Tuesday Prayer: Worship

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 
(Hebrews 12:1-2)

Lord, as we celebrate this Christmas season, let us not forget You as the Founder and Perfecter of our faith. You are the One true God, holy and pure, and in Your unfathomable mercy, You have established the ability to worship within the human heart. In fact, You created us to worship with the intent that You would be the recipient of our cravings and our praise.

Today we confess that we too often allow other things to eclipse Your glory in our lives. The Christmas season can be especially so, for although we sometimes say things like, ” Jesus is the reason for the season,” our actions sometimes betray where our true devotions lie. We can get so caught up in the busy-ness and the secular pressures of buying and giving that we forget Whose birthday it is we celebrate.

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
(Luke 10:41-42)

So it is that we look to You as the Author and Perfecter of our faith. Lord, take our small faith and make it grow. Hone it, refine it, purify it, and make it into something which reflects Your glory to others. Take away all that eclipses Your majesty in our lives, turning our eyes from worthless things and giving us life in Your ways. Make us to love Your Scriptures more, reminding us that it is the very Word of Life to us.

 Give us a passion for Your Kingdom, a hunger for Your presence, and a never-ending thirst for the Living Water. Forgive our lack of trust and help us to trust You more. Fix our eyes on You and ascend the throne of our hearts as our rightful King. May it be that our worship of You is evident to all, shining like a light in the darkness of this world and acting as a guide to bring others to walk and live in the light of Your love, amen.

When Relationships Chafe

We love because he first loved us.
(1 John 4:19)

Ready or not, the holiday season is upon us.

In my country, the official kick-off was Thanksgiving Day – a day of feasting and gratitude ironically followed by the slightly sickening commercial festivity known as “Black Friday” which actually begins Thursday evening until “Cyber Monday” takes over and filches more dollars from the American pocket. But I digress…

This year, my family had a phenomenal Thanksgiving week. We were blessed to spend some time in Florida with my dad and stepmom. One of my sisters and her family came, too, and what with the great company, fantastic weather, and delectable food, I doubt we could have concocted a better way to spend the week.

But I realize not everyone is so fortunate.

For many people, the family time aspect of the holidays spells nothing but frustration. We all have those family members who tend to be more querulous, and some among us spend the holidays biting our tongues – or wishing we had.

Every family bears a bandaged wound or two. Every family carries scars from past hurts. It’s a part of being human in a fallen world. The brutal truth is that our real-life family gatherings are more apt to resemble a Griswold family Christmas than a Hallmark movie.

The enforced familial closeness of the holidays can and often does cause simmering tensions to boil over.  But you know what? Even then, family time is good.  In fact, I would venture to say this season is wonderful because of the relational difficulties.

You see, one sunny Florida afternoon, I walked back to my earthly dad’s house and talked with my heavenly Dad along the way. In particular, I was praying over the absence of one other sister at our feast. One of our family’s bandaged wounds.

As I prayed about the situation and about others who are more difficult to love, the Spirit of God whispered the words of 1 John 4:19 into my heart. We love because He first loved us.

Naturally, I went back and read the rest of the chapter and I see what He means. When we are faced with prickly relatives or with co-workers, members of our church family, or even strangers at the grocery store who are a little more challenging to endure, it is at precisely this point that we have a choice to make:

Will we love only those who are easy to love? Or will we love them because our Lord first loved us?

I feel now is a good time to mention that this “when He first loved us” moment was hardly one we can boast about. Romans 5:10 reminds us that we were enemies of God when He loved us enough to offer the dearest part of Himself as ransom for our crimes. He didn’t love us when we were lovable but when we were in full-tilt rebellion against Him.

Our Lord Jesus, Himself, tells us more than once to love our enemies (see Matt. 5:44, Luke 6:27, 35, et al). And back in 1 John 4, the beloved disciple has a great deal more to say about love, not the least of which is a sobering reminder that love isn’t lived out in Hallmark moments but in the gritty and often painful moments of forgiving the unforgivable and answering sharp words with graciousness.

Not because those who hurt us deserve it, but because neither did we. And yet, He loved us anyway.

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
(1 John 4:10-11)

While we’re busily putting Christ back in Christmas and squeezing in Advent devotionals between shopping sprees and holiday parties, let’s be certain that our daily choices match our lofty sentiments. Let’s try to keep in mind that forgiving can only be done when there is something to forgive. Grace and mercy can only be shown when they aren’t deserved.

