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.

 

Facebook video (no account required):  https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fjeff.loach%2Fvideos%2F10214157499748633%2F&show_text=0&width=560

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).