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).

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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