The Visit Of The Magi


I’ve heard the story of the wisemen since I was a child. At one point, one of my favorite Christmas carols was “We Three Kings.” But when I learned the Bible never calls them kings and that we don’t actually know if there were three or three dozen, it kind of spoiled the song for me.

Largely their part in the Christmas story has been a mystery to me. I mean, is there some truth to astrology—God does tell our stories in the stars? Or were the wisemen experiencing a miracle? But how can you know to look for a miracle? Unless, as some think, these particular wisemen, more accurately called magi, came from Persia and had access to or had been influenced by Daniel’s writing, including some Messianic prophecy.

Mostly, we don’t know. It’s a mystery.

But what we do know is really interesting, and the pastor who preached at my church this Sunday drew a really interesting contrast. Others have done so in part, but there’s more than we often consider.

I’m talking about the contrast between the magi and King Herod of Judea.

The magi showed up in Jerusalem asking to see the new king because they wanted to worship him. That, in itself, is a little startling. I mean, Caesar likely took the role of a god in the Roman empire, but I don’t think the lesser kings who ruled in out-of-the-way places like Judea would have talked about themselves as deity.

In other words, there’s a spiritual aspect to the magi’s visit. They didn’t just come to make a political statement, though that would not have been unheard of. At various times in the Old Testament one king or another was traveling to a neighboring country or sending emissaries to honor a new king, the son of one who had recently died.

The thing was, Herod had not yet died and no son of his had recently been born. The magi could only be looking for one person—the promised King of the Jews, the Christ, the Messiah.

Herod knew this, which was why he turned to the Jewish religious leaders to find out where the Christ was to be born. Once he had the location spelled out for him via the scribes and priests who knew the prophecies, he passed the information on to the magi, for one reason and one reason alone: he planned to execute this “new king.”

Apparently historical records all agree about Herod: he was a power-hungry, barbaric ruler who would kill anyone he suspected of trying to usurp his position, including his own sons and his own wife. In other words, all Herod cared about when the magi showed up was putting down a new threat to his power. He wanted to hold on to what he had, at all costs.

The magi, on the other hand, had nothing to gain. Their mission was to give. Yes, the physical gifts they had brought: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But they also had adoration to give because when they came to the house and saw Jesus with Mary and Joseph, they prostrated themselves before the baby and worshiped Him.

Before that, they gave their knowledge—some amount of study had to go into their ability to recognize what this star that they saw rise in the east, referred to. Then there was the planning and the preparation to go to Jerusalem. I mean, you didn’t just hop in the car and take off to another country. Then there was the travel time. Maybe four months, maybe six, maybe eight, followed by the return trip.

In short, the magi went all in. They invested their talent, their resources, their time, their treasure, their worship.

And Herod? He wasn’t willing to invest in anything except a plan to kill the Christ Child.

Sadly, the priests and scribes who gave Herod the information about where the Messiah would be born, responded more like Herod than like the magi. I mean, Bethlehem was maybe five miles from Jerusalem, they knew that was where the Messiah would be born, and they knew the magi were looking for Him, so why didn’t they look too?

I suspect they were just as concerned about holding on to their religious power as Herod was holding on to his political power.

But one more cool thing about the magi: they opened the door to us Gentiles. The Messiah, after all, was King of the Jews. But Gentiles came and worshiped Him. Oh, I suppose the magi could have been of Jewish descent—descendants of those exiled to Babylon years before. But still, they came from a foreign place, which foreshadowed the worldwide ministry Jesus declared: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

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Published in: on December 17, 2018 at 5:06 pm  Comments (3)  
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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.

Published in: on December 7, 2018 at 5:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Advent


Advent_candle_1I grew up in a church that didn’t talk about Advent. We were as far from liturgical as you could get. Later, when my family attended a non-denominational church, I suspect the thinking there was to steer clear of anything that would seem identifiably one denomination over another, so again, no incorporation of “Advent” into the celebration of Christmas.

Of course, Advent really means the coming of Christ. In its generic form, the word means the coming of any notable person, thing, or event. In it’s proper noun form, however, it’s specifically used in conjunction with Christianity.

