Tag: Advent (page 1 of 2)

Silent Night 2016

How would you describe 2016? If you Google “2016”, you’ll see one of the top searches was “2016 the worst year ever.” Some of these articles go back to this July, not just the recent days of December. This year has been mired in social media arguments, political unrest, and a lack of empathy to say the least.

All of 2016 has led us to the December Christmas season. In a time of thoughtful and spiritual reflection, our minds can race through the anxiety and at times even anger from the last eleven months. The idea of Advent, Christ’s coming, seems so distant from the chaos of the world around us.

Recently, I sang “Silent Night.” Two lines of the song stopped me:

All is calm
All is bright

Questions emerged in my mind. Was it really all calm? Was it really bright? These questions seem fodder for theologians to debate late into the night. Part of the cynic in all of us asks these questions, because our current reality may not match the lyrics.

The Christmas story disarrays the characters. Mary has to explain the meeting with an angel and an unforeseen pregnancy. Joseph has the same problem. This couple then gets displaced from their current residence to Bethlehem. They find lodging in a stable as opposed to a room. They would later escape to Egypt because of an evil ruler. We could include the shepherds and the kings who got re-routed to see Jesus.

“Silent Night” offers us the radical message of hope. A hope based on Jesus, the Messiah, entering the world of chaos. Rather than elevating His heavenly power to become an earthly king, He steps into the disarray of the world as a powerless baby. That’s Good News because He has walked where we walked, especially in 2016.

What Mary and Joseph experienced and what 2016 has brought us is the Savior stepping into the darkness with us.

Celebrating Christmas in 2016 is much more than the presents, tinsel, holly, and feel good notions. It’s hope for people stuck in this year’s reality. Looking for the bright and the calm has less to do with the present circumstances, and more to do with the deeper significance and meaning of “God with us.”

Whatever 2016 has brought, let the Christmas season move you beyond the current chaos to the reality seen in the Gospel. The Savior born in an unexpected context brings us hope in His death and resurrection.

Photo credit by Ben White.

Why the Genealogies in the Bible Matter?

You want to begin to read the Christmas story. Turning to Matthew’s Gospel, you start with the first chapter. The first seventeen verses give a genealogy of Jesus’ family. A litany continues “So and so fathered so and so…” Though we can recognize some of the names such as Abraham, Jacob, and David, why would this ancient list of names matter to us?

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The scriptures do not hide from brokenness. Psalms record the candid prayers of people, often sharing frustrations with God. Historical books like Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, and 1 & 2 Kings, share do not shy away from human sinfulness. If anything, the scriptures paint us a reality of life marred by sin.

Jesus’ family tree includes the following…
Abraham lied about his wife Sarah to protect himself.
Jacob tricked his own blind and aging father.
Judah fathered a child in this lineage with the wife of one of his sons.
David killed a man to marry his wife.
Then you can follow the unkempt stories of Rehoboam and Manasseh.

Safe to safe, we will never compare Jesus’ relatives with the gravitas of British monarchy.

Matthew, the writer of the Gospel, has his past to reconcile. This genealogy reflects his life. He sold his Jewish soul to become a wealthy tax collector in the Roman government, enemies of his people. Later on in his Gospel, he will tell of Jesus calling him (Matt. 9-13). The people we would never think to belong to the line of a Savior become the people which God works through.

Michael J. Wilkins in his commentary on Matthew, says this about Jesus’ genealogy:

Thus, at the very start of his Gospel, Matthew points his readers beyond the personal qualifications of individuals who belong to the line of the Messiah. He focuses instead on the faithfulness of God to bring about his plan of salvation. As will be made clear throughout Matthew’s story of Jesus’ life and ministry, it was God’s overwhelming love for his people that energized his faithfulness… (pg. 66-67)

As we look at our lives, we do not have to hide from reality. We carry the guilt and shame of our past. Some of our families emulate far more dysfunction than consistency. Many of us still have scars from the pain and hurt in our lives.

The Good News of the Gospel shatters the lie having the right pedigree or credentials to follow Jesus. If we learn anything from Jesus, His greatest miracles happen through fractured individuals because they realize their need for His grace. Rather than human effort or accomplishment, Christ reveals his faithfulness to us despite our brokenness.

Do not skip over the genealogies of the Bible. It’s a part of our story. Let this passage of scripture remind you of God’s faithfulness in the midst of regular people. He has called us based on His overwhelming love. Thus, we can experience the peace of reconciliation with Him and invite others to do the same.

Photo credit by Viktor Hanacek.

