Encouragement From The Word

Standing at the gate

Part of Minnie Louise Haskins’ poem, made famous by King George VI in his address to the Commonwealth in December 1939, reads thus:

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’ 
And he replied: 
‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.’ 
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

Here we stand at the gate of the year once again.  By God’s grace, we survived 2021.

We had higher hopes for it than were produced, in terms of the pandemic, though each of us surely had some highlight that made the year worth living.  Personally, I could make a list of things that made 2021 worth living!

That said, we are, shall we say, cautious about our entry through the gate of the year.

There’s been a cartoon floating around social media lately, showing a group of people hiding around a corner while one of them reaches with a broom handle and gently pushes open a door labelled “2022”.  It’s pretty apt; most of us are wondering what could possibly come next.  (The next letter in the Greek alphabet is pi, though they’ve skipped over a few before…if there’s a pi variant, I hope it’s blueberry.)

But seriously, many of us are crossing the threshold of the new year with caution.  But Haskins’ poem is an apt reminder for us:  we must go out into the darkness, and put our hand into the hand of God.  We are, after all, a people of faith.

Our faith is a specific faith, a faith that believes Jesus died on the cross to pay the price for our sins, and rose from the dead to pave the way to eternal life for all believers.  But it is also a more general faith, in which simply lying down to sleep at night is an act of faith that we will rise the next day.  That is more than placing our hand in the hand of God: it is placing our entire being in the care of God.  And at that each of us is well-rehearsed.

So walk boldly into the surprise that will be 2022, knowing that for the One in whose hand we place ours, it will be no surprise at all.

because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan” (Ephesians 1.11, NLT).

Happy new year!

Encouragement From The Word returns on January 14.

Encouragement From The Word

The weary world rejoices

There are many beloved Christmas songs.  Some, like O come, all ye faithful and Hark! the herald angels sing are rich in theological depth and meaning.  Others are more experiential.  And even the experience-based songs can speak to us.

Among those that I’m thinking of this year is the Victorian classic, O holy night.  (It’s going to be sung at our service tonight.)  In that song, there’s a line that seems particularly poignant this year.  In reference to the Saviour’s birth, we hear:

A thrill of hope – the weary world rejoices,
for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

The weary world rejoices.

It’s been a challenging year.  We need a reason to rejoice.

Even in what might be argued as the height and hopefully last gasp of the pandemic, Jesus’ birth gives us a reason to rejoice.

So rejoice!

Merry Christmas.

Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again:  Rejoice!” (Philippians 4.4, NIV).

Encouragement From The Word

Hopes and fears

One of the most beloved Christmas carols is “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”  In that carol, New England preacher Phillips Brooks wrote, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

Well, let’s say that 2021 has brought with it its own share of hopes and fears, intermingled.  And Brooks’ words have never been more true:  even the hopes and fears of 2021 are met in Bethlehem’s manger.  No matter what the world may throw at us, Jesus is able to meet it head on.

And this is not just warm, fuzzy romanticism: if we will believe it, it is true.  Of course, there are those for whom the truth proclaimed in Christmas carols remains mere romanticism, because they lack faith in the One those carols exalts.  But when we believe that Jesus came into this world to save sinners like us, we realize in a most profound way that “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

The late theologian, J. I. Packer, once said, “Faith is not just believing Christian truth, but forsaking self-confidence and man-made hopes to trust wholly in Christ.”

We might look back on the year and be pretty proud of ourselves – for surviving, if nothing else.  But faith in Christ means realizing that even that comes solely by God’s grace.

So bring your hopes and your fears, and lay them at the foot of the manger in Bethlehem.  It’s a move you won’t regret.

I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me.
    He freed me from all my fears.
Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy
” (Psalm 34.4-5a, NLT).

Biblical Messages

What a Concept(ion)!

In this worship gathering, we hear a message from Isaiah 7.1-17 on “Immanuel”, born of a virgin. What meaning did it have for Isaiah’s time – particularly for King Ahaz – and what meaning does it have for us readers of the New Testament (since Matthew quotes this in his story of Jesus’ birth)? Watch here and find out more about the importance of trusting God. You can watch the whole worship gathering below, or just the message below that.