Some years ago on the radio broadcast Family Life Today, the hosts and guests discussed some of the more notable Christmas traditions. Among those was Advent, referring specifically to the lighting of advent candles and the reading of particular scriptures.

The thing I learned was that the focus of Advent in an earlier age was threefold: the first coming of Christ, as a baby, the coming of Christ to individuals who accept Him as Messiah, and the second coming of Christ which we await.

I really like this focus. It takes Jesus out of the manger and declares Him to be a living and risen Savior who is coming again.

This threefold aspect of Jesus’s coming mirrors the Christian life. We have fulfillment, appropriation, and anticipation. Christ died once for all the just for the unjust (fulfillment), but those who believe will be saved (appropriation), and one day we will receive the reward of the inheritance (anticipation).

One of the hymns now associated with Advent is “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” I have to admit, I’ve paid little attention to the words of this hymn, though I could go on automatic pilot and sing the first verse.

As I looked for the rest of the words, I found a number of diverse listings. One gave five verses, another seven, and the one below, eight. None seem quite the same. Besides the obvious extra, or missing, stanzas, however you wish to look at it, their order is different and some of the lines are dissimilar. Yet more than one site claims the English is a translation from the 12th century Latin original.

Looking at the various versions, I can see the threefold meaning of Advent shining through. I’m not sure I’d like to sing all these verses–the music, after all, originated as a funeral dirge, and honestly gets on my nerves after a bit, with it’s heavy, repetitive monotony, all except the “Rejoice, rejoice” notes.

But the lyrics are equally heavy. This is no “Away in a Manger” or “Silent Night.” This is a song about captives in need of ransom, about exile and Satan’s tyranny and the salvation from the depths of hell.

Merry Christmas!

But really, it is a merry Christmas for those who believe. We celebrate Christ’s birth, not because He was a cute baby. We celebrate because at long last, after centuries of waiting, the promised Son and Savior came and comes and will come again.

Perhaps “Merry Christmas” isn’t quite right after all. Maybe a better greeting would be Joyous Advent. (I wonder what secularists would do with that one! 😉 )

And now the lyrics which you might want to compare with those that appear in Wikipedia.

O come, O come Emmanuel

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
Refrain:
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, thou Wisdom from on high,
who orderest all things mightily;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go. Refrain

O come, thou Rod of Jesse, free
thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
from depths of hell thy people save,
and give them victory over the grave. Refrain

O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
our spirits by thine advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death’s dark shadows put to flight. Refrain

O come, thou Key of David, come,
and open wide our heavenly home;
make safe the way that leads on high,
and close the path to misery. Refrain

O come, O come, great Lord of might,
who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times once gave the law
in cloud and majesty and awe. Refrain

O come, thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
an ensign of thy people be;
before thee rulers silent fall;
all peoples on thy mercy call. Refrain

O come, Desire of nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid thou our sad divisions cease,
and be thyself our King of Peace. Refrain

This post is a revised version of one that first appeared here in December 2013.

The Shock Of Night . . . And Peace


Prince of PeaceThe Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour is featuring The Shock Of Night, the first book in Patrick Carr’s new series, The Darkwater Saga. And this is the second week in Advent during which I want to focus on Peace.

It’s quite an ironic pairing because if there’s one quality by which you’d characterize The Shock Of Night, it would not be Peace. In fact, the main character, the king’s reeve—similar to a sheriff—Willet Dura, is thought by some to be eccentric and by others to be insane. He has few, if any, friends, and the nobles of the king’s court uniformly look down on him, though the king elevated him to the status of nobility by conferring a title on him.

So how do Peace and a troubled mind fit together?

I suppose in general, they don’t. But the reality of Peace is that there is no peace. The world is in chaos, with wars and rumors of wars, with sex trafficking an expanding industry, with domestic violence and abuse on the rise despite the efforts of society to bring them under control, with terrorism spreading from abroad to home.