In love, let’s hold one another accountable to living and loving in humility and with the grace God extends to us. Not necessarily because our families and associates are worth it, but because HE is. And we trust Him enough to obey.

 

 

All That Glitters…

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
(Luke 12:34)

Ah, Christmastime…

As I think back on the last 16 years of Christmas celebrations as a parent, I could fill a good many pages with items ardently desired by my children on December 1 and summarily forgotten by March 1 – or significantly earlier.

 

Take this rather gaudy tree topper, for example: 20171218_135503.jpg

When my middle daughter was 5 or 6, we were shopping for seasonal decor (which, by the way, is not precisely one of my strengths). She saw this garishly bedecked woman-thing and her eyes were dazzled with all the golden glitter. She and her sister made a fervent appeal to place this sparkly woman (who, to me, seems to bear no resemblance whatsoever to any of the angelic messengers described in the Bible) atop our tree. Since the thing was inexpensive and their mom is rather, shall we say, thrifty… the girls got their wish.

This year, the old tree topper was pulled from a box in a forgotten corner of our attic. A good portion of her glitter now dusts the furniture and floors, some of the fake flowers have gone missing, and her plastic hair has lost much of its original shimmer.

In many ways, she is a reminder of how like children we humans really are concerning spiritual matters.

Far too often, our heads are turned by whatever bedazzles our eyes at the moment. Our obsession with all that is fleeting is perhaps particularly obvious during the gigantic marketing extravaganza of December, but it is no less firmly in place year-round.

This Christmas, I am challenged by my perceptions of what makes up a good Christmas. Is it food, family, health, and comfort? Or is it the Christ?

In my circles, this December has brought with it a tidal wave of hurt, strife, difficulty, and loss for many who are dear to me. Marriages are foundering, families do their best to ignore empty seats, bitter feuds are barely contained. All around me, there is conflict and both physical and emotional pain. There is suffering. There is sorrow.

Yet even still, there is Christmas. Despite what we may be told or how we may feel, the gift of Christmas goes far beyond even the boon of family, friends, health, and prosperity. It is for rich and poor alike, for the happy and the sorrowful, for the healthy and the maimed.

The gift of Christmas is salvation from sin and the presence of the Almighty God forever and ever, and it remains a limitless treasure and an unending well of joy no matter what curveballs life may throw our way.

And it is not just for December. The gift of Christmas is eternal. The Lord really did come to bind up the broken-hearted, to set free those who are shackled by sin, and to comfort those who mourn. What’s more, He does this regardless of our circumstances.

He, Himself, is the Gift. He is the prize. He is the goal. And He is good – so, so good.

This Christmas, I am praying for all of the redeemed to catch hold of the breathtaking expanse of treasure we have in Him, no matter what else may happen.

I am praying for my Lord to find and rescue friends and loved ones who have wandered far and wide chasing after shiny trinkets, which when caught, are nothing more than gilded garbage.

I am praying that the disillusioned will see past the facade of our adversary’s cleverly enticing deceptions to the trap within, and for them to seek and find the life-giving Well of Living Water instead.

Finally, I am praying for all of God’s people to remember that Christmas does not consist in who we are with nor in what we give or get, but in what we already have in Christ.

May that reality give weight to our joy, defining every interaction we have with others and outshining any glitter-coated bauble so the world will know our hope is not in this world.

It is in the Glory of the Lord of Hosts.

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.
(Isaiah 61:1-3)

My friends, as much as I love reading all your thoughts here on the  blogosphere, I must take a bit of a break. It is time for me to spend some time focusing on my Lord and seeking His will for me in the new year. I may be around if time allows, but if not, I will see you next year. Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

 

Flavor

Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!
(Psalms 34:8a)

For a few months, I tried a ketogenic diet hoping the high fat content would prove useful in treating migraines. Sadly, it did not work for me.

However, I must say it was the most fun diet I have ever followed to date; particularly for the mischievous part of me which just had to say to at least one waiter, “I’m on a diet, so I’d like a double bacon cheeseburger with no bun but extra cheese and broccoli with extra butter for my side dish. Oh and coffee with heavy cream. Thanks!”

