Biblical Messages

In the beginning

…no, not that “In the beginning” – the one in John 1.1-5!  We’re starting a series on John’s Gospel with this message, which starts the season of Advent.  This is the closest John comes to a birth narrative; listen, or watch, to find out why it’s One Of Those Things that’s Not Like The Others.

 

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Encouragement From The Word

Simple preparation

This weekend brings the beginning of the season of Advent, a time when God’s people prepare themselves – in every way – for the birth of his Son.  It’s what sets us apart from the rest of the world, that spends its time preparing for Christmas by shopping ‘til they drop.

For some, it is a very elaborate preparation:  there are special services, candles to be lit, prayers to be said, both at church and at home.  For others, it is a very simple preparation:  extra time spent in prayer, spiritually and emotionally getting ready to mark what followers of Jesus have been marking for over 2000 years.

This dichotomy is well expressed in one location.  If you’ve never been to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, I recommend you go at least once.  Upon arrival, you’ll see a very small door that opens into a large nave, at the front of which are some very elaborate decorations, common to the tradition that regularly worships in that building.  Underneath the front section of that worship space, one descends a small, narrow staircase into a grotto – a cave – where one can touch what is believed to be the very place where the birth of Jesus happened.

There’s a lot of bling on top, but at the very root of Jesus’ birthplace is rock.  Above the elaborate is simplicity.

You can have one, you can have the other, you can even have both – but whether your Advent is simple or elaborate, celebrate.  Get ready.  The birth of Jesus is nothing if not world-changing.  That deserves our attention, and our devotion.

Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says:
‘Look! I am placing a foundation stone in Jerusalem,
a firm and tested stone.
It is a precious cornerstone that is safe to build on.
Whoever believes need never be shaken’
” (Isaiah 28.16, NLT).

 

Biblical Messages

CAROLS BEHIND THE CURTAIN: Come, Thou long-expected Jesus

In this Advent series, we’re looking at some popular Christmas carols that we love to sing, and what they mean.  Often, we sing along with something mindlessly, without giving attention to what the words mean.  We are enjoined to sing with understanding, so in this series, we’re taking a look at carols behind the curtain.

Today, we looked at Charles Wesley’s hymn, “Come, Thou long-expected Jesus.”  Readings in this service included Psalm 33 and Matthew 1.18-25.

You can listen below, or watch the video on https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fjeff.loach%2Fvideos%2F10210685348427020%2F&show_text=0&width=560” target=”_blank”>Facebook.

Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

Always Christmas, never winter

Last week, I wrote about waiting. We all find it hard, being used to getting what we want when we want it. But waiting, along with being a reality of life (and of Advent!), is a spiritual discipline. Among the fruit of the Spirit, according to the apostle Paul in Galatians 5.22-23, is patience. And it takes patience to wait.

Where I live, the only hints of the season are decorations and sales at the malls. There is no snow to remind us that Christmas is coming. We want to “get into the season”, so we sing carols and hope that will make us sufficiently festive. But maybe – just maybe – waiting even to sing carols is not a bad thing.

Advent is not only a season of waiting, but of preparation, even penitence. What, we can ask ourselves, have we done to make ourselves spiritually ready for Christmas? We’ve learned how to be ready by other standards, after all: shopping for all the right people, arranging our calendars to fit in all the necessary gatherings, etc. But are we ready spiritually?

I’ve always been fascinated by C.S. Lewis’ statement in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe about what it’s like in Narnia under the evil witch: “Always winter, never Christmas.” I can’t remember where I read it, but not long ago, I read a twist on that quotation that I think applies to our culture at this time of year: “Always Christmas, never winter.”

Breathe for a moment, and ponder that: “Always Christmas, never winter.”

For those who find Christmas an especially difficult time because of the death of a loved one, that saying may make more sense than to others, for they experience a greater degree of ‘winter’ as they process the reality of a special time of year bereft of someone who mattered deeply to them. But to much of society, there is an innate desire to skip the ‘winter’ part and move directly to Christmas. (This same desire transports people immediately from Palm Sunday to Easter, skipping over the ‘winter’ of Good Friday, but that’s a topic for another day.)

I think Christmas becomes more meaningful when we endure a bit of ‘winter’, whether with snow or not. And Advent can help us do that. It doesn’t mean we have to endure profound suffering, but a ‘winter’ experience can help us look at our spirits in the mirror and see what we need to do to be spiritually ready for Christmas.

Will you take some time to experience ‘winter’ before Christmas?

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life” (Psalm 139.23-24, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

Waiting

Advent is a season of waiting. And we live in a time when we’re not really used to waiting, so it can be very hard for us.

I don’t know if your childhood experience was like mine, but when I was a kid, seeing all the presents under the tree, weeks before Christmas, left me feeling very impatient. Some years, my mother would let me open one gift sometime in the week before Christmas. I don’t know whether that was to get me to shut up or if there was some more noble purpose behind it. Of course, it worked for a while, but not really for long.

As adults in this day and age, the older we get, the less we need or even want for Christmas; when we need or want something, if it’s within budget (hopefully!), we just go out and get it. Instant gratification.

Advent flies in the face of instant gratification. It is properly a season of penitence, of self-examination, as we prepare our hearts for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. One friend of mine suggested that this can even dovetail with our culture’s desire to celebrate Christmas long before the actual feast (by singing carols, etc.) by inviting people to give up the busyness and crazy scheduling that goes with December in favour of celebrating the joy that the season brings. I like the idea, but too often we end up adding “joy” to our calendar, filling it up even more.