Peace, peace? We recognized it last year, and we revisit that same truth this year: there is no peace. No means by which humankind can banish conflict and escape discord. We live in a world of greedy, selfish people whose needs and desires collide with one another. Hence, we fight and quarrel.

cover_ShockOfNightIn the same way, Lord Willet Dura has no peace. He “night-walks” but not as most troubled soldiers home from the war do. He only leaves his quarters in an unbreakable trance when someone in the city has been murdered. As if that wasn’t enough, one of his investigations leads him to the House of Passing and a dying man who imparts a gift many in the realm do not believe to be real. By his touch he can see into the hears of others, absorbing their memories and thoughts. The problem with this gift is that he can easily lose himself, to the point that he no longer knows where he ends and the other person begins.

There’s more. Lord Dura has a secret. He’s created a vault inside his mind that holds past memories—the truth about what took place when he entered the Darkwater Forest ten years ago.

So peace? Not for Willet. Not with people on the left and right trying to kill him. Not with mysteries abounding and the threat from the south growing.

The similarities are fairly obvious. Willet’s world is filled with chaos and mystery and more things out of his control than he imagines—a perfect mirror of the real world. We might pretend or even go through life deluding ourselves that we’re in control, but the peace we so anxiously look for and try to maintain, doesn’t last because we can’t catch hold of time and make it stand still.

Our beautiful children grow up and start doing drugs or become angry, disobedient teens. Our beloved spouse cheats on us or grows cold or loses himself, herself, in their work. Our best friend moves away. We lose our job. The economy tanks. The bank threatens to foreclose. Someone steals our car. Our parents die. Our friend gets cancer. Nothing ever seems right for very long.

But all that bleakness doesn’t take into account the hope which leads to peace. Willet has a hope that quiets his heart. And we here in the real world have hope that can quiet ours, too. Truth is, we have a choice.

Jeremiah 2:11 lays it out for us—we can turn to the Fountain of living waters or we can dig our own dirty wells that can’t even hold water. We end up with a fistful of mud, a world mired in chaos.

Night is a shock. In part it’s a shock because we weren’t build for the night, for the chaos, for the mire. We were created to live in the Light, to enjoy the peace which comes from harmony.

At Christmas we celebrate the coming of the Light Of The World! That’s where peace can be found.

For Willet Dura?

Well, you’ll have to take a look at The Shock Of Night for yourselves. 😉

You can also read what others participating in the tour for The Shock Of Night are saying (check marks link you to posts I’ve found):

Published in: on December 7, 2015 at 6:34 pm  Comments (4)  
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Peace On Earth


Red_Christmas_candlesWeek two of the Advent season, and my church is focusing on Peace.

When Jesus was born, an angel appeared to a group of shepherds and announced that a Savior, Christ the Lord had been born that night. A host of angels then joined him saying, “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth, peace among men with whom He is pleased” (Luke 2:14).

The KJV skewed the angelic praise by translating it, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will to men.” The logical conclusion was that Jesus would bring an end to conflict on earth, that God would treat humankind with good will. And of course, history is filled with war and any number of “not good will” kinds of circumstances.

The hope of the Jewish people at the time was that the Messiah would set up an earthly kingdom and rule as David had during the golden age of Israel’s history. He conquered their enemies and brought peace. He brought the ark of the covenant to his city, Jerusalem, and set in motion the construction of the great temple, the house of God. He instituted sacrifices and the appointed feasts before the LORD, in accordance with the law, blessed his subjects, and gave them each a gift.

When David had finished offering the burnt offering and the peace offering, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD of hosts. Further, he distributed to all the people, to all the multitude of Israel, both to men and women, a cake of bread and one of dates and one of raisins to each one. Then all the people departed each to his house (2 Samuel 6:18-19).

This was the kind of Messiah the Jews were looking for.

People in more recent times haven’t done much to change the false idea perceived about the angels’ blessing. Granted, we recognize that Jesus didn’t come to establish His kingdom in the here and now. Instead we either ascribe His peace to the future or to an internal peace each person can achieve in the midst of the turmoil around us.

I do think God wants us to have peace in our hearts regardless of the circumstances that can throw life into confusion, but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the peace to which the angels referred.

The peace inside us depends to a degree on us, as we’ll see later in the week, but the peace the angels announced came as a result of the birth of this Messiah. So what peace did Jesus bring, what peace does He give?

