Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

Anticipation…

It’s great to be back in the saddle!  Thanks to all who prayed for me while I was on Inter-Mission/Sabbatical.  It means so much!  I will be talking this Sunday about one important aspect of my experience that is applicable to all of us (you can join us at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton or catch the service on YouTube later), and bits of my experience will trickle out over the course of the next while, including through Encouragement.  Stay tuned!

This week begins the season of Advent, which many Christians mark as a time of anticipation for the birth of Jesus.  Outside certain churches, it’s not widely practised in western society.  Why?

I think it’s because we have learned to expect everything according to our timetable.

Waiting is not our strong suit.

Yet anticipation, if we stop to think about it, actually heightens our excitement over what we wait for.  If you don’t believe me, let me ask you how much time you spent deciding what you were going to buy today…Black Friday.  (Many of you probably won’t buy anything on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, but sales statistics suggest that not all of us will resist.)

The fact that we are not good at waiting is noticeable even in the church, where there are overt suggestions (if there is no overt pressure) to sing Christmas carols well ahead of Christmas Eve.  I get this; they’ve been played on the radio and in the malls since the day after Remembrance Day (or sooner); let’s enjoy them while we can.

But if we wait, it heightens our anticipation of what is to come.

True, the scenario ends the same way each year: Jesus is born!  But this rhythm of time centred around the salvation narrative is so different from what we experience out in the world that I think it helps strengthen our faith.  (Granted, there are many ways to make that happen.)

So this year, don’t open all the boxes on your Advent calendar in the first week.  Don’t sing “O come, all ye faithful” just yet.  Don’t buy everything you want for Christmas so that there are no surprises greeting you under the tree, symbolizing the greatest gift of all – the Lord Jesus Christ, who is God with skin on, breaking into history to redeem us from sin from which we couldn’t hope to save ourselves.

Happy Advent!

For a child is born to us,
    a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
    And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9.6, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Longing (in a minor key)

Well, we’re getting close!  Christmas is just around the corner.  I hope and pray that your preparations have been less-than-frazzling for you, that you have had time to breathe and enjoy the blessings of the season of Advent.

At St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, we’re going to open our service this week with the Advent carol, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”. It’s a perennial favourite for some, and not a favourite of others.  (This is true of most music, isn’t it?  One of the things I consider when I’m choosing music for worship besides, “Will this fit with the theme of the service?” is, “You can’t please everybody,” and it’s true.)  I suspect some people may not be fans of it because the song is in a minor key.  Some folks just have an aversion to songs in minor keys, and yet there is a good reason why this, and any number of other traditional songs of the season of Advent, are in a minor key:  it’s a musical expression of longing.

That’s what we do in the season of Advent: we long for Jesus to be born.  We long for his ministry to begin.  We long for his atoning death and resurrection to happen. (The latter is a reason why many songs in Lent are in a minor key, too, though we tend to expect that, since Good Friday has a ‘minor key’ feel to it altogether.)

So amid all that has taken place in these past few weeks – getting the house decorated, getting gifts purchased, getting baking done, getting meals prepared, etc., etc…have you had time for some longing?

Here’s a setting of the carol, in case you’ve already sung it this season, or if you’re one of the many recipients of Encouragement who does not attend St. Paul’s.  As you sing it, let your heart be open to longing for Jesus.

[T]he Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’)” (Isaiah 7.14, NLT).

Merry Christmas!

Encouragement From The Word

Advent: anticipating something wonderful

I was recently asked by a friend, “How do you celebrate Advent?  I mean, we know how the story’s going to end already! How can you anticipate something that you know is going to happen?”

It’s a good question.  The answer that came immediately to mind was an analogy from my childhood.

It was the autumn of 1978.  I would turn 11 before the end of that year.  The crispness of the season was in the air, and the leaves were changing colour.  The brilliant red of the maples was especially resplendent that year.  And Dad decided it was time to buy a new truck.

He knew I liked to drive; he’d had me on his lap, steering, on back roads since I was about 4.  (We have differing views of what made us end up in the ditch one time!)  So I got to participate in the truck-buying process.

Dad knew what he wanted:  a 1979 F-100 standard cab, 351 engine (which was a bit of a lemon, as it turned out!), and a 4-speed overdrive standard transmission.  And I was good with all that; after all, I didn’t have a clue what most of it meant!  But at nearly 11 years old, I knew my colours pretty well.  So it was up to me, said Dad, to pick the colour.

Ford had a number of colour choices even then, which probably left Henry “You can have any colour you like, as long as it’s black” Ford rolling over in his grave.

My choice was obvious:  Candy Apple Red.

I still wonder if Dad thought that was a bit too sporty for him (I really should ask him!), but he went along with it.  The papers were signed, the deposit handed over, and then we waited.

See, this truck had to be built; it wasn’t sitting on the lot.  So there was a bit of a wait, a time of anticipation.  We knew it was coming, and we even had a date – but there was a time of waiting that just built the anticipation of having a new truck.

I remember when the truck was delivered.  I walked down to the dealership to get a sneak-peak at it, but it was covered in snow from the previous night’s storm!  Still, when Dad and I went to pick it up, I remember beholding the beauty of that Candy Apple Red pickup.  (Every time I smell Ziebart® rustproofing, I still think of the first time I got into that truck.)

Dad kept that truck for several years.  I learned to drive in it, though, thankfully, I didn’t have to take my road test in it (which is another story altogether).  But even today, every time I see a Ford pickup in any shade even close to Candy Apple Red, I am taken back to the months preceding my 11th birthday, and filled with anticipation all over again.

Let Advent be that for you:  a time of anticipation for something wonderful that you know is coming…the birth of the Saviour of the world!

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us” (Isaiah 9.6a, NLT).

Biblical Messages

Light of the World

“Light of the World” – that’s what Jesus calls himself in John 8.12-20, the focus of this message.  What does it mean for us?  Listen, or watch, below.  The link to the video shown at the end of the message is at the bottom.

The video shown at the end of the message can be found here.

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.