But after the first two weeks, the migraine frequency ramped up and I began to suspect all the cheese. As a result, a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving, I cut dairy out completely <sniff> and began slowly adding higher-carb veggies like sweet potatoes <smile> back in while still avoiding sweeteners, legumes, and grain.

With a very few slight deviations in the sweetener department during the holidays, my plan is to switch back to Whole 30-style paleo after Christmas – but this time for more than 30 days.

And I’m feeling pretty good, I’m happy to say. But that isn’t the point of this post.

By Thanksgiving, I had been a faithful paleo girl for almost 2 weeks and a devoted keto girl for 10-12 weeks before that, so I thought I would treat myself on the holiday and have coffee the way I love it – with honey and coconut milk.

Or rather, as it turned out, this was coffee the way I used to love it.

After three months sans sweeteners, my much-anticipated treat turned out to be unpalatable. It would seem my tastes have changed.

I still love coffee and tea but now take both either bare and unadorned or (for coffee) with a splash of full-fat coconut milk. Now I find that any added sweetness only dulls the tasty goodness of the beverage.

All in all, I’m pretty happy with the change, particularly since sugar is pretty horrible for me anyway.

And it got me thinking…

Back in the days before my soul was redeemed and still on auction to the highest bidder, there were several less wholesome entertainments I relished. In fact, if I had been an honest atheist (which I certainly was not), I would have admitted part of my problem with “religion” was the belief I would be required to give up too much of what brought me pleasure and enjoyment.

Oddly enough, the more I indulged in those very diversions, the less satisfaction they delivered. It was the Law of Diminishing Returns played out in dive bars and shallow relationships, and the more time and energy I spent in pursuing them, the more elusive pleasure became.

As it turned out, all God asked me to give up were the very things which masked the rich and complex flavor of life.

The truth is, God has never asked His people to abstain from pleasure; He asks us to experience it for the first time without interference. The exchange is not pleasure for dullness, but trash for treasure.

All the world can offer is cheap imitations and those at an ever-increasing cost: temporary, chemically-induced high spirits instead of a limitless well of joy; instant gratification instead of absolute satisfaction; greed instead of contentment.

Pain without purpose.

Today, if the obstacle preventing you from seeking the Lord is your lifestyle, may I share something with you? If you seek Him with all your heart, I assure you your tastes will change. And with or without Him, all the sweetness this world has to offer will become bitter over time.

Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
(Psalms 34:8)

The crazy thing is – we have nothing to offer God. Yet out of His love and mercy, He desires what is best for us anyway. And not just right this moment, but forever. Kind of like giving up sugar, but with eternally far-reaching consequences.

When we reject the Lord, we are not choosing to side with the spirit of fun as we may think, but merely joining our greatest adversary in eternal misery.

For misery is a being, and he does love company. But never forget, he is also a liar and would have you question the motives of God. And he exults when our indulgences become addictions.

Why?

I believe it is from pure spite. No angelic being has rebelled and then been redeemed by the very Creator Himself. So if this once magnificent being has made an irrevocable choice to abandon eternal bliss, he now delights in convincing mankind, the creatures who bear God’s favor, that the bitterness of his malice is actually oh, so delectable…

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.
(Romans 6:20-21)

And yet, we have been given this choice: the choice to pile increasing heaps of sweetener into a progressively caustic brew or to embrace the true flavor of life as God meant it to be, finding joy in His presence and pleasures forevermore. Truly. In short, we can choose to live for cheap thrills now or to be patient and savor the delightful richness of the presence of God forever.

All this because He gave His only Son as the blood sacrifice to pay the debt for our sin. That, my friends, is the real gift of Christmas.

For he says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
(2 Corinthians 6:2)

 

Obedient

When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him…” Matthew 1:18-21, 24a

To me, Joseph is the unsung hero of the Nativity story. The more I reflect on the Biblical passages describing those events, the more I find my thoughts turning to this man who is mentioned in the Scriptures only a handful of times.

But I do think those references deserve our attention.

Joseph’s obedience to God was nothing short of incredible. Think about this: if not for his total compliance with God, many of the events surrounding the birth of Christ would have taken a much different direction, although doubtlessly God would have accomplished His plans anyway.

After all, it was Joseph who complied with the Lord’s command to wed Mary despite  indisputable evidence indicating she was not the chaste young woman he had expected to take as his bride. However, he chose to believe the unbelievable and he took her in, caring for her and for the Child. If ever there was a couple well matched in faith that God can do the impossible, it was these two!

