Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Second Advent Waiting

With December just around the corner, parents find that for children the waiting for Christmas begins.  Waiting is sometimes so very hard to do.  I know I hate to wait...and I don't mean a little.

I have heard that if you live to be seventy years old, you will spend three years of your life just waiting. Waiting in line at the grocery store, waiting in the doctor's office, waiting for lunch to be ready, waiting, just waiting.
In his book, "Oh, the Places You'll Go," Dr. Seuss talks about a place called "the waiting place." He describes it as a useless place where people are just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.

Jesus talked about waiting in relation to his return - the second Advent:
Mark 13:32-37 (NIV)
32 "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.
34 It's like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.
35 "Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back--whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn.
36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.
37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: 'Watch!'" 

Advent is a season of expectancy and waiting.  Christmas is almost here.  The celebration of Jesus' coming - Immanuel, God with us - is already here.  We celebrate with decorations, with candles, music, gifts, lights, etc...but it is not just for NOW, it is also an expectancy and hope that Jesus will return to earth in all of his glory, and God's power and majesty will bring His Kingdom to fullness upon the earth.
In the meantime, we wait...with hope, and faith that God will come...and sometimes that is just for our own self.

Waiting is often uncomfortable, simply because it seems so useless.  Sometimes though waiting is uncomfortable because it's outside of our control, and it is dominated by fear.
Some are waiting right now with that in place.
Waiting for a child to be born, while hoping all will be well;
waiting for a mate to be discovered, while not being sure how or when that will occur;
waiting in hope that the treatments while work, while holding off fear that they won't;
waiting for the job to come, while doing resumes and searching the job lines everyday;
waiting for healing to finally come, while walking down the road of recovery;
waiting for reconciliation, or forgiveness, and yet experiencing distance;
waiting for the pain to go away, but living with it every day.
There are so many difficult ways that we wait.

The Old Testament Prophet Micah said:
Micah 7:7 (NIV)
7 But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.

Advent is a season of expectancy, of watching, of waiting.  Go ahead and buy those presents, sing carols, decorate and enjoy; but remember that we are waiting for Jesus and it is He who is our hope.  That hope is real to us - whether present or elusive - every day of our lives.
We can wait in hope...our God has come and will come again.  While we wait for him, my prayer is that we will not forget that he comes to, and for us, over and over again every day of our life.

May God fill you with joy, faith, hope and love as you wait for Him.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Messiah Character

Today's reading is from the prophet Isaiah, written some 700 years before Jesus came into the world.

Isaiah 11:1-5 (NRSV)
1 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
2 The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
3 His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear;
4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. 

Isaiah wrote this in the middle of economic and political chaos - sound familiar?  He speaks in hope of new life coming from that which is seemingly "dead".  And that new life is the Messiah.

We have a "bush" outside of our house.  It was a tree and then a bad storm revealed what was going on in the inside - the middle of the tree was rotting.  The tree broke in half and lay on the ground with nothing more than a stump remaining.  So, I went out and cut down the remaining part of the stump leaving just a small stump out of the ground.  Over the next few weeks, from that small stump a small bush appeared...shoots coming up from the former's roots are still good!

Israel was a nation with a "religious" character.  They did the things outwardly, but inwardly they lacked the personal character of "love the Lord your God with all of your heart".  It is with the heart, not just the head, that we personally relate to our God.

The character of the Messiah - Isaiah prophesies - will be one of wisdom, understanding, counsel, and might (strength), knowledge...and most of all "the fear of the Lord".  What is that?  The next verse makes it clear - not discerning life around us with what we see, nor by what we see.  Just think about that when it comes to culture, media, literature.  The character of God is described in vs. 5 - "righteousness" and "faithfulness".
It's so unfortunate that we have no place in our vocabulary for that word, "righteousness".  We only hear it used in a negative manner, such as a person who thinks they are so righteous, or describing someone as self-righteous.  Yet, it's a word that God's word  uses over and over again to describe the character of a person who loves God and risks obedience in living over the conveniences or popular wisdom of those around him.

