Every good thing…

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James‬ ‭1:17‬ ‭NIV‬‬

The Season is upon us now, the time for gifts and giving, and as the year draws to its end, I think about my living – A Baby Just Like You, John Denver and the Muppets

I’ve been taking a break for a few days as a cold has had me down. But I’m on the mend now, and I’ve been thinking all day that I should blog.

So I sat down and opened my Bible app, and looked at the verse of the day – and it just happened to be that one above, from James. Which happens to be one of my favourite verses.

Every good thing – every beautiful sunset, every joke shared with a friend, every breath my dog is taking while curled up against my legs as I write, every meal, every moment – every good thing, is a gift from God.

As the Day of Christmas grows closer, and the advertisements and pressures around finding the right gifts mount – I’m savoring this reminder of simple gifts. I’m grateful to remember that there are just so many things for which I ought to say Thank You, Father of the heavenly lights.

And as I think about all these little gifts, I remember the biggest gift – the baby born in Bethlehem, who came to be our Saviour.

Thank You. Thank You. Thank You, Lord.

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Music…

“Speak to one another with the words of psalms, hymns, and sacred songs; sing hymns and psalms to the Lord with praise in your hearts.” Ephesians‬ ‭5:19‬ ‭GNB‬‬

Music has always been a rich part of my life of faith. In fact, the first time I read through the Bible, I was amazed to find out that many of the songs I knew were directly taken from the words of the Scriptures. I found I could sing more parts of the Bible than I could recite. And I loved that.

So it should come as no surprise to anyone that I have too many favourite Christmas songs to name. This past Sunday I sang a part of Amy Grant’s “Mary’s Song (Breath of Heaven)” as part of my sermon.

I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t proved a link, for those who might be interested to hear it sung by someone with much more vocal prowess than I possess.

So here it is, and may it be a blessing to your Advent journey, as it has been to mine since I first heard it when I was about 15 years old:

Mary’s Song (Breath of Heaven)

Pondering…

“Mary remembered all these things and thought deeply about them.” Luke‬ ‭2:19‬ ‭GNB‬‬

Yesterday was the Advent Sunday of Peace, and that always makes me think of my favourite line in the birth narrative of Jesus – that bit about Mary remembering all these things and thinking deeply about them.

Other translations tell us she “pondered them in her heart,” or “thought about them often,” or “wondered what they meant.”

I have this image of Mary cradling her little baby and thinking about all the details of his birth. It’s a peaceful image, but it’s also a mysterious image. I wonder what she thought. I wonder how much she figured out. I wonder what she knew.

I remember reading a quote from Harry Potter author JK Rowling, around the time that the 3rd or 4th novel in the series was released. Rowling said that she didn’t like talking publicly about her faith, because if people knew she believed in Jesus, they would know what was going to happen to Harry before the end of the books.

And I knew. I knew what Harry was going to have to do to defeat Voldemort. I wonder if it was like that for Mary. If she just knew. Or if she felt she knew, but hoped she was wrong.

I suspect that being Jesus’ Mom wasn’t all that peaceful an existence – that there was a lot of worry and concern that this woman carried with her throughout her days. And at the same time, I know her faith was strong, and that faith comes with a peace that passes understanding.

This Advent, may you know that kind of peace – even as you ponder things that may make you worried or concerned. May your faith be strong. May you treasure up the details of Jesus’ birth and may you think of them often.

A living hope…

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,” I Peter‬ ‭1:3‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

I find myself quite taken with the phrase “a living hope.” This is what we have in Jesus. This is why it matters that he was born. This is why we celebrate and make merry at this time of year.

Because in Jesus we have a living hope – one that is full of life, that grows and moves and breathes.

It is not an idea, it is a person. One who walked with the outcast and stranger. One who noticed those who were overlooked. One who healed the broken hearted and released those bound by sin and shame.

It is hard to put into words all that He means. Even for one who preaches about him every week. I often find myself at a loss for words, completely overwhelmed by this person, this Jesus – this man-and-God-all-at-once.

So I find myself taken with a phrase like this because for me, it begins to get to who He is and what He means.

A living hope.

Not a dry dusty idea, not a faint whisper, not a fragile dream.