Reads of the Week | 12/19/2015

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Start your weekend with these five articles in the Reads of the Week.

Where Can You Turn When You Lack Purpose in Life? by Jeff Martin

We can suffer from restlessness and wondering our purpose. Martin does a phenomonally helps us to radically simplify our lives through God’s perspective.

The Light of the World by Bryan Marvel

Our homes and streets are filled with lights during Christmas. Marvel calls us to stop and remember the meaning behind the lights.

Advent Anxiety by Chuck DeGroat

“Anxiety is the enemy of Advent.” DeGroat provides us with a timely article for the week leading up to Christmas.

‘O Holy Night’: A Call to Fall to Your Knees by Emma Green

The Atlantic has featured the 12 Days of Christmas Songs. Green gives an insightful background to O Holy Night with a reference to Sufjan Stevens version.

How Beautiful Things are Built from Destruction by Melissa Camara Wilkins

Wilkins helps a have a fuller picture of beauty in the midst of ashes. We can see the reality of the disaster, but we can look to the next chapter.

What were your reads of the week? Share the links in the comment section below.

Photo credit by Aleksi Tappura.

When You’re Tempted to Compare this Christmas

A week from today we celebrate Christmas Eve. Until then, many of us will experience a whirlwind of activities. Wrap the presents. Many of us still have to buy the gifts. Attend whatever party or function left in the schedule. Travel to our Christmas destination. Perhaps, clean the house and cook a meal.

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In the midst of all the exhaustion, we will hear about our friend’s Christmas celebrations. Then you might see the pictures of the perfectly wrapped present under the tree or the neatly set table for dinner. One friend may get the Lexus with the bow on top. We will face the temptation to compare:
They create the greatest traditions for their family.
Why won’t my kids sit and smile during the pictures?
Their decorations far exceed my own.
They got invited to this party and I did not
Look at the gifts they gave their family.

Luke 1:39-45 depicts Mary and Elizabeth sharing their news of expecting children. It seems like one of the least talked about Christmas stories. Both women have a radical visitation from God. Elizabeth old years will have a son John, who will prepare the way for Jesus. Mary will have Jesus, the Savior of the world.

I think I have tended to focus on the fact, that John leaped in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary arrives (vs. 41). We consider the miracle and the celebration of each of their birth announcement. Leon Morris in his Luke Commentary makes this observation:

We should not miss the absence of all jealousy in Elizabeth’s attitude to Mary. The older woman, who had received a blessing from the Lord, might well have tried to guard her position jealously. But in genuine humility, she recognized the greater blessing God had given Mary (pg. 83).

In the midst of Elizabeth’s joy for her own child, she did not miss the coming of Jesus through Mary. She could have asserted her own position with God. Rather, through God’s presence, she could see that Immanuel was to come through Mary.

Through the next week, we will face the temptation to compare, envy, and think jealous thoughts. What would happen if we began to take the attitude of Elizabeth? We would then rejoice in other’s rejoicing. Even more so, you and I could see Christ at work in other people.

Contentment and gratitude oppose comparison because they remind us of the grace God has given us. In this season, the Good News of the Gospel communicates to us how Christ has given far more than we could ever deserve by coming to earth. Through His death and resurrection, we have received life.

Let’s consider Elizabeth in this season; recognizing how Christ blesses us and others. How will you guard against comparison this Christmas? How can you see Christ in others this Christmas?

Photo credit by Chelsea Francis.

Advent | Second Chances

When did you last receive a second chance? Remember that moment. You could see your let down or failure. It might have caused you to question your ability or even think you might not deserve another shot. Then seemingly out of nowhere, you received a second chance. A person gave you the opportunity of grace. The opportunity you considered lost became regained.

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Perhaps, people have become disillusioned with second chances. They experience the let downs and the sometimes empty ritualistic ask for forgiveness. Along the way many are conditioned to ask, “Did they really mean it?” or “Are they really going to change?”

We find ourselves in the midst of a season of hope. Christmas invites to see the light of God’s goodness in spite of the darkness of evil. Somewhere between our messy relationships and chaotic world, December brings us back to grace. A new year signals an opportunity for redemption.

Jon Foreman wrote the lyrics, “Every breath is a second chance.” Maybe second chances happen more often than we realize. It’s not only the next breath, but the next minute, hour, day, and year.

Advent is about second chances. Jesus comes to earth as the Second Adam. Where the first Adam in Genesis failed, the Second Adam in Jesus Christ offers reconciliation. The Gospel gives us the Good News of Christ’s death and resurrection. As Paul would later say, Christ brought us near who were once far away (Ephesians 2:11-22).