The peace of Jesus is the result of reconciliation with God. Without Jesus, a person is in rebellion to God. But Jesus rescues us from the dominion of darkness. He makes possible peace with God—not just a truce, but full-blown peace. We are no longer at enmity with Him if we have become those with whom He is well pleased.

Yikes! What do we have to do to please God? Well, nothing.

This well-pleased position is also something that comes to us from Jesus. In fact, the word used in Matthew 3:17 translated “well-pleased” which God declared about Jesus at His baptism is the same word used here for those God will favor with peace.

It is Jesus with whom the Father is well-pleased. Through Jesus we are reconciled to God—brought into relationship with Him, afforded peace with Him.

That above all else is the peace of Christmas. Yes, there’s more, but without that life-changing peace that ends our determination to go our own way and puts us in right standing with God, there is no peace, only temporary truces.

Published in: on December 8, 2014 at 6:24 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Foundation Of Hope


AdventCandles

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 lead-up to the Big Day. Until lately my church didn’t do much, if anything, with Advent.

So this year we are forging a new tradition. Apparently liturgical churches have certain Scripture readings that go with the each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. We aren’t a liturgical church, so instead we’re receiving devotions centered on a particular weekly theme. Any guess what we’re focusing on this week? 😉

I’ve been thinking a lot about hope in preparation for writing my blog posts. To be honest, this is new territory for me. I’ve studied faith and thought a great deal about love and grace and trust. But hope?

Now I’m alert to the topic and have begun to see how frequently Scripture addresses it.

The thing that keeps coming back to me is that line from Romans 5 about hope not disappointing. I looked at Hope And Disappointment yesterday, but in the devotion my church sent, the contrast came up again. 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, or 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 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.

Published in: on December 2, 2014 at 6:58 pm  Comments Off on The Foundation Of Hope  
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Hope And Disappointment


AdventSome things we hope for and they don’t pan out. For example, I hoped the Denver Broncos would win the Super Bowl last year, but they lost in an embarrassing fashion.

Some things we hope for and they don’t happen right away, but they eventually come about. After I graduated from college, I hoped to get a teaching job. I didn’t one that first year, but the following year I got the job I would stay in for over thirty years.

Some things we hope for but we learn they will never happen. I had a friend who lost three babies. Eventually the doctors discovered she had trouble carrying infants to term because of a drug her mother had taken when she was pregnant with her. No matter how much my friend hoped for her own child, she was not able to give birth.

And then there are the things we hope for and we are still hoping. They haven’t happened yet, but we have every reason to continue hoping. We’ve been hoping for rain here in SoCal. All last year we hoped but received little precipitation. This year we again have hopes we’ll at least see a normal amount of rainfall. It’s reasonable to think this drought will come to an end, so we hope.

In the first instance and in the third, hope dies. In the first, we hope for a single event, a specific something—Mr. Tall and Charming will ask me to the prom, or I’ll get both Christmas Eve and Day off of work. There’s a definite period of time when we know if what we hoped for has happened or not.

In the third, a door closes. The divorce is finalized and the spouse remarries; the university you hoped to go to doesn’t accept you. These are the ends of dreams.

The second and fourth scenarios are hope that doesn’t disappoint. Many, many writers hope to find an agent and hope the agent will sell their manuscript. They may wait for years and years, but eventually, these writers see their hopes come to fruition. These are people who fall into the second category.

What about the fourth? These are people still waiting. They have done their job faithfully, waited for an opening for promotion, and are still waiting. For some reason, they have been passed over a time or two, but they have no reason to believe it is a situation that won’t change. Their time will come. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rogers was in such a situation when he waited behind Brett Favre for his chance to start.

But here’s the thing about hope. If you’re in scenario number two or four, it’s easy to think you’re headed for scenario one or three. It’s easy to think you’ve hoped in vain and that you’d be foolish to keep on hoping.

The Jewish people were in that situation in the first century. They’d been hoping for the coming of their promised Messiah. They looked at the political arena, and they knew they needed Him to come and set them free from Roman rule. He’d come, they were sure, and put Israel back on the map as an independent nation. He’d rule in justice and righteousness.