Try an experiment: hold you breath as long as you can. When you finally exhale and draw in more air, there is a certain relief, and maybe even exhilaration, that you can breathe again, right? Advent is a bit like holding your breath. When we finally ‘exhale’ at the celebration of the Nativity, there is a real sense of delight – a sense that, I think, is muted when we begin too soon.

Of course, the world’s celebration of the season is not really the church’s celebration. We’re not in it for the dollars and cents (think advertisements, Black Friday and Cyber Monday). But we do have a ‘bottom line’, of a sort, don’t we? We want Jesus to be born in the hearts of people. There are aspects of the world’s celebration that plays into our hands; after all, at what other time of the year do malls pipe good theology through their music systems?

Let Advent be a spiritual discipline for you, as it was intended to be. Wait. Hold your breath. See if it deepens your celebration even more.

All earth is waiting to see the Promised One,

And open furrows await the seed of God.

All the world, bound and struggling, seeks true liberty;

It cries out for justice and searches for the truth.

-Alberto Taulé, tr. Gertrude C. Suppe

Encouragement From The Word

Rejoice!

This Sunday marks the third Sunday of Advent, a day traditionally marked with rejoicing. You might wonder why there is a single Sunday set aside for rejoicing in a season that is supposed to be filled with rejoicing! But, as with so many things, there is a story behind it.

Of all the seasons of the Christian year, Advent is actually the newest. And, like Lent, for the longest time, it was a season of penitence: that’s right, the church spent the weeks leading up to the celebration of Jesus’ birth in reflection and repentance. Holy celebrations like Christmas and Easter were prepared for by examining ourselves and ridding ourselves of sin so that we would be fully ready for the birth, or resurrection, of the Saviour.

That’s why the third Sunday of Advent and the fourth Sunday in Lent were traditionally set aside as Sundays for rejoicing amid our penitence. And the traditional colour of rejoicing is pink, which is why the Advent wreath has a pink candle that is lit on the third Sunday.

Because the season of Advent particularly has lost its penitential nature, we have lost the special significance of this upcoming Sunday of rejoicing. We look at the whole season as one of rejoicing! And that’s not all bad, to be sure: we should revel in celebrating Jesus’ birth.

But maybe it’s not a bad idea, too, to remember the history of the season, and examine ourselves. After all, the best way to be ready for Jesus’ coming – and coming again! – is by confessing our sins and accepting the good news of our forgiveness, which comes through that coming Saviour.

Think of it this way; forgive the odd nature of the illustration, but I think you’ll find it will work. Besides getting popcorn and a drink, what’s the one thing you do before you go into the theatre to watch a movie? Come on, admit it: you go to the bathroom. You don’t want to have to miss any part of the movie, so you do your business beforehand so you won’t have to get up in the middle, right?

Think of the penitential aspect of Advent in the same way. We don’t want to be blinded to any part of the celebration of Jesus’ birth by sin. We don’t want our unrighteousness to block our rejoicing in the Righteous One. So take some time in these crazy weeks to void yourself of whatever keeps you from a full-out love relationship with the Lord whose birth we celebrate.

But this Sunday, make sure you rejoice.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4.4-7, NIV).

 

Encouragement From The Word

Jesus is worth the wait

Though the radio stations are already playing Christmas music, and Wal-Mart has gifts and tinsel up for sale (heck, Costco had decorations up in October!), it’s not Christmas yet. That doesn’t start until December 25.

This Sunday, we begin the Christian year with the season of Advent. It’s a season of waiting, of anticipation. In years gone by, it has been a season of penitence, though that seems to have gone by the wayside. But I think there’s great value in celebrating Advent, in waiting for Christmas.

I don’t know about you, but I grew up in a household where, if you wanted something, you saved up for it until you could afford to buy it. Credit was unheard of in my parents’ home, unless you count the mortgage. And there was a certain satisfaction in that, wasn’t there? You saved up to buy something you wanted, and there was anticipation in it. If you really needed (or wanted) it, the anticipation only made the acquisition all the more sweet. If it was just an impulse, and you didn’t really want or need it, saving up for it saved you from buyer’s remorse, because the interest waned while you saved.

Nowadays, saving up for something seems like a quaint custom of a bygone era. And I think that has cost us – not only in terms of interest paid on credit cards and lines of credit, but also in terms of the value of waiting.

For many people, what the world calls the Christmas Season is a frenetic time. Celebrating Advent can actually slow us down a little bit. When we focus each Sunday, and perhaps the surrounding week, on hope, peace, joy and love (or whatever other themes your church might want to use beyond the traditional), we are able to savour all the more fully the amazing gift that is the birth of Jesus.

Followers of Jesus know that the birth of the Saviour was no ordinary birth. This was God’s entrance into history in a tangible way, unlike no other time before – a gift beyond measure…a gift worth waiting for.

Let me encourage you, this year, to celebrate Advent. Even if your church doesn’t mark it in any significant way, you can celebrate at home. There are Advent calendars (though most involve chocolate and only recognize the month of December, it can still be a useful tool); you can make and light an Advent wreath in your home; you can (and this is radical!) even consciously decide not to sing Christmas carols until Christmas! If you can’t handle that, you might consider saving one special Christmas carol for Christmas Eve. (I do this with “O come, all ye faithful”.)

Jesus is worth the wait!

Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous.   Yes, wait patiently for the Lord” (Psalm 27.14, NLT).