The First Week Of Advent — Hope


I don’t know much about Advent. Here’s what the always-helpful Wikipedia says about it:

Advent is a season observed in many Western Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. The term is an anglicized version of the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming”.

Latin adventus is the translation of the Greek word parousia, commonly used to refer to the Second Coming of Christ. For Christians, the season of Advent anticipates the coming of Christ from two different perspectives. The season offers the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, and to be alert for his Second Coming.

I like that!

I didn’t grow up in a church that treated Christmas as a season, much less as one with an organized, scripted approach to the Big Day. My present church hasn’t done much either. But I’m becoming a little more familiar with it. During the first week of Advent, believers are called to think about the prophecies pertaining to the Hope of Israel, the Messiah whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. The virtue attached to this first week is hope.

The truth is, a lot of Christmas is about disappointment.

Maybe that’s because a lot of life is about disappointment. When you’re young, of course, you don’t realize the permanent nature of disappointment. Yes, permanent. You didn’t win the high school football championship, so you say, We’ll get it next year.

But eventually there is no “next year” for high school football, and that disappointment about missing that block or dropping that pass or fumbling that punt return will just be there.

This is true about pretty much everything. Husbands and wives, who love each other dearly, nevertheless discover that their spouse is not perfect. That she doesn’t bake cakes like Mom did, is disappointing. That she has gained a few pounds or wants to stay home instead of pursuing her career and bringing in a second income, is disappointing.

He, on the other hand, doesn’t take care of the yard the way Dad did, and he doesn’t like to go out or have friends over for dinner. Instead, he seems glued to the TV every weekend. It’s disappointing.

But kids, well, there’s nothing disappointing about our children, is there? I mean, they are so cute and cuddly and innocent and sweet. So precious. Until they begin to cry. At 2:00 AM. Until they poop in the diaper you just changed. Until they take longer to learn to walk than you thought they should. Until they tell you no. Until it’s hard to potty train them. Until they don’t like to read, and you’re a bookaholic. Until . . .

You get the picture.

What in life isn’t disappointing? Sure, there are successes—like winning that high school football championship. But that was high school. What are you doing now? And how will you top it tomorrow?

There’s always a new goal, something else that we need, someone else we wish were here. It’s a great time, but if only . . . then it would be perfect.

Along comes the Bible announcing a hope that does not disappoint. There’s a specific reason why this hope is different from all others:

and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (Rom. 5:5-6)

The passage goes on to explain how Christ’s death for sinners accomplished something we need: reconciliation with God. So here are the twin foundations of the hope that does not disappoint: God’s love (which is as eternal as He is), and the relationship Jesus made possible for us to have with God.

The one Person who loves perfectly has lavishly poured out His love and He did so, not because of anything worthy in us. Just the opposite. He gifted us when we had nothing of value to give Him.

All we bring is our imperfect selves. What He brings is a robe of righteousness—the clothes fit for a king, bought and paid for by Jesus with His broken body and shed blood—which He gives to us who believe.

And those are things—God’s love, Christ’s sacrifice—that don’t change and won’t dissipate or fade away or need to be replaced. They are forever gifts—the foundation of hope that does not disappoint.

This article is a revised and updated version of one that appeared here first in December, 2014.

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Published in: on December 7, 2018 at 5:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A Virgin Shall Conceive


When I first started this blog, I anticipated writing more posts about fiction, understood from a Christian worldview. As it’s happened, I’ve ended up writing more posts about the Christian worldview than I do about fiction. And what better time to do so. I mean, Christmas is not exclusively a religious holiday, but it nevertheless does have religious significance. And not just religious. Christian meaning!

We aren’t celebrating the birth of any old god. Rather, Christmas rivets our attention on Jesus, the Christ, who entered the world as a baby.

The first miraculous part of His coming was His conception. His mother Mary was a virgin. Clearly anyone reading the Christmas story must question this. I mean, how many virgins do we know who get pregnant?

Interestingly, C. S. Lewis addresses this very subject in his book Miracles. This volume is much more of an apologetic for God and His work in the world than I had realized. As an aside, I can see more clearly why Philip Pullman, author of His Dark Materials, called himself the anti-Lewis. But because Lewis had himself been an atheist, he could anticipate the arguments an atheist would make against the Supernatural.

Unsurprisingly, the miracle Lewis refers to with some frequency is the virgin birth. Here are some of his thoughts in answer to the common atheist argument that people of old believed in miracles because they didn’t have the scientific knowledge we have now.

You will hear people say, “The early Christians believed that Christ was the son of a virgin, but we know that this is a scientific impossibility.” Such people seem to have an idea that belief in miracles arose at a period when men were so ignorant of the course of nature that they did not perceive a miracle to be contrary to it. A moment’s thought shows this to be nonsense: and the story of the Virgin Birth is a particularly striking example. When St. Joseph discovered that his fiancé was going to have a baby, he not unnaturally decided to repudiate her. Why? Because he knew just as well as any modern gynecologist that in the ordinary course of nature women do not have babies unless they have lain with men. … When St. Joseph finally accepted the view that his fiancé’s pregnancy was due not to unchastity but to a miracle, he accepted the miracle as something contrary to the known order of nature. All records of miracles teach the same thing. In such stories the miracles excite fear and wonder (that is what the very word miracle implies) among spectators, and are taken as evidence of supernatural power. If they were not known to be contrary to the laws of nature how could they suggest the presence of the supernatural? How could they be surprising unless they were seen to be exceptions to the rules? And how can anything be seen to be an exception till the rules are known? … If St. Joseph had lacked faith to trust God or humility to perceive the holiness of his spouse, he could have disbelieved in the miraculous origin of her Son as easily as any modern man; and any modern man who believes in God can accept the miracle as easily as St. Joseph did.