Encouragement From The Word

Busy isn’t always better

Does December feel a bit different this year?

I could have asked that question last year and gotten a resounding YES! out of most any reader.  But what about this year?

Despite rising case numbers and the advent of the Omicron variant, this month leading up to Christmas seems a bit more normal than last year, for many people.  After all, stores are open, people are shopping, traffic jams in mall parking lots are there – but does it feel the same as in the past?

For those of us in church life – staff or volunteer – last December showed us how different it could be.  Commonly, our churches have been bustling with activity, from pageants to suppers to services.  Combine that with family obligations, and a lot of Jesus’ followers were pretty worn out by the time it came to celebrate his birth.

Last year was different.  Where I live, anyway, we were in lockdown at Christmas.  Activities were curtailed.  Family gatherings were discouraged.  Services were online-only and, in many cases, pre-recorded.

This year, unless things change drastically in the next two weeks, we’ll be able to have limited activities, gatherings, and services, all face-to-face.  But my sense is that the pace is slower.  The tension is lower.  The frenetic level of activity around this holy season has been reduced.

To me, it feels more…human.

How appropriate.

After all, this scurrying about that we do in December is all in celebration of God who became human.  That’s what incarnation means.

When John, the Gospel writer, gave his version of a birth narrative, he proclaimed that “the Word became human and made his home among us.  He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness.  And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son” (John 1.14, NLT).

In this version of the New Normal (and, we sense, there will be at least one more version yet to come), we have a bit more time, amid our celebrating, to behold the unfailing love and faithfulness, the glory of God, who became human and made his home among us.

I hope, in these weeks that remain before Christmas, that you will embrace that opportunity to behold those things…because busy isn’t always better.

Encouragement From The Word

Supply chain issues

The pandemic has taught us all kinds of new terms, hasn’t it?

Perhaps the most popular has been pivot.  We’ve all had to pivot in some ways to make do during this interesting season of life.

Another that we may have learned, more familiar to those in the inner working of business, is supply chain.

Until recently, most of us didn’t know or care how things got to the stores where we bought them; it just happened.

But these days, we hear of all kinds of things that are in short supply because of supply chain issues.

For example, I was getting the oil changed in my vehicle the other day.  My lease is coming due in the new year, so I thought I’d spend some time in the showroom at the dealership while I waited.

There was one vehicle in the showroom.  One.

When I inquired of a salesman about my options with my lease contract coming to completion, I was told that if I ordered a new vehicle that day, I might have it by May.  And this is for a vehicle that is made in Canada.

Crazy, isn’t it?

It all has to do with microchips that are, apparently, in short supply because of the pandemic.  It’s a supply chain issue.

On the radio yesterday, I heard that people should go out and buy their Christmas gifts now because many of the things we might like to buy for our loved ones may be hard to find, because of – you guessed it – supply chain issues.

Thankfully, we’re not talking about essentials like toilet paper, which was in short supply during the early days of the pandemic, but that wasn’t a supply chain issue; that was a hoarding issue.

All this reminds, me, though, that Christmas will happen whether there are supply chain issues or not.  It’s appropriate to give gifts at Christmas as a symbol of the greatest gift ever given to the human race in the incarnation, the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ.  But that doesn’t mean there has to be a huge number of gifts sitting under the tree on Christmas morning.

Perhaps a shortage of the usual gifts may serve as a reminder that there really is one Gift that will never be in short supply.  The gift that is Jesus will always be available.  Indeed, he is waiting for us to embrace him today.

If only we would embrace the Lord Jesus with the same haste and enthusiasm with which we seek to purchase things that will last only a while.  Faith in the One who came to redeem us from sin on the cross and bring us eternal life through the empty tomb is ready to receive us into his family by faith.

Yet the time will come when the proverbial supply chain will dry up, when Jesus will return to receive his own to himself, and then…then it will be too late if we have waited.

The media tell us not to wait to buy things.  I encourage you not to wait to embrace the One who bought youwith the price of his life.  Trust him today.

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10.13, NLT; cf. Joel 2.32).