Case in point, Joseph.  Matthew 1:18-19 (NIV) 
18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.
19 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

This man who would become Jesus' earthly father had the character of being a "righteous" man.  We must see that this doesn't necessarily lead to pompousness, nor a "I'm better than anyone else around me."  Instead, he humbly and quietly was going to do what the law required of him...UNTIL God stepped in and told him what was happening.  Matthew 1:20 (NIV)
20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

The Messiah would come from good roots!  The fear of the Lord is that quality of relationship, that character in the inner being, of the one that seeks to love God more than anything else around us.  Henri Nouwen said:  "Jesus' message is to say that you are God's beloved child... When you can hear in your heart, not in  your head, that you are truly God's beloved child, everything turns around.  The mystery?...You were loved before you were born, and you will be loved after you die...Your dwelling in God's heart is a dwelling from eternity to eternity."

It makes no difference that we are broken people.  Our past does not define us, neither does our present circumstances.  We are defined by God's heart for our lives.  The ancient church father said it best..."God loves each of us as if we were the only one."

Monday, November 28, 2011

Advent Day 2, "Walking Lights"

Over the weekend we welcomed a new Grandchild into our family.  Iris June came in at 5 lbs, 2 oz. - when I held her in my arms for the first time I said "You are a beautiful, you little peanut".
Over the weekend we decorated the house.  Before our little girl made her entrance, Linda, Andy and I went out to our favorite Christmas tree farm and found this years tree.  Then when Linda took off to the hospital, Andy and I decorated the tree.  First we took the lights out and hung them on the tree.  There is a magical moment when you get all of the lights on the tree and turn it on for the first time.  While there is always that "does it look good?", there is more.  I love that moment after darkness settles in, and the tree is decorated, and the lights go on... the lights take over and no matter how soft they be, they are more dominant than the darkness.

Think about that this morning as we read these passages from the prophet Isaiah some 700 years before the coming of Jesus.

Isaiah 9:1-2 (NIV)
1 Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan--
2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. 

AND then later in the book...
Isaiah 42:1-16 (NIV) 
"Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his law the islands will put their hope."
This is what God the LORD says-- he who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and all that comes out of it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it:
"I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.
"I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.
See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you."
10 Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise from the ends of the earth, you who go down to the sea, and all that is in it, you islands, and all who live in them....

16 I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them. 

Advent reminds us that God has come to pierce the does not make any difference if the light is light speaks more loudly than the darkness all around it.  Maybe that is why Jesus uses that same analogy to speak of us...that we are lights...Matthew 5:14-16 (NIV) 
14 "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.
15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.
16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

Yesterday morning in our Worship services we sang the song, "Here I am to Worship".  It's a beautiful song of declaration...that our purpose for being together, and our great desire in singing, praying, listening, speaking is to worship our God.
The song begins with the words:

"Light of the World
You stepped down into darkness
Open my eyes let me see
Beauty that made this heart adore You
Hope of a life spent with You

Here I am to worship,
Here I am to bow down,
Here I am to say that You're my God
You're altogether lovely
All together worthy,
All together wonderful to me

King of all days
oh, so highly exalted
Glorious in heaven above
Humbly You came 
To the earth You created
All for love's sake became poor

We are walking lights!  Our lives show forth the beauty of Christ as we worship him every day and live in him.  1 Thessalonians 5:5 (NIV) 

5 You are all sons of the light and sons of the day...

Decorate the house with lights, and let that tree be filled with lights, and walk as Lights my friends, as you walk in fellowship with Christ.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Welcome to Advent 2011 - Day 1

Advent is a wonderful opportunity to take time to "ponder" Jesus and the Incarnation.  It is not for "fast food" devotions; but rather, a time for "thinking" about all that God has done in sending his Son - Jesus, our Savior, to the world that ultimately would reject him!

Each day we'll read some scripture...then I'll share some thoughts on the passage and invite you to "comment", so that we can all gain from a wider community of God's people.  Please feel free to "comment" at the end of each post.

