Tuesday December 29, 2009

I love celebrating Advent. We don’t do much with it. Not yet. Someday when Gabriel is older (and has siblings on earth, we pray!), we will incorporate more tangible things into our Advent celebration and anticipation. Crafts and outings and activities and books. This year, Gabriel latched onto the chocolate routine with vigor. Next year I will add something. Thankfully I have eleven months to come up with it. 🙂
And something else for someday – celebrating the twelve days of Christmas, leading up to Epiphany. My husband smiles and shrugs (for now!) when I suggest it, but I think he’ll come around someday. I am eager to incorporate more and more of the traditional Church calendar into our lives in the future, especially with kids. Why should we live according to a secular calendar so minutely, and yet throw out the Church calendar?! It makes absolutely no sense. Unless you’re a pagan.
So anyway.

Dear Pastor Toby Sumpter has inspired me this morning with some readings.
You must read them too.
You simply must. 🙂
I got chills when reading one and tears when reading the other.
Read what he says about proclaiming Christmas to the old, the decrepit, the dying.
And then read what he says about living, resting, and truly doing Christmas with his own family.

Happy fifth day of Christmas!!

Tuesday December 22, 2009

Today we are reminded -by the two following Advent hymns- that although Christ has come, He will come again!
Hallelujah and Amen!

Wake, awake, for night is flying;
The watchmen on the heights are crying:
Awake, Jerusalem, at last!
Midnight hears the welcome voices
And at the thrilling cry rejoices;
Come forth, ye virgins, night is past;
The Bridegroom comes, awake;
Your lamps with gladness take;
Alleluia! And for His marriage feast prepare
For ye must go and meet Him there.

Zion hears the watchmen singing,
And all her heart with joy is springing;
She wakes, she rises from her gloom;
For her Lord comes down all glorious,
The strong in grace, in truth victorious.
Her Star is risen, her Light is come.
Ah come, Thou blessèd One, God’s own belovèd Son:
Alleluia! We follow till the halls we see
Where Thou hast bid us sup with Thee.

Now let all the heavens adore Thee,
And saints and angels sing before Thee,
With harp and cymbal’s clearest tone;
Of one pearl each shining portal,
Where we are with the choir immortal
Of angels round Thy dazzling throne;
Nor eye hath seen, nor ear hath yet attained to hear
What there is ours, but we rejoice and sing to Thee
Our hymn of joy eternally.

~ Philipp Nicolai (Wach­et auf, ruft uns die Stimme). The words may have been in­spired by a 1523 po­em by Nurem­berg’s Meist­er­sing­er Lu­ther­an po­et Hans Sachs (1494-1576); they were first pub­lished in Ni­co­lai’s Freu­den­spie­gel des ewig­en Le­bens (Joy­ous Mir­ror of Etern­al Life), 1599. Catherine Winkworth trans­lat­ed the ly­rics from Germ­an to Eng­lish in her Lyra Ger­man­i­ca, se­cond ser­ies, 1858.

Behold the Bridegroom cometh in
The middle of the night,
And blest is he whose loins are girt,
Whose lamp is burning bright;
But woe to that dull servant, whom
The Master shall surprise
With lamp untrimmed, unburning and
With slumber in his eyes.

Do thou, my soul, beware, beware,
Lest thou in sleep sink down,
Lest thou be given o’er to death,
And lose the golden crown;
But see that thou be sober, with
A watchful eye, and thus
Cry—‘Holy, holy, holy God,
Have mercy upon us.’

That day, the day of fear, shall come;
My soul, slack not thy toil,
But light thy lamp, and feed it well,
And make it bright with oil;
Who knowest not how soon may sound
The cry at eventide,
‘Behold the Bridegroom comes! Arise!
Go forth to meet the bride.’

Beware, my soul; beware, beware,
Lest thou in slumber lie,
And like, the five, remain without,
And knock, and vainly cry;
But watch, and bear thy lamp undimmed,
And Christ shall gird thee on
His own bright wedding robe of light—
The glory of the Son.