Even when you consider the Christmas stories outside of Jesus, each of them points to the truth of a second chance. Scrooge recaptures the joy of life. George Bailey regains meaning to his life. The Grinch experiences belonging.

What if we allowed ourselves to see the second chances of this year? We would like back and see how people have offered us grace. At certain points during the year, we could recall how family, friends, and coworkers gave us grace. Then we could begin to see how God has offered us grace.

When you know the experience of a second chance, this leads you to extend this to others. Not out of blind naivety, but out of the recognition of the grace received from Christ and others. As you reflect on this season of Advent, Christ coming to earth reminds us of grace and reconciliation we experience with the people around us.

Who do you have the opportunity to offer a second chance? In what areas of your life have you experienced a second chance?

Photo credit by Viktor Hanacek.

Loneliness in the Midst of Joy

What emotions do the holidays provoke in you? Nostalgia brings us back to the happiness of positive memories. Excitement bursts with every carol and Christmas commercial. For better or worse, we begin anxiously anticipating December 25th right after Thanksgiving. Our hustle and bustle within the shopping, decorating, and attending parties can exhaust us.

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Hidden among these external emotions includes loneliness. In the overwhelming polarities of this season, we find ourselves desiring deeper connectedness. Who can we share our joy? Who can understand us in our anxiety? Who can be present with us in our pain? The search to be known heightens.

The feeling of loneliness enters our lives in various contexts during the holidays:
It comes from actual physical separation from others.
It results from not feeling understood by others.
It happens when a person continually gives and serves without the feeling of appreciation.
It seems apparent because everyone else has an invitation to the party except you.

We can believe certain lies of loneliness. Somehow, feeling this emotion means neediness or ingratitude. To numb the pain, we often add to our activities, turn to entertainment, and look for distractions without ever dealing with this emotion. It’s not easy to share with others, let alone thinking they could understand us.

Christmas celebrates the miracle of Jesus coming down from heaven to earth; the Incarnation. In our reading of scripture, we can lose the human element of the story. The writers of the Gospels give us glimpses of Jesus alone. These writers account for times Jesus retreats alone to pray. His interactions with the disciples reveal how little they understood His pain. He walks alone in the wilderness of temptation.

The Incarnation reminds us that our Savior walked through the loneliness. When Hebrews describes Him as High Priest, identifying with us in our weakness (Hebrews 4:14-16). He has been where we are, not to tell us to get over the pain but provide His presence to us in those moments.

Loneliness reframed becomes an invitation. Not easy to receive, but a moment to recognize the content of our hearts and become more aware of God around us. I think sometimes our struggle with loneliness comes from distracting ourselves from it rather than entering into it. Thomas Merton in No Man is an Island says this:

The man who fears to be alone will never be anything but lonely, no matter how much he may surround himself with people. But the man who learns, in solitude and recollection, to be at peace with his own loneliness, and to prefer its reality to the illusion of merely natural companionship, comes to know the invisible companionship of God. Such a one is alone with God in all places and he truly enjoys the companionship of other men, because he loves them in God in Whom their presence is not tiresome…(pg. 229)

Whether you find yourself with people around or not, you may walk through loneliness in the midst of the joy of the holiday. Entering the invitation of loneliness does not dismiss the pain. Instead, we learn to create spaces of solitude and like so many in the pages of Scripture wait on God.

Then as we embark into of community, Christ’s grace makes us more aware of others. Just as Christ has provided His presence to us, we can help others who face loneliness sense His presence. Entering our loneliness helps humanize others and bring hope in the midst of the darkness.

How might loneliness invite you to find Jesus? Who around you is experiencing loneliness and how can you be present with them?

Photo credit by Nikola Jelenkovic.

An Advent Prayer for Peace

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This Advent season feels further and further from Silent Night.
All seems far from calm.
All seems far from bright.
The darkness of tragedy engulfs us.
Our pain reminds us of the brokenness of the world.
Peace can be hard to come by.
Debates upon debates consume conversations.
You have seen and heard our infighting and arguments.
We worry about the future and anxiety fills our thoughts.

The Prophet Isaiah refers to You as the Prince of Peace.
The Gospel writers recount You calming the storms.
Paul describes you in Ephesians as One who preaches peace to those near and far away.
Lord, in this season of Advent, we ask for Your peace.