And they waited. And waited. And waited.

At some point you’d have to begin to question. Did he come and we missed him? Was the promise nothing but a lie? Did God change his mind?

That’s where Christmas comes in. God fulfilled His promise . . . sort of. He fulfilled it and He is fulfilling it. The Messiah came and He is coming.

Right up to the point of the resurrected Christ’s ascension into heaven His followers were still wondering about the completion of their hope:

So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)

Not for you to know when your hope will be complete, Jesus answered them. Then He gave them another promise—one they would see fulfilled immediately which would give them assurance while they waited for that for which they hoped. He promised them the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit came.

Consequently Paul could write to the church in Rome

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. (Rom. 5:5)

There are so many passages in the Bible about hope. Together they paint an exciting picture—one of assurance yet longing, of joy and love about to be experienced in their fullest some day soon.

This kind of hope—God’s gift to us through the process of tribulation which brings about perseverance and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope—does not disappoint.

We’re not hoping we go to heaven. We have God’s assurance. We are reconciled with God, we do have everlasting life, we have been saved. But salvation is just not something we have taken possession of yet—not completely.

We hope for what we know we have, reserved in heaven for us. Though we do not see it now, we hope for that which the Holy Spirit confirms is ours.

And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. (Rom. 8:23-25)

Advent season is one of those memorials that help us in the waiting. We remember Christ’s birth and we hope for that day when He will come again in power and glory. It’s a stepping stone that reminds us our hope does not disappoint.

Published in: on December 1, 2014 at 6:14 pm  Comments (2)  
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Advent


Advent Candles015I grew up in a church that didn’t talk about Advent. We were as far from liturgical as you could get. Later, when my family attended a non-denominational church, I suspect the thinking there was to steer clear of anything that would seem identifiably one denomination over another, so again, no incorporation of “Advent” into the celebration of Christmas.

Of course, Advent really means the coming of Christ. In its generic form, the word means the coming of any notable person, thing, or event. In it’s proper noun form, however, it’s specifically used in conjunction with Christianity.

This morning on the radio broadcast Family Life Today, the hosts and guests discussed some of the more notable Christmas traditions. Among those was Advent, referring specifically to the lighting of advent candles and the reading of particular scriptures.

The thing I learned was that the focus of Advent in an earlier age was threefold: the first coming of Christ, as a baby, the coming of Christ to individuals who accept Him as Messiah, and the second coming of Christ which we await.

I really like this focus. It takes Jesus out of the manger and declares Him to be a living and risen Savior who is coming again.

This threefold aspect of Jesus’s coming mirrors the Christian life. We have fulfillment, appropriation, and anticipation. Christ died once for all the just for the unjust (fulfillment), but those who believe will be saved (appropriation), and one day we will receive the reward of the inheritance (anticipation).

One of the hymns now associated with Advent is “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” I have to admit, I’ve paid little attention to the words of this hymn, though I could go on automatic pilot and sing the first verse.

As I looked for the rest of the words, I found a number of diverse listings. One gave five verses, another seven, and the one below, eight. None seem quite the same. Besides the obvious extra, or missing, stanzas, however you wish to look at it, their order is different and some of the lines are dissimilar. Yet more than one site claims the English is a translation from the 12th century Latin original.

Looking at the various versions, I can see the threefold meaning of Advent shining through. I’m not sure I’d like to sing all these verses–the music, after all, originated as a funeral dirge, and honestly gets on my nerves after a bit, with it’s heavy, repetitive monotony, all except the “Rejoice, rejoice” notes.

But the lyrics are equally heavy. This is no “Away in a Manger” or “Silent Night.” This is a song about captives in need of ransom, about exile and Satan’s tyranny and the salvation from the depths of hell.

Merry Christmas!

But really, it is a merry Christmas for those who believe. We celebrate Christ’s birth, not because He was a cute baby. We celebrate because at long last, after centuries of waiting, the promised Son and Savior came and comes and will come again.