~Horlogion (Ιδοὺ ο Νύμφις έρχεται), cir­ca 8th Cen­tu­ry; trans­lat­ed from Greek to Eng­lish by Gerard Moultrie in Lyra Mes­si­an­i­ca, 1864.

Sunday December 20, 2009

ADVENT ~ Fourth Week
Lift Up Your Head & Behold!

Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates;
Behold, the King of glory waits;
The King of kings is drawing near;
The Savior of the world is here!

A Helper just He comes to thee,
His chariot is humility,
His kingly crown is holiness,
His scepter, pity in distress.

O blest the land, the city blest,
Where Christ the Ruler is confessed!
O happy hearts and happy homes
To whom this King in triumph comes!

Fling wide the portals of your heart;
Make it a temple, set apart
From earthly use for heaven’s employ,
Adorned with prayer and love and joy.

Redeemer, come, with us abide;
Our hearts to Thee we open wide;
Let us Thy inner presence feel;
Thy grace and love in us reveal.

Thy Holy Spirit lead us on
Until our glorious goal is won;
Eternal praise, eternal fame
Be offered, Savior, to Thy Name!

~Georg Weissel, tr. Catherine Winkworth

Zechariah 8:1-8

And the word of the LORD of hosts came, saying, “Thus says the LORD of hosts: I am jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I am jealous for her with great wrath. Thus says the LORD: I have returned to Zion and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem, and Jerusalem shall be called the faithful city, and the mountain of the LORD of hosts, the holy mountain. Thus says the LORD of hosts: Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of great age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets. Thus says the LORD of hosts: If it is marvelous in the sight of the remnant of this people in those days, should it also be marvelous in my sight, declares the LORD of hosts? Thus says the LORD of hosts: behold, I will save my people from the east country and from the west country, and I will bring them to dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God, in faithfulness and in righteousness.”

[as a side note… I LOVE THIS next part!]


The Incarnation began a new world: old things have passed away; behold all things have

become new” (2 Cor. 5:18). “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself ” (2 Cor.

5:19). In the Incarnation we learn that “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And

the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it (Jn. 1:4,5).

Themes of newness and light should always pervade our Christmas celebrations. The

northern hemisphere has an especially nice background—darkest winter—to emphasize light

overcoming darkness. Sometimes we decorate our homes with lights as a symbol of turning

back the night, of the brightness scattering the darkness. Just when the sun is farthest from the

earth, the Light of lights moves us toward spring.

In a parallel way, we emphasize newness by pressing forward toward a restored Eden. To

plant a tree full of “fruit” in our living rooms in the middle of winter is another way we picture

turning back the death of winter. The tree itself is not some compromised pagan carry over.

The symbol is originally biblical; trees of life and knowledge are central to our Edenic origins.

Sure pagans slunk off with Edenic symbols and worshiped the creature rather than the Creator,

but that is their sin, not ours. The Bible begins and ends with a tree, and the reversal of the

Fall gets its strength from the Incarnation: “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.”

This newness of life is not only pictured in fruitful trees; the whole creation has been

made new. Christmas is the beginning of the New Heavens and Earth, and this naturally comes

to expression in our gift giving—new clothes, new tools, new games, new books—a new world.

And if the Lord blesses and your tree is gloriously surrounded with boxes on top of boxes of

this new order of stuff, you can stoop down level with all those boxes and see that the boxes

resemble a city skyline, a new city, “the great city, the holy Jerusalem”—“the foundations of

the wall of the city were adorned with all kinds of precious stones” (Rev. 21:19) where the

nations “bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it” (Rev. 21:26). And in the middle

of this city is “the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month.

The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (Rev. 22:2)—your Christmas tree.

Most Christian treatments of Christmas wallow in complaining about materialism and

commercialism. Those concerns obviously have their place. But we must learn to delight in the

life of God. If you have a healthy family, focus on the positive vision—light and life and newness.

