Got Hope?

Jesus, the hope of our world, is remembered during this season of Christmas as God’s gift to creation. He is more than a symbol of hope or a message of hope; he is our hope. He came to reveal God’s love, God’s way, God’s truth, and a new way of life. As we continue through these 12 days of Christmas, maybe it would be a good exercise to ask, Is Jesus my hope, and do I live like it?

Too often I find myself misplacing my hope. I place my hope in my income or in a new project or a person; my energy for living and hope is found in some temporal, less satisfying source. It is easy for us who have so much to misplace our hope. Our trust is placed in political solutions or our financial resources, or we just give up on hope and muddle through. This is not the way of following Christ.

During this Christmas season, may we make it a matter of deep reflection and concerted prayer to ask, Am I becoming a person of genuine hope?

May the following passage guide us in going beyond comprehension to a deep, intimate knowledge of where our hope lies. May we begin to grow in this area and allow this deep, historical, and mysterious hope begin to displace our misplaced trust in temporal hopes.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.  Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,

you may now dismiss your servant in peace.

For my eyes have seen your salvation,

which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:

a light for revelation to the Gentiles,

and the glory of your people Israel.’”

[Luke 2: 25-31]


A Prayer for Christmas

Merry Christmas! May this day find you full of love, peace, and joy derived from a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. [Luke 2:12]

As you spend time with family and friends over the next few days of this Christmas season you might find time to share this prayer:

Blessed are you, O Lord, our God, for you have made our gladness greater and increased our joy by sending to dwell among us the wonderful counselor, the prince of peace. Born of Mary, proclaimed to the shepherds and acknowledged to the ends of the earth, your unconquered sun of righteousness gives light in darkness and establishes us in freedom. All glory in the highest be to you, through Christ, the son of your favor, in the abiding presence of your Spirit, this day and forever and ever. Amen.

The Book of Common Worship: Daily Prayer, p. 49

Photo: duane.schoon


Pass It Along

 

Before we know it, the holidays will be about piling used wrapping paper into the garbage, cleaning up from a meal, and debating when it is appropriate to start taking down the decorations. When my daughter was young, as we put away the decorations, I often was haunted by the question, Did she get more than presents this Christmas? It was an honest question that didn’t always have a clear-cut answer.

The days leading up to and away from the remembrance of our Savior’s birth are times when many families re-enact various traditions. In our own family, a variety of traditions play out during this time from the food we eat, to the specific placement of certain decorations, to the appearance of the kings in our nativity, to the reading of Luke 2, to the way in which we give and receive presents; all of it is guided by years of tradition. I would bet many families engage in traditions that have been passed along from parents to children over many years. Which returns us to the haunting question: In all our festivities, activities, and traditions, are we passing along more than presents to our children?

Tradition, often seen as a negative thing, in fact means, “handing down.” God institutes many traditions with the Israelites for the express purpose of ensuring that each generation will pass down to their children the stories, experiences, laws, and practices that will make them a peculiar people, blessed to be a blessing. We would do well—not only at Christmas—to ask ourselves, What are we passing down? In our families and churches, what are we intentionally passing down to ensure that the glowing coals of God’s character and purpose will start a fire in the lives of our children?

“Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.”

-Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)

Photo: gregor_bug


Amazing Love

The final Sunday of Advent is on the horizon. The Advent wreath soon will burn brightly, ablaze with four candles signifying our hope, peace, joy, and love, all embodied in the one who first came among us as a babe in a manger and will soon return as King of kings. The fourth candle signifies love, calling attention to one of the most well-known of all verses from our Scriptures:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. [John 3.16]

As we prepare to worship on this fourth and final Sunday of Advent, let the words from Paul Sheneman’s Illuminate: An Advent Experience provide some thoughts to reflect and meditate upon in the days ahead.

God’s love for us began before we were ever created. In the midst of God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—love is eternal and infinite. All things were created out of God’s love. So God called all creation good.

Humans marred the goodness of creation by rejecting God. Our angry “No!” to God didn’t sidetrack his plan. In love, God came into this world and pursued us to the point of death, even death on a cross. It is the love of God that illuminates our world in Christ Jesus, our Lord, and fills us with the responsibility to love our neighbor as ourselves.

We are now entering a time of remembrance and preparation. As we prepare to remember the first coming of Jesus, God’s chosen one, we retell the story of God’s good news of love to the world. And as we prepare by remembering what Jesus taught about his return, we are moved to go out into the world to witness to our neighbors and family about the Light of the World.


God Is with Us

At various points in my life, I gravitate toward certain things more than others. Maybe we all do that, or maybe I am a fickle sort. Either way, for at least the last five or so years, it seems I have a particular affection for a certain title for our God. More than any of the other names or titles that have been attributed to our God, the one I find particularly meaningful is Emmanuel.

The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Emmanuel (which means God with Us).  [Matthew 1:23]

The implications of such a startling reality is that God is not out there; the God of the universe is not content to watch from afar or shout directives from a distance. In Jesus, God is with us. This has always been and will always be God’s way as revealed in the Scriptures from beginning to end (Genesis 3:8; Revelation 21:2-3). In a remarkable way, God has come to be with us in Jesus, and it is during the seasons of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany that we are prompted to remember and realign our lives to this reality of the one called Emmanuel.