Perhaps “Merry Christmas” isn’t quite right after all. Maybe a better greeting would be Joyous Advent. (I wonder what secularists would do with that one! 😉 )

And now the lyrics which you might want to compare with those that appear in Wikipedia.

O come, O come Emmanuel

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
Refrain:
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, thou Wisdom from on high,
who orderest all things mightily;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go. Refrain

O come, thou Rod of Jesse, free
thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
from depths of hell thy people save,
and give them victory over the grave. Refrain

O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
our spirits by thine advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death’s dark shadows put to flight. Refrain

O come, thou Key of David, come,
and open wide our heavenly home;
make safe the way that leads on high,
and close the path to misery. Refrain

O come, O come, great Lord of might,
who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times once gave the law
in cloud and majesty and awe. Refrain

O come, thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
an ensign of thy people be;
before thee rulers silent fall;
all peoples on thy mercy call. Refrain

O come, Desire of nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid thou our sad divisions cease,
and be thyself our King of Peace. Refrain

Published in: on December 10, 2013 at 8:18 pm  Comments (9)  
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Thirteen Days Before Christmas


I’ve always loved counting down to Christmas. Perhaps it started when some advertising guru began the notion of x-number of shopping days left before Christmas. I had a junior high teacher who used to put the number in a corner of the chalkboard. Once or twice my family had those advent calendars with little numbered doors or windows. On the appropriate day, we opened the correct one to reveal some Christmas surprise.

I still love the countdown as an adult — even used the nimber on the chalkboard a time or two as a teacher. I think it’s fun. It builds suspense — the ticking clock writers so often employ. But countdowns fit Christmas naturally. We have Advent candles each week and the song about the twelve days of Christmas. Why not employ the practice here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction? So today there are thirteen days left before Christmas.

Imagine. Thirteen days before Jesus came into the world as a little baby. Had Mary and Joseph left Nazareth for Bethlehem yet? Was she walking, or riding, with a hand on her back to ease the ache pregnancy can bring? Were her ankles swelling? Did she have to ask Joseph if they could stop for a short break? Did they travel in the back of the caravan of pilgrims heading south, because pregnant women this far along were supposed to be in seclusion. What’s more, were tongues wagging about this loose woman, not yet married but nearly a mother?

Did either of them tell the other about the angel visitation they experienced? Did they try to tell anyone else, or did they think such a story would only bring on more mocking and perhaps accusations of heresy?

Did people feel sorry for Joseph, that hardworking, righteous man, clearly doing something noble by planning to go through with marrying this young, wayward, shameful girl, a descendant of King David who should care more for her good name. Or did his neighbors suspect that he was the actual father, and the unborn child was a result of a secret tryst he had with his betrothed before she left to tend to her cousin.

Ah, those days with Elizabeth. Did Mary tell Joseph all about them — about Elizabeth’s greeting, for example, or her own song of praise that came bubbling up from her soul? Or was it even from her? It was as much prophecy as it was praise, and who was she — an unmarried pregnant girl still living under the authority of her father — to experience such a thing? But there it was, words proclaiming God’s mercy and might and ultimately of His fulfillment of His promise to Abraham.

My soul exalts the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave;
For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.
For the Mighty One has done great things for me;
And holy is His name.
AND HIS MERCY IS UPON GENERATION AFTER GENERATION
TOWARD THOSE WHO FEAR HIM.
He has done mighty deeds with His arm;
He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones,
And has exalted those who were humble.
HE HAS FILLED THE HUNGRY WITH GOOD THINGS;
And sent away the rich empty-handed.
He has given help to Israel His servant,
In remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and his descendants forever.

Perhaps these were things to keep to oneself. Who would believe them anyway, though Joseph had been remarkable to protect her by not ending the engagement when he found out about the baby.

How odd to already know she was carrying a little boy. Jesus. That would be His name. Son of the Most High, the One to take the throne of David. How could this be? Any of it. The whole idea was a bit terrifying. And exhilarating. If only the back pains weren’t so sharp.

Thirteen days and counting.

Published in: on December 12, 2011 at 6:27 pm  Comments Off on Thirteen Days Before Christmas  
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