This is a time when the world turned from a desert drought to the abundance of Christ.

~Douglas Jones, from “A Family Liturgy…

Behold! the mountain of the Lord
In latter days shall rise
On mountain tops above the hills,
And draw the wondering eyes.

To this the joyful nations round,
All tribes and tongues, shall flow;
Up to the hill of God, they’ll say,
And to His house we’ll go.

The beam that shines from Zion hill
Shall lighten every land;
The King Who reigns in Salem’s towers
Shall all the world command.

Among the nations He shall judge;
His judgments truth shall guide;
His scepter shall protect the just,
And quell the sinner’s pride.

No strife shall vex Messiah’s reign
Or mar the peaceful years;
To plowshares soon they beat their swords
To pruning hooks their spears.

No longer hosts encountering hosts,
Their millions slain deplore;
They hang the trumpets in the hall
And study war no more.

Come then, O house of Jacob, come
To worship at His shrine;
And, walking in the light of God,
With holy beauties shine.

~Michael Bruce, paraphrasing Isaiah 2

“The angels knew what was going on even if no one else did. They grasped the bizarre reality of Shakespeare stepping onto the stage, of God making Himself vulnerable, dependent, and human — making Himself Adam. And so, in a more appropriate sense, they arranged a concert and put on what was no doubt the greatest choral performance in planetary history.

Were the kings gathered? Where were the people with the important hats? Where were the ushers, the corporate sponsors?

The Heavenly Host, the souls and angels of stars, descended into our atmosphere and burst in harmonic joy above a field and some rather startled shepherds.

But the crowd was bigger than that. The shepherds were a distinct minority. Mostly, the angels were just singing to sheep.

I’m sure those animals paid attention, and not just because there was a baby in their food bowl.

Sidenote: Does this sound like something a human would make up? Does it sound like something a bunch of cult builders would create to impress potential tithers?

And then the Holy One, the World-Maker, was born in a …in…uh…

And the angels themselves descended, overflowing with jubilation and sang to a randomly selected flock of sheep and a couple of their unwashed, illiterate shepherds — the Lord Incarnate’s first worshipers.”

~N.D. Wilson, from “Tilt-a-Whirl”

[Christmas stockings are] quite delightful. And, yes, lots of the stuff I put in them is entirely unnecessary. But God gives us “unnecessaries” all the time. Like the flickers (woodpeckers) out on my fence. And the pink winter sunsets. And the red berries hanging so colorfully from the bare branches of the Mountain Ash.  And the powdery snow falling quietly on the trees. Who needs all that stuff? Totally redundant and perfectly wonderful. God stuffs our stockings full of unnecessary pleasures and over-our-quota goodness day after day. Oh, to be like Him.
~Nancy Wilson

Philippians 2:12-16

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.”

John 12:46

“I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.”

Monday December 14, 2009

Advent ~ Week Three
Begotten In Love

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!

At His Word the worlds were framèd; He commanded; it was done:
Heaven and earth and depths of ocean in their threefold order one;
All that grows beneath the shining
Of the moon and burning sun, evermore and evermore!

He is found in human fashion, death and sorrow here to know,
That the race of Adam’s children doomed by law to endless woe,
May not henceforth die and perish
In the dreadful gulf below, evermore and evermore!

O that birth forever blessèd, when the virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving, bare the Savior of our race;
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face, evermore and evermore!

This is He Whom seers in old time chanted of with one accord;
Whom the voices of the prophets promised in their faithful word;
Now He shines, the long expected,
Let creation praise its Lord, 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 sing, evermore and evermore!

Righteous judge of souls departed, righteous King of them that live,
On the Father’s throne exalted none in might with Thee may strive;
Who at last in vengeance coming
Sinners from Thy face shalt drive, evermore and evermore!

Thee let old men, thee let young men, thee let boys in chorus sing;
Matrons, virgins, little maidens, with glad voices answering:
Let their guileless songs re-echo,
And the heart its music bring, evermore and evermore!