Finally there is an encouragement to pray, asking God to make the Word spoken more real in our hearts than we can ever gain from our intellect alone.

TODAY:  We read Isaiah 43:14, 18-21

Thus says the LORD, your redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: … Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? … For I put water in the desert and rivers in the wasteland for my chosen people to drink, The people whom I formed for myself, that they might announce my praise.

THINK:  God, through Isaiah, says God is a God of Beginnings.  God began with a people - Israel, first by calling Abraham, then by protecting them in Egypt's slavery, and finally in deliverance.  He raised up a nation that would reflect His Character and His Ways.  From this, David would rise to be the greatest of Israel's Kings.  But David was no more than a good human...not God. He could not, of his own, secure God's righteousness, nor God's peace.  Isaiah prophesies of a time when Israel would bring about new "beginnings".

Advent is our opportunity to "Begin Anew".  We behold all that God has done in making all things new.  He gathered people from enslaving fear, from religious duty, from performing in order to look good, and brought them to a place of freedom...a freedom of Spirit that allowed them to see God personally, and to see Him as the God who sought them...instead of ignore them.

THINK about it.  You and I are a part of God's Plan for new beginnings.  Do you need a new beginning  with God?  Today is a good day to ask Him for that to occur.


Lord, we come to this time of Advent with a desire that this be a personal "Advent-ure".  Please come, and wash us with the grace of your Spirit that leads to righteousness before you.  Please help us to walk with you in all the ways that we can respond to you...through every moment, through every day.  Amen.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Advent is Just a Few Days Away...Let's Prepare to Celebrate!

"It's the Most Wonderful time of the Year"
says the Christmas song. Christmas is upon us and it is up to each of us as to what the season will mean to us.  For some it's frantic shopping and endless parties/events/programs to seem to take up every day from late November thru Christmas Day.  For others it truly is a magical time of the year.  Not magical in the sense of "magic" but magical in the sense that every day becomes full of an "Advent-ture".  It is Advent - the time when we celebrate and prepare our hearts for the Lord who has come, and will come again.

What is Advent?  
Advent marks the beginning of the Christmas season and the Church year for most Western churches. The word "Advent" means "arrival" or "coming" in Latin and represents the approach of Christ's birth (and fulfillment of the prophecies about that event) and also the awaiting of Christ's second coming. It is composed of the four Sundays before Christmas day, starting this year on the Sunday November 27th, and ending on Christmas.
Celebrating the Season
For Christians, Advent is a time of reflection about the amazing gift that God gave to us in the person of His Son who came to live among us on earth. It is also an opportunity to restore Jesus to His rightful place as the center of our holiday celebrations!
The prevailing themes of the Advent season and the symbolism behind the activities which churches and families share are expectation and hope, preparation and peace, joy and sharing, and most of all, love. These themes are represented in the 5 candles of the Advent wreath. On each Sunday marking a new week in Advent, a candle is lit on the wreath (including candles from previous weeks) until we arrive at the snow-white center candle which stands for Christ! All Advent activities and traditions are grounded in the truth of Scripture...even though the symbolism and stories surrounding them have changed over time. The focus continues to be the great news that the Messiah was and is coming .
The practice of lighting Advent candles began in Germany by non-Christians. They lit candles surrounded by evergreen branches in their windows on cold winter nights to signify their hope for the coming warmth and light of spring! Later, German Lutherans kept the practice alive and gradually the symbolism of the Advent wreath was added: evergreens represent everlasting life (because they do not die during winter) and Christian growth; the wreath is a symbol of God's unending love and of victory; candles represent Christ, the light of the world, and their purple or blue color signify the royalty of Jesus our King! Another tradition saying is that the four candles signify the 4000 years of waiting from Adam and Eve until, at long last, Jesus' birth.
Here’s a whole bunch of suggestions for Advent Calendars, Advent Wreaths, and how to incorporate any or all of these things into your family’s Advent celebration.