Still, I often wonder what the personal ramifications of his decision were… Was he ridiculed? Pitied? Scorned? Whatever his lot, he trusted God enough to accept the consequences willingly.

After the birth of Jesus, Joseph was visited once more in a dream by a heavenly messenger and told to flee to Egypt. Undoubtedly, this was no small feat with an infant in the days before electric lighting and minivans, yet he did not hesitate but woke his young family immediately and left by night.

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt.

(Matthew 2:13-14)

Imagine waking an infant and nursing mother, hurriedly packing and preparing for a journey in the dark of night with only an oil lamp to see by–if even that!

Once again, the command to Joseph seemed preposterous in light of the circumstances, but his unhesitating obedience spared his family the horror of witnessing the paranoid Herod’s ruthlessly executed infanticide (I am presuming, of course, God would have spared His Anointed in some other way had Joseph been a little lax in his obedience, but thankfully we will never know).

Beyond that, the Bible records two other dream messages to Joseph: one telling him it was safe to go back to Israel and another serving as a warning which caused him to settle his family in Nazareth. For each heavenly message, Joseph was simply and quietly obedient.

The ramifications of Joseph’s cooperation with God were tremendous, as each act of obedience served to provide for the life and welfare of the Lord Christ in His childhood – yet it is rare that Joseph’s name is mentioned at this time of year except as the husband of Mary.

Personally, I am amazed at the faith shown by his adherence to the will of God despite compelling reasons to do otherwise.

These ruminations on the life of Joseph began one year as I reflected on my own heart. The Spirit of God made me painfully aware of areas in which my obedience was somewhat lacking. I spent far too much time feeling discouraged, often allowing my attention to drift away from contemplation of my King.

In contrast to Joseph (who I am sure would have vastly preferred an uncomplicated betrothal or to even stay in bed that night in Bethlehem rather than beginning a nighttime trek toward Egypt) I found myself at times delaying obedience. At other times, I would choose a path that seemed (to me) more logical.

As this year draws to a close, once again I find myself humbled and repentant.  It is my prayer that the new year will see a far more obedient – and less discourageable – me. I pray to become in all ways, completely submissive to the will of God – even when it does not make sense.

Once I am gone from this world, I would love it to be said of me as it could be said of Joseph: “We don’t know much about her, but what we do know is that she lived in prompt obedience to the Lord.” 

 Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

You Keep Using That Word…

Among my (admittedly many) favorite quotes from the movie, The Princess Bride, the sword-wielding Spaniard’s response to the rotund little Sicilian’s exclamation, “Inconceivable!” ranks pretty near the top:

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. 

– Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride

Which reminds me…

This coming Sunday marks the official beginning of Advent, which is probably my second favorite season in all of Christendom; surpassed only by the culmination of Lent on Resurrection Sunday. In many ways, the two seasons are inseparable to me.

Almost annually, I find myself saying something to the effect that I cannot gaze upon the Babe in the manger and fail to see the shadow of the Cross. Nor can I separate my thoughts from the helpless child of the First Advent without eagerly anticipating with fierce joy and dread reverence the future return of the King of kings.

One of my personal traditions during Advent is to reflect on the many Messianic prophesies of the Savior and upon the events and people recounted in the story of His birth.

Which brings me back to Inigo Montoya… sort of.

When I think of Mary, the mother of Jesus, I often wonder if she might respond similarly to our fictional fencing friend if she heard the ways we tend to use the word blessed in the Christian community.

What do I mean? In answer, let’s take a peek at an early portion of the Nativity from Scripture:

And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!
(Luke 1:41-42)

When Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, heard Mary, she exclaimed to her young relative, “Blessed are you among women…!”

And so Mary was, without a doubt, eternally blessed to be the mother of the Son of Man. And yet…

Take a moment and mull over the temporal implications of her blessing.

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.
(Matthew 1:18)

From a social standpoint, Mary’s obedience to God in this matter of motherhood was nothing short of annihilation for the reputations of both herself and her family.

An unmarried woman showing up pregnant was simply not acceptable in her culture. If no one believed her story about an angelic messenger and the Holy Spirit and the miraculous virginal conception (and honestly, would you believe your daughter or friend?), well then she was in serious danger of a grisly and uncomfortable death by stoning.