Christ, to Thee with God the Father, and, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
Hymn and chant with high thanksgiving, and unwearied praises be:
Honor, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory, evermore and evermore!

Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the Child to be born will be called holy— the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

Advent Expectancy

by Nancy Wilson

This morning at worship my husband taught us the difference between looking at Advent as a season of preparation as opposed to a season of penitence.  Some Christians view the Advent season as a time to “give up something” like they do for Lent. But if we give up facebook for Advent, and then tell all our friends about it, this is not a biblical fast. When we fast, or give up something, no one but God should know about it. (We should keep it to ourselves and not announce to everyone that we are giving up chocolate or coffee!) Jesus made fun of the Pharisees for letting everyone know when they were fasting (Matthew 6:16-18). “They have their reward.” Of course fasting can be spiritually healthy when done in a God-honoring way. Penitence means repentance, and that is something we should be eager to do all year long. Real repentance means rooting out real sin and bad habits.

We are sometimes tempted to feel guilty for things that God has not prohibited.  But this is diabolical and comes from the accuser, just like the White Witch in Narnia who, when she saw the animals feasting and opening gifts, demanded to know “Why all this waste?” In the Garden of Eden there was only one tree forbidden in the midst of many trees. But ever since Adam ate the fruit, we have been frozen in that moment, thinking all the trees were forbidden, and that God does not want His people having too much fun. But that is slandering our good God.

If we view Advent not as a season of penitence, but as a season of preparation, that is not because we are against repentance. We are getting ready, putting things in order, smoothing out the road (Isaiah 40:1-8).  Advent is much like the time we spend in the kitchen preparing a feast. It is a time of anticipation and excitement, standing on tiptoe waiting expectantly for the coming of the Messiah. The angels brought glad tidings, and we want to live in such a way that we can bring these same tidings of comfort and joy to the whole world. And that can’t be done with a long face.

Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming from tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse’s lineage coming, as men of old have sung.
It came, a floweret bright, amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.

Isaiah ’twas foretold it, the Rose I have in mind;
With Mary we behold it, the virgin mother kind.
To show God’s love aright, she bore to men a Savior,
When half spent was the night.

The shepherds heard the story proclaimed by angels bright,
How Christ, the Lord of glory was born on earth this night.
To Bethlehem they sped and in the manger found Him,
As angel heralds said.

This Flower, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere;
True Man, yet very God, from sin and death He saves us,
And lightens every load.

O Savior, Child of Mary, who felt our human woe,
O Savior, King of glory, who dost our weakness know;
Bring us at length we pray, to the bright courts of Heaven,
And to the endless day!

John 1:1-16

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. ( John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because He was before me.'”) And from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

from Sketches of Home, by Suzanne Clark

pp 29-30

 As Christmas nears I am drawn to Mary: Mary holding her hands on her belly to feel the spasms made by her baby’s hiccups; Mary imagining the face of God. What paradox. What double awe. Not only was she struck with the wonder every mother feels in bearing a child, but she also marveled that the child was divine: earthly but unearthly; infantile, yet older than time and timeless. I picture the hardships she suffered, the difficulty of giving birth in a barn.


Joseph at My Side

You caught him

a watery weight

and laid him raw

against me.


My lips were parched,

you gave drink, your hands

still streaked and trembling.


You took the afterbirth away

then sheltered us

with your shoulders.


Our words were hushed,

like dove’s words:

     Joseph, you are strong like a mountain.

     Sleep now. Let me take my God-boy.


Did she know the terrible things her Son would suffer? Was her motherly joy mingled with dread?

As we continue getting closer to the Christmas season, traversing the days of Advent, rejoice with us in God’s great gift of Light and Life!! Hoping, expecting, longing, seeking, praying….. Never have these feelings been more heightened. Never has it been more appropriate. God is teaching, molding, training, growing. Praise Him!