There’s a song I love to sing at this time of year: hope is a star, that shines in the night, leading us on until morning is bright.

This Advent, May you know the hope that is ALIVE. May you meet Him anew. May you be overwhelmed by all that He does and that He means.

Hope was born…

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” ‭‭John‬ ‭1:14‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish. John‬ ‭1:14‬ ‭MSG‬‬

“So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.” ‭‭John‬ ‭1:14‬ ‭NLT‬‬

The Gospel According to John always tells the story in a different way. Matthew, Mark and Luke are concerned with the facts, the when and the what and the how. But John wants to get to the why.

If Matthew, Mark and Luke are biographies, John is a Theo-graphy. He doesn’t just tell the life story of Jesus, he tells the God story of Jesus.

When he tells the story of Jesus birth he doesn’t start in Nazareth or Bethlehem. He starts at the beginning. In fact, before the beginning. He says at the beginning Jesus, the Word of God, already existed. And everything that came to be, came to be through Jesus.

When we talk about Jesus being our hope, we aren’t just talking about the baby born in Bethlehem or the man who walked in Galilee. We aren’t just talking about the rabbi or the healer, or even about the sacrificial Lamb of God. We are taking about the eternal reality of Jesus.

Jesus is bigger than time, bigger than the world, bigger than the problem of our sin. That is what makes him our hope. The fact that he is above and beyond. Abiding and ageless. Unlimited by anything, anytime or anyone.

And yet.

And yet, he chose to put on flesh and move into the neighborhood. To become one of us. To accept the limits of human existence.

For us.

And so, hope – our hope – was born in Bethlehem.

With us…

“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” Isaiah‬ ‭7:14‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Immanuel means God-is-with-us. Not far away, not unknowable, not cold and distant. God is with us.

Present. Real. Approachable. Accessible.

This is who God is when he steps out of heaven and into the lowly form of a human baby. When he “puts on flesh and moved into the neighbourhood,” as Eugene Peterson puts it.

This is Jesus – our Saviour, our Immanuel.

This Advent may you know the real, approachable, accessible presence of Immanuel, of Jesus. And may it fill you with a hope that does not disappoint.

It begins with Hope

“But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” Isaiah‬ ‭40:31‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Today is the Advent Sunday of Hope. This marks the official beginning of the journey to Christmas.

When I was growing up, I attended the church where my father served – Amberlea Presbyterian in Pickering. My Dad started every service with this verse from Isaiah. In my late teens or early twenties I asked why, and he said, because it is good to begin with a word of hope.

It IS good to begin with hope. It is good that the Advent journey begins with hope.

Often we reduce hope to a wish or a desire. But I think the hope that we have in a Christ is more than that. It’s not just a wish or a desire – it’s an anchor for our souls, it’s a trust that goes deeper than words can describe, it’s a lifeline that we hold to with all our might.

It is a bright and fragile thing, but also strong enough to see us through our darkest days.

It is a hope that does not – that WILL not, that CAN not – disappoint.

This Advent may you know the hope of which I write. May it make your heart soar as on eagle’s wings. May it surround you, sustain you and flow through you to brighten the lives of everyone you meet.

Good, good news…

“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.” ‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭2:8‬ ‭NLT

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Advent begins tomorrow. As the church would have it, this is meant to be a time of contemplation and expectation – we await the birth of the Saviour.

The irony is that for many of us this is the busiest time of the year. There are so many functions to attend, so many details to look after, so many things on the to-do list. It’s easy to be overwhelmed. To be unable to find time for contemplation as we rush from one thing to the next.

But here’s what I want you to know and to remember this Season: the only gift that really matters is the one given to us by God – our salvation. It is God’s free gift to us. There is nothing we can do to earn it, and short of renouncing God entirely, there is nothing we can do to jeopardize it.

It’s a sure thing – God has done this for us. Not because we deserved it, but because his love would not allow for anything less.

So relax. Take a moment in silent gratitude for this free gift. Pray out your thanks to God. Feel your heartbeat slow down, your breath deepen. And rest – rest in this good, good news.

And wait in contemplation and expectation for the One who brought us salvation to be born.