The Advent Calendar

An Advent Calendar can be as simple or as ornate as you'd like. Here are some ideas:
1. You can use an actual calendar like the large desk calendars with space to write in. Every night, write in a new verse reference for you and your family to look up and read together the next day. Afterwards, put a Christmas sticker on the square to count down the days.

2. Cut out a Christmas tree shape from cardboard or posterboard. Each day, add a new ornament (either cut them out yourself or buy some die-cut shapes from a craft store) with a verse.

3. An alternative to a calendar is to make an Advent paper chain. Add a new link to the chain ever day with either the Bible verse you read together, the people you prayed for that day or a list of what you were thankful for that day. Or, you can create the chain in advance and remove the links with verses (or names of people to pray for) listed on them.

4. Have an old or extra corkboard that you're not using? Transform it into an Advent calendar and post new messages and/or verses every day. You can wrap the board with wrapping paper to make it look like a present and add bow, ornament or candy shapes every day. You can hang pieces of candy each day with push pins as well.

5. A fairly easy traditional Advent calendar can be made with 2 pieces of cardboard or posterboard. Draw your design on one piece of cardboard. You can make little houses and churches along a winding road or a Christmas tree with ornaments or just one house with many little windows or doors. Use an exacto knife to cut the doors/windows open, leaving one side as a hinge. Then, lay the 2nd piece of cardboard underneath and line it up. Open the windows/doors and trace the shapes onto the cardboard below. Write your verses or other messages in the traced shapes and then carefully glue the cardboard under the cover piece of cardboard. Close the doors with little bits of tape to keep peeking eyes from looking ahead! (Fun foam or felt can be used, too.)

6. Make an Advent tree. Use a small (3-foot or so) artificial tree and each day hang a new ornament. These can be tiny gift boxes , mini stockings or mini mittens holding verses and/or candy.

7. Nativity figures. Instead of a calendar, you can allow your children to set out 1 nativity figure/animal each day until Christmas.

8. Use old Christmas cards to create a tree shape on your wall or door. Glue verses or other messages written on colored paper inside, perhaps with a note to pray for the person who sent you the card.

9. Sew a calendar with felt or any other fabric. Make small pockets for each day of Advent where you can put verses or candy.

10. Use matchboxes, small jewelry gift boxes, toilet paper tubes cut in half or small paper cups glued to a piece of cardboard to create a calendar with places to store your verses, candies or other items to be opened each day!

11. If you can find an item with the right number of pockets or drawers, you can simply decorate it and label for use as a calendar! Some options are shoe organizers, mini drawer units (for a desk or to hold small craft items), or a screw/nail/tool organizer with little drawers. Dress it up with wrapping paper and ribbon.

Twenty-five Items that Symbolize Aspects of Advent:

1. Quarter--A quarter! That equals 25 cents. But 25 also stands for the number of days till Christmas, when God gave us His best present. Jesus told about one woman's gift and the way she gave it. Read: Mark 12:41-44

2. Grape Gum or Candy--Grapes make jelly and juice, raisins and wine. But Jesus didn't need grapes to perform His first miracle. Read: John 2:1-10

3. Smiley Face--Here's a smile! A smile usually expresses happiness. Jesus gave us many instructions to keep us happy. Read: Matthew 5:1-12.

4. Swedish Fish candy--Well, if you were surprised to find these fish, wait till you read the story today! Others were surprised to find fish, too. Read: Luke 5:4-7.

5. Birthday Candle--As you know, we are getting ready to celebrate Jesus' birthday. However, Jesus talked about something else that is related to this candle. Light! Read: Matthew 5:14-16.

6. Small Bell--You could make some noise with this. But it would not have bothered a certain man--until he met Jesus. Read: Mark 7:31-37.

7. Goldfish Crackers--These would not go very far if you were really hungry! But Jesus could make much out of little. Surely He knew how to multiply! Read: Matthew 14:13-21.

8. Cotton Balls--These cotton balls would be helpful in a thunder storm, wouldn't they? We could use them for ear plugs to muffle the loud noises that thunder makes. But we know someone who doesn't need cotton. Jesus can control the weather. Read: Matthew 8:23-27.