Monday December 7, 2009

Week Two of Advent 2009
The Comfort of our God

Comfort, comfort ye My people,
speak ye peace, thus saith our God;
comfort those who sit in darkness,
mourning ‘neath their sorrow’s load;
speak ye to Jerusalem
of the peace that waits for them;
tell her that her sins I cover,
and her warfare now is over.

For the herald’s voice is crying
in the desert far and near,
bidding all men to repentance,
since the Kingdom now is here.
O that warning cry obey!
Now prepare for God a way!
Let the valleys rise to meet Him,
and the hills bow down to greet Him.

Make ye straight what long was crooked,
make the rougher places plain:
let your hearts be true and humble,
as befits His holy reign,
For the glory of the Lord
now o’er the earth is shed abroad,
and all flesh shall see the token
that His word is never broken.

Words: Johann G. Olearius, 1671;
trans. Catherine Winkworth, 1863

Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11

Comfort, comfort My people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
   and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
   that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the LORD’s hand
   double for all her sins.

A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD;
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
   and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
   and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
   and all flesh shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

Get you up to a high mountain,
   O Zion, herald of good news;
lift up your voice with strength,
   O Jerusalem, herald of good news;
   lift it up, fear not;
say to the cities of Judah,
   “Behold your God!”
Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might,
   and His arm rules for Him;
behold, His reward is with Him,
   and His recompense before Him.
He will tend His flock like a shepherd;
    He will gather the lambs in His arms;
He will carry them in His bosom,
   and gently lead those that are with young.

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o’er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height,
In ancient times did’st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Words: Ve­ni, ve­ni Eman­u­el
Trans: Neale

Luke 1:26-33

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”

Two Kinds Of Black
an exhortation by my former pastor, Douglas Wilson

As we celebrate the coming of the Christ, we must never forget the kind of world He was born into. The blackness that the star of Bethlehem shone brightly from was a creational blackness, the kind of blackness that was visible on the first day of our world—when it was evening and it was morning, the first day, and it was all very good.

But the child Himself was the morning star, and the blackness that He shone brightly from was a Herodian blackness, a moral darkness, an ethical night of pitch black sin. The slaughter of the innocents is an integral part of the Christmas story, and not some unfortunate event that happened around the same time. It was the kind of thing that illustrated the reason why Christ had to come in the first place. But strikingly, I don’t think it is possible to buy a nativity set that has any of Herod’s soldiers in it. We don’t want to tell ourselves the whole story, whether past or present.

Then, as now, the choice was stark. Either we will receive Christ to rule over us, and we will welcome Him gladly, or we will turn our backs on Him, and welcome the ways of coercion and blood. Ultimately, there will be blood one way or the other, and so the choice will be between the blood of the willing sacrifice, or countless unwilling sacrifices. It is either Christ on the cross, and the salvation of the world, or it will be all the possible permutations of Molech worship, and the maw of death that is never satisfied. It will either be the death that arrived when Christ cried out, “It is finished,” or it will be the way of death that is never finished and never satisfied.

And so, celebrate this Advent with gospel satisfaction. Rest in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, that was a once for all completion. Tell the story of the turmoil and unrest in the world that Christ came into, and teach your children how that unrest cannot be given rest apart from receiving the yoke of Jesus Christ.

In that manger we see the warrior who was born to slay the dragon, and we see that the dragon instinctively knew the nature of the threat and tried to do what dragons always do. The dragon raged all through the streets of Bethlehem because his time was short. We sing in the streets of Bethlehem because the dragon has been slain, and we say of the one who did this great thing that of the increase of His government there will be no end.

Click here to see three short videos (that made me get all teary – but then, what doesn’t do that these days?!) of why I sometimes miss my old church like crazy. And why I am praying for reformation and revival so that I may raise my sweet Gabriel (and any other children who may someday fill our home) in surroundings of beauty, goodness, and truth.

Isaiah 42:1-12

Behold My Servant, whom I uphold,
   My chosen, in whom My soul delights;
I have put My Spirit upon Him;
    He will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry aloud or lift up His voice,
   or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed He will not break,
   and a faintly burning wick He will not quench;
    He will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be discouraged
   till He has established justice in the earth;
   and the coastlands wait for His law.

