1/2 cup warm water (100 to 110oF)
1 envelope Active Dry Yeast
1/2 cup warm milk (100 to 110oF)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon Saffron Powder
4-1/4 to 4-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 eggs
Powdered Sugar Glaze, optional (recipe follows)
Red and green candied cherry halves, optional
6 candles, optional


Directions

Place 1/4 cup warm water in large warm bowl. Sprinkle in yeast; stir until dissolved. Add remaining water, warm milk, sugar, butter, salt, saffron, and 1 1/2 cups flour; blend well. Stir in 2 eggs and enough remaining flour to make soft dough. Knead on lightly floured surface until smooth and elastic, about 6 to 8 minutes. Place in greased bowl, turning to grease top. Cover; let rise in warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Punch dough down. Remove dough to lightly floured surface; reserve 1/3 of dough for top of crown. Divide remaining dough into 3 equal pieces; roll each to 25-inch rope. Braid ropes. Place braid on greased baking sheet. Form braid into circle; pinch ends together to seal. To shape top of crown, divide reserved dough into 3 equal pieces; roll each to 16-inch rope. Braid ropes. Place braid on separate greased baking sheet. Form braid into circle; pinch ends together to seal. Cover braids; let rise in warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Lightly beat remaining egg; brush on braids. Bake at 375oF for 15 minutes or until done (small braid) and 25 minutes or until done (large braid), covering large braid with foil during last 10 minutes to prevent excess browning. Remove braids from baking sheets; let cool on wire racks.

To decorate, make 6 holes for candles in small braid. Place small braid on top of large braid. If desired, drizzle with Powdered Sugar Glaze and garnish with candied cherry halves. Insert candles in prepared holes.

Powdered Sugar Glaze: In small bowl, combine 1 cup powdered sugar, sifted; 4 to 5 teaspoons milk; and 1/2 teaspoon Pure Vanilla Extract. Stir until smooth.