From a socially acceptable standpoint, her best bet was to appeal to her betrothed and ask him to claim the child as his own. Of course, she would be asking him to discredit himself as a Torah-observant Jew and a citizen in good standing, not to mention critically injuring both his reputation and his business… and his ability to care for her and the Child.

This scenario leaves only the ticklish business of convincing her future husband that the pregnancy is an actual miracle; a pregnancy without promiscuity, if you will.

Evidently, however, Joseph did not initially embrace the joyous news:

And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.
(Matthew 1:19)

Once Joseph received his own angelic visitor and was convinced that his bride-to-be was honest in her claims to virginity, the social stigma would have still remained and made life in their community less pleasant. I have to wonder if they were not somewhat relieved to take the journey to Bethlehem and so escape being the prime source of juicy gossip around the town well…

At any rate, we’ve only touched on the social ramifications of this blessing. There were many others.

Besides the likely scenario of being ostracized by her community, Mary, who was blessed among women, relaxed in the comfort of a well-stocked minivan as her husband drove the couple-hour trip to Bethlehem where they promptly checked into the region’s most renowned birthing center.

No, wait… actually, she endured a long and likely strenuous trek of approximately 150 km (96 miles) during the awkward third trimester of her pregnancy. Fun. Then she gave birth surrounded by the aroma of manure and livestock, laying her newborn Son in the animals’ feeding trough so she could recover from her labor. Many years later, she was blessed by watching her firstborn tortured, maimed, and crucified for crimes that He did not commit.

Nonetheless, she was blessed.

When we use the word, “blessed,” it bears reminding that not all blessings are comfortable or convenient in the short-term. In Christ, we are truly, eternally blessed, and because of this some of our blessings may temporarily seem more like curses.

Nonetheless, every blessing is a blessing because it is preparing us for eternity with the Lord we love.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven… ”
(Matthew 5:10-12a)

And so, in light of Monday’s public proclamation of my intention to honestly give thanks to God in all circumstances, I want to share one of my blessings with you.

I am blessed with chronic pain from both migraine and arthritis in various joints, though I am still in my 40s.

Naturally, I am not precisely excited and thrilled with this blessing, but I do know my God will use it for His glory… as long as I cooperate with Him. And I will.

I trust Him, even in pain. If nothing else, it certainly makes the “friendship with the world” James warns us against less appealing!

And besides, my Father really does know what is best.

 

 

What Christmas Means to Me

I have a very close friend who is adamant that all the ways we celebrate Christmas have nothing to do with Christ Himself. To be honest, she’s right. Snow and evergreen trees, lights and packages, red and white, tinsel and eggnog truly have nothing to do with the humble birth of Yeshua, nor do we have any idea what day of the year He was actually born on.

For some time, I let this thought color my Christmas festivities and cast shadows of doubt on my celebratory mood. I felt a deep guilt that I did not spend His birthday celebration giving to Him exclusively. However, the more I have ruminated, the more I have grown to realize that as a Christian, His birth is indeed a cause for celebration. And it doesn’t matter when I celebrate; one somewhat arbitrary winter holiday date does not make a difference either way. The thing is, the longer I have walked with the Lord, the more difficult I find it to separate anything I do from thoughts of Him. I am obsessed, you might say, and while I can never repay His gift with my efforts,  I can give Him my whole mind, heart, and soul and let Him direct my steps both on Christmas and on every other day of the year.

I have been thinking lately about the many times in the Old Testament where God directed the Jewish nation to set up memorial stones, tangible objects both to help them remember and to spur discussion with their children about some act of deliverance or rescue God had performed for the nation. How, you ask, does this relate to Christmas? Well, while the outward, worldly part of the celebration of Christmas may have nothing to do with Jesus at all, just as a stone is merely a stone, nonetheless for me, the whole Christmas season is a sort of memorial stone: a time of year that I set aside to intentionally study the Word specifically for the purpose of meditating on what it means to have Immanuel: God with us.

You see, for me, Christmas is really about Christ. I find it a useful exercise to use December as a time to ponder the unfathomable humility of the Almighty Creator of the universe, the uncontainable God of all, clothing himself in the very stuff of His creation and humbling Himself as a human baby who had to learn to walk, to talk, to focus His eyes — all for the love of sinners like me. I am invariably abased by such reflections and find myself falling more deeply in love with this Savoir who laid aside His infinite nature for a few decades to clothe Himself in the finite fabric of His own creation, to walk in the dust, and to eventually be tortured, maimed, and nailed to a tree — a tree that He created by nails cast from metal He designed — and to hang dying there, spat upon and rejected by the very sin-twisted bits of creation He fashioned after His own image, those whom He loved enough to offer Himself as ransom and rescue.