Thus says God, the LORD,
   who created the heavens and stretched them out,
   who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people on it
   and spirit to those who walk in it:
“I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness;
   I will take you by the hand and keep you;
I will give you as a covenant for the people,
    a light for the nations,

to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
    from the prison those who sit in darkness.
I am the LORD; that is My Name;
    My glory I give to no other,
   nor My praise to carved idols.
Behold, the former things have come to pass,
    and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth
   I tell you of them.”

Sing to the LORD a new song,
   His praise from the end of the earth,
you who go down to the sea, and all that fills it,
    the coastlands and their inhabitants.
Let the desert and its cities lift up their voice,
   the villages that Kedar inhabits;
let the habitants of Sela sing for joy,
   let them shout from the top of the mountains.
Let them give glory to the LORD,
   and declare His praise in the coastlands.

Today I am choosing to hope.
I am choosing to long not only for God to fulfill the desires He has placed in our hearts, but also to long for Him to fully fill my heart with Himself. It is hard to make these choices. In a lot of ways, it is easier to sit in a corner, pull out my hair, and wail in despair.
But not today.
Today I am choosing to be thankful that God sent His Son to earth.
For me.
For my covenant children.
So that I am able to spend an eternity in Paradise with my children.
As a complete family.
Worshiping Him forever in holiness.
So I praise Him for this Advent season.

I feel like I am living in a strange dichotomy, walking a fine line between praise and grief.
I am praying that God will keep me on the straight and narrow, so that I do not fall to one side of that fine line or the other.

Oh Jesus, send Your Spirit.

Wednesday December 2, 2009

I should have posted this one a couple weeks ago when Pastor Sumpter (Moscow, ID) wrote this one… but if you adjust the beginning by a couple weeks, it is still entirely fitting. Hope those preparations are well in order! And if they aren’t, no worries — just enjoy catching up. 🙂
I’m adding some bold text to this exhortation, fyi. Because I simply love it! People drive me batty when they want to downplay Christmas with the excuse of “fighting commercialism” (or whatever). It ends up that they are the ones focusing more on money and material things than anyone else, and mucking up the joyfulness of giving in the process, not to mention forgetting God’s goodness. It’s stupid. So I love how Sumpter words this. It gave me goosebumps the first time I read it. I wish I could memorize it and recite it the next time I hear someone pull out the conversation starter of un-Christmasing this year! And like Mr. Klein (an officer from our church who is currently serving in Afghanistan) said, this is our time of year!! Let’s make it look like it. We Christians own this season. It’s ours. Go, show the world.

We are drawing near to the end of Trinity Season in the Church calendar. Two weeks from today is the First Sunday in Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas. Advent is the beginning and the end of the Church Year. It is the end in so far as it commemorates the final coming of the Lord Jesus in judgment at the end of the world, the culmination of all things. And it is the beginning in so far as we look back and remember all the advents of God in history, culminating in the Incarnation. And as we look forward to this season, I want to exhort you to two things: First, on the practical side, you should start preparing now for Advent and Christmas and the coming celebration of the life of Christ. But your preparation should not be based on the commercials and advertisements and catalogues that are beginning to fill your mailboxes. Of course, we want to be a people full of generosity and gift giving is certainly part of that, but begin planning for it. This means planning with regard to your budget, planning to be generous, planning to share with others. This means planning your calendar: how will you celebrate Advent with your family? What about Christmas? How about Epiphany? How will you remember together and with friends and neighbors? Remember that the calendar is really just an excuse to say thank you; the calendar is a way of organizing your thankfulness to God and we express that gratitude by sharing it with our children, with our neighbors, and coworkers. The last point is that we want to do all of this in light of the end. Advent remembers all the ways God has come, and looks forward in faith to all the ways He will continue to come, culminating in His second coming, the Final Advent when the Lord comes to judge the living and the dead. And this means that we want to celebrate, give thanks, and rejoice in light of eternity, in light of the Final Advent. We want to celebrate now as those who are ready for the return of the Master. Of course Jesus may not return for another fifty thousand years, but remembering the end of the story is one of the best ways to be faithful in the middle of it. And the point is just be thankful and rejoice in the Lord, don’t put on a show, don’t envy your neighbors, don’t pat yourself on the back for doing more than the guy down at that other church. Just be thankful, and use every chance you get to make a big deal about the goodness of God.