Good stuff, important to recall when we are approaching the celebration of the Incarnation. At every turn concerning Christ’s birth, there was a miracle. It’s helpful to remember that the things which seem impossible are impossible, except for God who can do the impossible.

This post was inspired by one that appeared here in December, 2007.

The Truth About The Star – And Why It Matters


Christmas Eve a bright star shone over a lowly stable—or so all the pictures and videos and Christmas cards would lead us to believe. A busy star, that, because the same legends have it leading the wisemen from wherever they lived in the East to that same ramshackle stable, with a little side trip into Jerusalem.

Even when I was young, I had some serious questions about this popular notion about the Christmas star. First, why did the star lead the wisemen to the wrong place before it led them to the right place? And secondly, if it was so bright, why didn’t other people go see what it was pointing to? I mean, would they ignore such a dramatic heavenly sight?

As it turns out, much of our ideas about the star are legend, not Biblical fact. Take the first point—the idea that the wisemen followed the star from their home in the somewhere East to the wrong place, Jerusalem.

A careful reading of Scripture shows that initially no travelers from the East followed the star. Rather, the magi—another name for astrologers who studied the heavens—saw the star that indicated a king had been born in Judea while they were still in the East. They decided to pay homage to this king, so they packed up their caravan and went to the most likely place you’d find the heir to the throne—the capital city, the home of the sitting king.

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” (Matthew 2:1-2)

Upon arrival, of course, they learned that, oops, no heir had been born to Herod, which could only mean one of two things—either a coup would occur overthrowing Herod, which was unlikely since Rome ultimately oversaw who sat on the throne, or the promised Messiah of Scripture had been born. Most Jews, it seems, believed He wouldn’t unseat Herod, but Rome, at least as far as it held jurisdiction in Judea.

Herod checked with the scholars familiar with the prophets. From them he learned that the promised Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, and that’s the information he passed on to the magi, all the while making his own plans to do away with this child that just might be a threat to his own rule.

When the magi packed up and headed out of Jerusalem, that’s when they saw the special star again. They recognized it as the same one they’d seen in the East, and this time it moved in front of them, only to stop when it came to the place where Jesus was—not a manger any longer but a house.

So why didn’t others join the wisemen and follow this star too? I mean, Scripture says “all Jerusalem” was troubled—unnerved, perturbed, perplexed—by what the wisemen had to say. A star, a king, magi come to worship? Wouldn’t “all Jerusalem” then be only too eager to see where that bright star was going? They’d been waiting for generations. Couldn’t this be it???

Well, the thing is, nowhere in Scripture does it say this star was bright. The wisemen saw it and recognized it because they were wise men. They made it their business to study the heavens, to learn the secrets of God.

Here’s what Strong’s Concordance says about the magi:

the name given by the Babylonians (Chaldeans), Medes, Persians, and others, to the wise men, teachers, priests, physicians, astrologers, seers, interpreters of dreams, augers, soothsayers, sorcerers etc.

It’s uncomfortable to think that God spoke to these non-Jews in a way that seems so different from the one He used with the Jews and later with the Church. No sorcery, He said in Scripture. No divination, no interpreting of omens:

There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. (Deut 18:10-11)

Yet clearly the magi saw in the heavens the proclamation of the birth of God’s Son. This brings to mind a verse in Colossians in which Paul says “… the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation ” (1:23b – emphasis mine).

So what if the star declaring Jesus’s birth wasn’t an isolated incident? What if God, through His omnipotence, put the gospel message out there in any number of ways for men who wished to worship Him?

But that’s speculation on my part. What isn’t speculation is that the star didn’t lead the wisemen to Jerusalem and Scripture says nothing about the star being particularly bright.

And this is important because … ?

For one thing it illustrates how easily we come to believe something we’ve heard over and over and seen time and time again, regardless of its Scriptural underpinnings. For me, the star is a reminder to be cautious. The faddish interpretations of Biblical events just might be built upon a legend, so it’s imperative to examine ideas in light of what Scripture actually says.

Secondly, it shows that even the wisemen needed to verify their findings with Scripture. God didn’t send them an errant sign that inadvertently took them to Jerusalem instead of Bethlehem. No, they made that mistake all by themselves.

Thirdly, if God had wanted the whole area to drop everything and run to see the baby Jesus, I don’t doubt that He would have made the star particularly bright or sent the host of angels to Jerusalem instead of to a handful of shepherds going about their regular duties. In His divine wisdom, though, He chose a small reception party—actually two separate parties by two divergent groups: lowly shepherds and foreigners. The latter were not Jews. They were people from Somewhere Else.

Above all, it seems to me that the star, which apparently the Jews laden with Scripture completely missed, shows that God intended His Son to be the Savior of the world. He was not the political powerhouse the Jews were looking for. He was and is the King available to all who wish to bow the knee, to worship and adore Incarnate God, born to save.

This post is a lightly edited version of one that appeared here in November, 2012.

Published in: on December 3, 2018 at 4:50 pm  Comments (7)  
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