We ask You for the forgiveness of our sins.
We confess being strife-makers and not peacemakers.
At times, fear has motivated us more than the Good News of the Gospel.
Sometimes our words have lacked kindness and compassion.
Give us the grace to see others, even our enemies, as You do.

Let us experience Your peace this season.
Teach us how to reconcile with each other as You have reconciled us with Yourself.
May the Incarnation remind us that You are with us, and You know our pain and weaknesses.
During this Advent season, make us peacemakers embodying Your humility, generosity, and meekness.

You are our peace.
In You, we have experienced grace and mercy.
Darkness cannot overshadow Your light.
Like the shepherds, we still need the message of “Fear Not” and the Good News of the Savior.

Photo credit by Dakota Roos.

Reads of the Week | 12/05/2015

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These five reads from this past week challenged, encouraged, and provided perspective for me. Check them out for yourself.

Thanks to the Internet, Everyone is a Storyteller by Jon Acuff

Jon Acuff gives three ideas of using the internet to connect with your kids. Part of the genius of this article is your children can learn a little bit about your childhood and connect with you.

7 Habits of Leaders Who Inspire Loyalty by Harvey Deutschendorf

Harvey Deutschendorf provides seven habits of awareness of others. Inspire loyalty within teams means genuinely listening and taking time for others in our homes and workplaces.

The Legacy of George F. Johnson and the Square Deal by Guy Raz

I’m giving a little homage to my hometown, Endicott, NY. This article and radio story share about George F. Johnson, who brought business to my hometown.

Were you lonely when you were a freshman? by Brian Doyle

Doyle recounts his freshman year of college. His authentic reflection reminds us of the loneliness around us.

Always Advent and Never Christmas by Andie Roeder Moody

A call to recapture the celebration of Advent. Moody gives insight into the context of this season and provides practical thoughts on making the most of the season.

What were your reads of the week? Share the links in the comment section below.

Photo credit by Aleksi Tappura.

The Surprising Presence of Immanuel – An Advent Reflection

Today’s church-wide Advent reading came from Luke 1:46-55. Mary’s prayer (the Magnificat) responds to the shocking news of the coming of the Savior. Luke captures the surprising arrival of Immanuel; this Savior comes in the context of humility and mercy. A vast different arrival than what the religious contemporaries of that time imagined. He comes as a child in a manger as opposed to a gaudy coronation of a kingdom.

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Mary’s story mirrors our stories. Immanuel makes His presence known to us in ways that we could never imagine or expect. In many ways Mary’s surprise is our surprise; It’s a miracle that God comes to earth in the first place. Lowly shepherds celebrate His birth. Immanuel is born in minuscule Bethlehem and not the grandeur of Jerusalem or Rome. Luke highlights the humility of Mary, because the people who recognize God’s appearing know who He is and who they are.

Advent invites us to reflect on when Immanuel has appeared in our lives. I was reminded of the past year.  There were times when God surprisingly graced me with His goodness and opportunities I never deserved. Yet, I recognized Him the most during the seasons of difficulties and challenges. The humility God gave Mary is still something He is teaching me.

He appears in the midst of our darkness and disappointments. Often, we notice Him in the quiet and the ordinary. In looking back, He answers our prayers by mercifully redirecting us or even by saying no. We see Him in the minute details of smiles and tears. Even on a day full of snow, the never to be repeated flakes speak of Him.

Luke and Mary teach us about the heart that notices His surprising presence. It’s in this context of humility and mercy; His grace given to us allows us to recognize Him.

Let this Advent remind us the surprising arrival of Immanuel in the Gospels and also how He still surprises us with His presence in our lives.

How have you experienced the surprising presence of Immanuel?

Photo credit to Jessie Schnall, you can see more of her work at Portraits by Jessie.

Have you ever heard a parent introduce a child? Something often changes in their voice when they say the name of the child. Maybe you notice this in the way your parents introduce you.1123144_71064416

The incarnation reveals how God chose to speak to us. He spoke through his Son. Advent reminds us that God introduced Himself through the coming of Christ. Ravi Zacharias in Recapture the Wonder describes the incarnation through the eyes of God recognizing Jesus Christ:

We often do not think of it, but here is God of the universe speaking in familial terms about Himself: “This is my Son.” Anyone who has ever had the privilege of introducing his or her child to another understands the joy when with great satisfaction you say to someone “This is my son” or “This is my daughter.” Something of the human heart is wrapped around that declaration. The very nature of God is declared in his introduction of Jesus. His is not merely a prophetic voice. He is not merely an emissary. He is God’s beloved Son. (pg. 113)

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