And here we go, catching up to the first week of Advent. Can I honestly admit that I have never really thought of Advent as a season of penitence? I feel like I’ve been missing something. But I love this reminder in the form of what seems to us to be a dichotomy (but obviously isn’t): penitence being shown by parties and carols and decorations and gifts and chocolate. I love that. And of course by confession and repentance. But those can be joyful and noisy too. Praise God.

Today is the first Sunday in Advent and this season has historically been understood and celebrated as a season of preparation and penitence. And it might seem odd to us as we begin celebrating this season of penitence to start having parties and singing carols and putting up decorations. Isn’t penitence all about sitting quietly, morosely meditating in the dark, all alone? Of course there may always be times for quiet and thoughtful reflection, but one of the most powerful ways the Spirit plows the fields of our lives is through people, through children, through spouses, through parents, through siblings, through other friends and family and even strangers. And so I can’t think of a much better way to celebrate a penitential season than by having numerous occasions with all kinds of people in the same room. Going home for the holidays? Perfect. Going to see Great Aunt so and so for Christmas? Excellent. Having the whats-their-names over for dinner? These are all great opportunities to see the Spirit do His thing. And what’s His thing? Well, how will you respond when the dinner guests are late? Or they don’t like your food? Or they’re kind of cranky about celebrating Christmas? You know it was a pagan holiday, right? What about when the kids run through your freshly picked up living room and leave it in shambles right before the Advent party? What about when Uncle So-and-so launches into a speech on the evils and dangers of Peter Leithart and Douglas Wilson? People are ready made chances to see sin and opportunities to fight your own dragons. When does sin rear its ugly head in your life? When you’re tired, when you’re stressed, when you’ve spent too much money? When you’re annoyed at the commercialism of our culture, when the canned Christmas musack won’t stop? When the lines and crowds are milling around you? Use Advent as an opportunity to see your sins and confess them, to see your pride when you are slighted and confess it, to see your greed and envy and confess it, to see your lack of self control and contentment and confess it. Sinful people can always come up with a tidy penitence. We like the idea of confessing sin in the abstract, but we frequently hate actually doing it. Because it means saying out loud that you were wrong, that you sinned, and asking God and whomever you’ve wronged to forgive you. So plan the parties, decorate and sing and remember to confess your sins so that your joy may be full.

Tuesday December 1, 2009

First week of Advent, 2009

Come, thou long-expected Jesus,

born to set Thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in Thee.

Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth Thou art:
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.

Born Thy people to deliver,
born a Child, and yet a King,
born to reign in us for ever,
now Thy gracious kingdom bring.

By Thine own eternal Spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by Thine all-sufficient merit
raise us to Thy glorious throne.

~Charlies Wesley, 1744

Isaiah 9:1-7

Nevertheless the gloom will not be upon her who is distressed,
      As when at first He lightly esteemed
      The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
      And afterward more heavily oppressed her,
      By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan,
      In Galilee of the Gentiles.
       The people who walked in darkness
      Have seen a great light;
      Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death,
      Upon them a light has shined.
       You have multiplied the nation
      And increased its joy;
      They rejoice before You
      According to the joy of harvest,
      As men rejoice when they divide the spoil.
       For You have broken the yoke of his burden
      And the staff of his shoulder,
      The rod of his oppressor,
      As in the day of Midian.
       For every warrior’s sandal from the noisy battle,
      And garments rolled in blood,
      Will be used for burning and fuel of fire.
       For unto us a Child is born,
      Unto us a Son is given;
      And the government will be upon His shoulder.
      And His name will be called
      Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
      Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
       Of the increase of His government and peace
      There will be no end,
      Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
      To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
      From that time forward, even forever.
      The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