Evergreen trees may have nothing to do with Jesus, but seeing the tree every day in December makes me think of the other tree with hacked-off branches that He was hung upon like some gruesome ornament, a callous and hateful display of Rome’s might to the subjugated Jewish people and an undeniable expression of His own words: “Greater love has no one than this; that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

Twinkling lights may have little to do with the Son of man, but when I see them, I am reminded that the Light of the world came willingly into the darkness, a direct invasion of enemy occupied territory as a sort of special forces seek and rescue mission.

The gifts and wrapping may bear no resemblance to Christ, but with each gift I give, I am reminded of the one Gift I can never repay nor the Giver that I cannot out-give.

With each present I wrap, I recall that He was first wrapped in swaddling cloths and later wrapped in a shroud — the very shroud of shame and disgrace that I deserve to wear. And as I watch the children tear off the wrapping paper on Christmas morning, I cannot help but remember that He threw off the wrapping of that shroud on that glorious day when He rose again.
It is my prayer for you, dearest, that you will find more of the Lord in your Christmas and in every day of the year to come. May His love pierce you and animate you, separating completely the old self and crucifying it so that the new self in Christ can live freely, fully led by the Spirit of Life. May His life surge within your heart, may your mind be fully wrapped up in thoughts of Him, and may His love lead you to deeper commitment and love for God, to greater acts of selflessness and sacrifice toward others, and to longer and more intimate conversations with Him. May your whole being thirst for the Living Water and hunger for the Bread of Life, and may you long for more and more of Him and His Word.

Merry Christmas!

Advent

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. . . On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.
Revelation 19:11-13, 16

What is your favorite Christmas carol? I admit I have many favorites, but high on that list is “Joy to the World.” I love that the simple lyrics of this hymn capture perfectly what the season of Advent is all about. For though we often think of  Advent as a time of looking back to the birth of our Savior,  it is also, as the song expresses, a time of looking ahead to the future redemption of a world now held captive by the curse of sin.

As I sing this hymn — or more often out of respect for those around me, as I listen — I feel a sense of connection to my brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the ages. I imagine the wonder and joy felt by the shepherds as they witnessed the angelic announcement of the Messiah’s birth so many years ago. I also feel a surge of anticipation,  envisioning the future jubilation for those who are still awake to behold the victorious return of the King.

In the first stanza of the carol I seem to hear an echo of the angel’s proclamation to the shepherds that they would find a Savior born in the city of David who was “Christ Kurious” as it was put in Greek; a babe who was both the long-awaited Messiah and the supreme authority. In short, the shepherds were told they would find a newborn in Bethlehem who was the future Deliverer King.  What elation must those men have felt as they went to see for themselves this newborn King?

In the hymn, too, there is also a glimpse of that future time when the Lord will come again in victory as King of kings and Lord of lords — that moment when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess His sovereignty.

Here is where I find the only blot of disquiet in my inner revelry, this reminder that someday all will acknowledge Him.  On one hand, I yearn to witness that awesome moment when the Lord claims His own and takes the nations in hand, bringing an end to all that is horrid and hopeless. On the other hand, my heart aches for those to whom this event will be a wretched one and full of terror.  C. S. Lewis frames my dilemma well in his book, Mere Christianity:

“When the author walks on to the stage the play is over. God is going to invade, all right: but what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else – something it never entered your head to conceive – comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left? For this time it will God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing; it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realised it before or not. Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It will not last for ever. We must take it or leave it.”

So my dears, I pray that you have already chosen to cast your lot in with the Messiah. I pray that you, too, will  be filled with the joy of the first Advent and will be able to heartily embrace the unspeakable joy of the Advent to come.

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**For further study, look up the lyrics to Joy to the World  here, and look for hints of both Advents within it. As a springboard you can check out Romans 8:19-23, Psalm 96:8-13, Psalm 98:6-9, Luke 19:40, Revelation 7:15-17, and Revelation 21:1-5.   What other verses does the hymn bring to mind? **