9. Piece of Map--People needing to use the other parts of this map are in trouble! Don't you get lost today! Read: John 14:1-6.

10. Soap--Do you like to wash? Behind your ears? Washing turned out to be a happy time for a man who met Jesus. Read: John 9:1-7.

11. Heart Candy or Sticker--Hearts. Wordlessly, they speak of love, don't they? Jesus spoke some commands about love. Read: Matthew 25:17-41.

12. Small Cross--We use the cross as a symbol, representing Jesus. Do you know why? Read: Phillipians 2:1-11.

13. Packet of Salt--Ordinary salt. Yes, Jesus related salt to us and our behavior. He also gave us some advice. Read: Matthew 5:14 and Colossians 4:6. (Notice that He doesn't recommend pepper!).

14. Sand--Don't try to eat this! It's sand. It reminds us that Jesus knows something about architecture, about buildings--and building lives. See His instructions: Matthew 7:24-29.

15. Silk Flowers--Flowers are pretty, aren't they? Jesus used flowers to teach us a reassuring lesson. Read: Matthew 6:28-34.

16. Raisins--Raisins! Many children are given raisins instead of candy for a snack. That's because they are a health-promoting and delicious fruit. Jesus told us how we can produce good fruit. Read: John 15:1-5.

17. Seeds--Jesus told a story about seeds that man planted. Then He explained it, revealing its deep meaning. Read: Matthew 13:3-8 and Matthew 13:18-23.

18. Christmas Carol--Christmas is just about a week away. And here is an appropriate song. Sing it loudly! Read: Psalms 100.

19. Rock--A hard stone! Can you change this stone into a piece of bread? Do you think Jesus could? Jesus was asked to do just that. Do know how He handled it? Read: Matthew 4:1-4.

20. Crumpled Foil--Try to smooth out this piece of aluminum foil and use it as a mirror. It's hard to see your reflection plainly, isn't it? Many circumstances are hard to understand, but someday everything will be clear. Read: 1 Corinthians 13:12.

21. Mustard Seed (or packet of mustard)--The mustard seed is the smallest there is! When it sprouts, it grows into one of the largest plants! See what Jesus said. Read: Matthew 17:20.

22. Dove--We've learned that the cross represents Christ, but do you know what the dove stands for? Read: Matthew 3:13-17.

23. Scrap of Wool Material--The threads that compose this fabric came from the wool of a sheep. Jesus called Himself the good shepherd. Do you know who His sheep are? Read: John 10:7-18.

24. Marble--A marble! Do you know what is sometimes called the "Big Blue Marble"? The world. God made the world for us. What does God continue doing to the world? And who is the world? Read: John 3:16.

25. Picture of Baby--Isn't this baby cute? When he was born, he made a whole family happy. Jesus was born a baby, too. He came to make the whole world happy. Read: Luke 2:1-20. Enjoy your celebration today. Continue to learn about Jesus--and love Him forever!

Using An Advent Wreath

Advent wreaths contain 4-5 candles, one purple or pink (Red) candle for each week of Advent and a last white or rose candle to represent Christ! Here are some ideas if you'd like to make your own:
1. Use an aluminum foil pie tin and cut "X" shapes to push your candles down into. Decorate with greenery.

2. Use a styrofoam wreath shape. Press your candles in (use a small brass candle holder if you can) and decorate with artificial holly or other greenery.

3. Fill a container such as a bundt cake pan or a pretty planting container with dry cranberries or small pretty stones (or sand, pebbles, etc if you will cover with greenery) and push your candles down in.

4. Drill holes in a log which has been sanded on the bottom side to be sure it is steady and place candles in the holes. Decorate with greenery.

5. If your children are too young to take part in candle lighting, they can make a wreath with handprints made on green paper. Form a circle with the handprints and put a bow on. You can hang it or you can make pretend candles from toilet paper tubes to use on it!

The most important aspect of it all is that we celebrate our Savior's Coming...whether we do it individually or as a family - it makes all the difference in the world to what Christmas means to us in the end.