This year, we are again using the Advent Calendar that I made last year out of crocheted mittens. Since Advent can be 22 to 28 days long depending on the year, most years there will be some empty mittens. This year Advent began on November 29th, and we have just two empty mittens. Last year, each mitten held a tiny piece of paper with a Scripture reference as well as two small candies. This year, each mitten simply holds three chocolates – Lindt Lindor truffles, to be precise. And instead of “just Scripture” we are going through an Advent devotional book together in addition to reading small portions of Scripture. So each evening, just before bedtime, we gather on the couch – that part is usual, since it is where we usually sit together for evening family worship. The subject matter is different, as we take a break from our usual readings (we have lately been in Samuel) and focus on this season in the Church year. And the extra special catch is that there is chocolate involved, between the readings and the singing. Gabriel will start catching on to this added twist in our liturgy very soon – and after Christmas he will most certainly wonder where the chocolate has gone. 🙂 On Sundays (and Christmas!) we will be lighting our Advent wreath as well: we have four white candles for the four Sundays of Advent, and one red candle for Christmas morning (instead of the traditional lavender, pink, red, white).

Advent marks the beginning of the Church year. The word Advent is from the Latin adventus (parousia in Greek) for “coming” or “arrival”, and we focus on Jesus’ past, present, and future presence.
* History: Jesus was a real person born in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago ~ that was His first Advent.
* Mystery: Jesus is always with us through the gift of grace. Grace is a sharing in God’s own life and love that we cannot understand but believe in through faith.
* Majesty: Christ will come again—the Second Advent—in glory at the end of time.

Our worship, scripture readings, and prayers not only prepare us spiritually for Christmas (His first advent), but also for His eventual second advent. This is why the Scripture readings during Advent include both Old Testament passages related to the expected Messiah, and New Testament passages concerning Jesus’ second coming as judge of all people. Also, passages about John the Baptist, the precursor who prepared the way for the Messiah, are read.
(i.e. Isaiah 2:1-5,7:10-14, Jeremiah 33:14-16, Zephaniah 3:14-18, Micah 5:2-5a, Matthew 24:37-44, Romans 13:11-14)

Our celebration of Advent is a lovely time for us as a family to focus on feelings of exile, expectation, preparation, hope, anticipation, longing ~ things that certainly are near to us right now. We are waiting for the Lord. It makes Advent very real, very personal, extra meaningful to us right now.

Advent is a season of preparation, but we need to ask ourselves, “what are we preparing for?
Advent is a season of expectation, but we need to ask ourselves, “what are we expecting?
Advent is a season of hope, but we need to ask ourselves, “for what and whom do we hope?

Did you know that Advent is not part of the Christmas season itself? Advent is a season prior to Christmas. The Christmas season begins (according to the Church calendar) with Christmas, and concludes with Epiphany. That is where the 12 days of Christmas originated. Pretty nifty, eh? 🙂 Christmas is not meant to be a single isolated day, but a feasting festival of the Incarnation in the midst of the Church year. Christmas is perhaps best understood after having the preparation of Advent. Advent provides an opportunity to continually re-orient ourselves to God’s will as we expectantly wait with patriarchs, prophets, and kings for the true meaning of Christmas: the Incarnation of God the Son. As the church celebrates God’s inbreaking into history in the Incarnation, and anticipates a future consummation to that history for which “all creation is groaning awaiting its redemption,” it also confesses its own responsibility as a people commissioned to “love the Lord your God with all your heart” and to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Two links for your perusal:
one with practical information, readings, references, ideas, and inspiration
another with Luther’s flair, as selections from his sermons focus on the seasons of Advent and Christmas

God bless you all during this first week of Advent.
Long, expect, prepare, hope ~ anticipate the coming of Christ.