In Emmanuel we are reminded that:

  • we are not alone;
  • we are accompanied;
  • we are created to have a capacity for relationship with one another, with creation, and with the one who made it all;
  • we have an ally who is for us and near us (even in us);
  • we can be in constant communion with our Maker and Molder;
  • we can take comfort that he is not far from any of us [Acts 17:27].

 

Make these familiar words your prayer today and throughout this Advent season:

O holy Child of Bethlehem,

    Descend to us, we pray!

Cast out our sin and enter in,

    Be born in us to-day.

We hear the Christmas angels,

    The great glad tidings tell;

O come to us, abide with us,

    Our Lord Emmanuel!

[Stanza 5, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”]

[Photo credit: peforgrave]


Advent Reflections: Ode to Joy

 

 

As we continue to live out our Christian faith in the midst of this Advent season, we approach Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is the Latin word for rejoice. On this Sunday we often light a candle that is a different color (e.g., pink) than the others in recognition of our joy that is made complete in the coming of our Lord.

As we look forward to our celebration of the 3rd Sunday of Advent this weekend, consider these thoughts on joy from Paul Sheneman’s Illuminate: An Advent Experience.

“Hope and peace are now accompanied by great joy as we anticipate the celebration of the birth of the Son of God that is only two weeks away. God’s presence in our activities and prayers is the reason for our deep sense of joy.

Christian joy is greater than the joy the world offers. The world offers us joy in sleek-designed gadgets wrapped in shiny paper. The world’s joy lasts only for a time. Christian joy flows from memories of all the ways God was present in the impossible moments of life. Money from an unknown donor, survival from a severe illness or accident, and an encouraging word in a time of despair—all are examples of God’s presence in life’s impossible moments. Add all those stories to the countless stories from the time of Genesis to today, and you have reason for great joy. So let’s throw all of our efforts into joyfully preparing for the celebration of our Savior, who has come and will come again.”

Let us search for the light of joy that illumines others, in ourselves and in our community and world.


The Season of Fasting

 

 

As the calendar turns from Thanksgiving Day to the day after, many of us psychologically welcome the Christmas season. In our culture, this is very easy to do as we navigate streets decorated with lights, pass Christmas tree lots, schedule holiday gatherings, hear carols and Christmas songs streaming from speakers, and—of course—try to find a place to park at the mall. The Christian calendar differs from our culture’s approach; the Christian year ends five Sundays prior to Christmas with the Feast of Christ the King. The new year begins the next Sunday with the Season of Advent, and this is not the start of the Christmas season; it is a time of repentance and fasting as we await the arrival of Jesus (remembering his birth and awaiting his second coming).

The Christian calendar wisely balances times of feasting and times for fasting. Our worship and formation are dependent on times of intensifying our hunger for God and times to celebrate his appearing and provision in our lives. Fasting is one of those ascetic disciplines we often avoid. In my own life I struggle to practice this discipline regularly. Left to my own devices, I would probably leave fasting for others. Seasons like Advent and Lent in the Christian calendar confront us, reminding us that we are sinners in need of repentance; forgetful and need to reflect and remember; and in need of discipline and fasting to regain our focus and hunger for God.

Don’t be too easily swept up into our cultural Christmas spirit. Take the path before us in Advent and enter into this time of preparation as we wait for the coming of Christ. Join other Christians in slowing down enough to remember, repent, and reignite your hunger for God through fasting.


Advent Reflections 2: Peace.

The season of Advent we find ourselves in year after year is a time of preparation and repentance in anticipation of the feast of Christmas. During these four weeks, we are to make room for Jesus and the kingdom he has inaugurated in our lives, families, and communities. It is nearly impossible not to stumble over the titles ascribed to Jesus as we go through this season: Emmanuel, King, Son of God, and Prince of Peace. This last title is one we consider as we prepare to observe the second Sunday of Advent.

To ignite our thinking about peace, let these thoughts from Paul Sheneman’s Illuminate: An Advent Experience get our brains and hearts considering this theme.

“The peace that is often talked about on the news is an absence of violence. If a peace treaty is signed, then it is assumed that two countries or parties have stopped fighting. The image of the peace treaty also teaches us that peace is a temporary state in our world. We begin to assume that war and violence is the normal way for disagreements to be settled.

When we turn to Scriptures, we get a different picture of peace. God’s action of peace is not just an absence of violence but actually a movement to restore harmony between the many relationships of creation and humanity. The image of God’s peace in Scripture is one where war is no longer a part of our world. Nations will turn their instruments of war into tools for the care of creation (see Isa. 2:4). Everyone will have food, and fear will be absent from our hearts. God’s peace is a wholeness of relationships throughout all creation. This is the peace we hope for at the second coming of our Lord. It is the peace we are called to practice now.”

Where do we see the light of peace in others, in ourselves, and in the world?