The reason…

 ““For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.”
‭‭John‬ ‭3:16-17‬ ‭NLT‬‬

There’s a Christmas song that I love which includes the words “Christmas, it makes way for Spring.” This is true temporally- you cannot get to Spring without first going through winter (despite the Spring-like weather that has marked this December), but it’s also true theologically. Christmas makes way for Easter. The birth makes way for the death. The incarnation makes way for the sacrifice.

And for a Christian, that’s what it’s all about. That’s the hope that brings us peace. That’s the joy of God’s love: that through the birth of Jesus, God made a way for our salvation…so that the bonds of sin and death would be broken forever. So that even though we did, we could live with Him forever.

As you open gifts and partake in feasts today, may you know the real reason for our celebration. May you know that Christmas, it makes way for Spring.

Rush…

“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”
‭‭Luke‬ ‭2:15-20‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Christmas Eve is always such a rush in my life. Rushing to get the gifts wrapped, the final preparations for the services done,  making sure there is food to share with friends between services, making sure I’m organized enough to get on the road once the services are finished and my brother and I begin the drive out to our folks’ place. There’s a lot of rushing around to do today.

But there’s also another kind of rush: the rush of emotion I know I’ll experience at each of the services as we tell this beautiful, true, wondrous story. The rush of seeing people I haven’t seen in a while and others who I see every week. The rush of music as we sing songs that have been sung for ages, but always feel new and astonishing.

For the shepherds there was the rush to Bethlehem, and the rush back to work again. There was the rush of wanting to tell everyone the good news and all they had experienced.

In the midst of all that rush comes my favourite part of the story: Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

May we do the same. In the midst of the rush, in the midst of the celebration, may we think about the coming of our King, our Savior, and treasure that in our hearts. May we think about him often in the days to come, and may we glorify him.

Merry Christmas!!

Heavenly Song…

“Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
‭‭Luke‬ ‭2:13-14‬ ‭NLT‬‬

What a sound it must have been. All the armies of Heaven praising God and wishing peace to the people. 

I wonder who else heard it? Was it just a concert for the shepherds? Were there others wakened from their slumber to find the host of Heaven in concert? Did Mary and Joseph hear the song?

I wonder. 

It might seem a waste, if it were all only for the shepherds. A handful of night workers, the only witnesses to the greatest music ever. 

But that’s God-sized generosity, isn’t it? A handful of the lowest bearing witness to the beauty and triumph of the highest. I like that thought, very much. 

I am also convinced, though, that the joy of Heaven simply could not be contained upon the occasion of Jesus’ birth. That the coming of this tiny King brought such uncontainable elation to all of Heaven, that the music broke forth, uninhibited and unhindered. Yes, I like that thought too. 

It is Christmas Eve Eve – tomorrow the celebration takes shape for Christians all over the world. We gather in churches to read and sing and preach the story again. 

May you taste a little of the uncontainable exultation of Heaven in the worship you take part in.  May it transform and renew and bless you so that you may go forth to transform, renew and bless others. 

 

Do not be afraid…

“…but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,”
‭‭Luke‬ ‭2:10-13‬ ‭NLT‬‬

The word from Heaven is: don’t be afraid. Someone has suggested that there are more than 352 times in the Bible that God or God’s Messengers say, “do not be afraid.” The idea being that there are more than enough “do not be afraids” for every day of the year. 

To be honest, I’ve never counted them, so I’m not sure if that is accurate, but I certainly appreciate the thought. 

I wonder what the world would be like if we could all learn to not be afraid. I wonder how the systems of power that cause so much abuse in our world would change. I wonder who would be set free. I wonder if world peace would ultimately become a reality. 

I don’t know…but I know that as I look over the year that was and I dream about the year that is to come, I hope and pray that I can take the message of Heaven more to heart. I hope I can begin to live in God’s great “do not be afraid.” I hope that you can, too.  

May this be the message we hear and share this Christmas.  

 

Terrified…

“That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified,”
‭‭Luke‬ ‭2:8-9‬ ‭NLT‬‬

The shepherds were terrified.  And why wouldn’t they be? It’s not every day that your shift gets interupted by messengers of Heaven come to proclaim the both of the Messiah. 

They were just doing their work. Just watching their sheep in the dark of the night. 

But God wanted them to know that this good news was for everybody. God wanted them to know that his love was for ordinary working stiffs like them. So he sent a choir of angels. 

And it was terrifying. Love often is.  It demands a response from us, it sneaks up on us, it will not let us remain just as we are. 

This Advent, may you know God’s love is for you. May you hear the message of the Angels. And may you rise above your fear to respond to it. 

  

Simple and profound…

“He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant. And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.”
‭‭Luke‬ ‭2:5-7‬ ‭NLT‬‬

The story  continues…such simple words, but so much profound meaning to be found in them. 

The girl who was pregnant, though she was only engaged – not married. Her pregnancy a miracle to heralded the coming of the Messiah. The fiancé who stood by her because God had asked it of him. The time coming for the Son who was promised – not just to Mary and Joseph, but to the whole world – to be born. The humble manger serving as a cradle, because there was no room for the promised Messiah, when he finally came among us. 

God’s love for us written into every syllable and each detail. 

As our Advent journey comes to a close, may you hear the details anew. May you be surrounded by the love of God who chooses to come among us. May you make room for Him, always. 

  

Counted among us…

 About that time Emperor Augustus gave orders for the names of all the people to be listed in record books. These first records were made when Quirinius was governor of Syria.

Everyone had to go to their own hometown to be listed. So Joseph had to leave Nazareth in Galilee and go to Bethlehem in Judea. Long ago Bethlehem had been King David’s hometown, and Joseph went there because he was from David’s family.

Luke 2:1-4

The time draws near. Christmas is just a few days away. I have worked at choosing Scriptures that helped me talk about the story throughout Advent, but now I just want to tell the story.

I want to try to feel Christmas like a child (to steal a line from Third Day…check that song out here.).

Today I’ve spent a fair amount of time thinking about how easily I can lose sight of how truly amazing, how beautiful, how life-changing this time of year is…or how it CAN BE if I take the time to enter into the wonder of it.

I love that God, in choosing to come to earth in the person of Jesus, didn’t come to just the nice and pretty parts of life. He came to the mundane, the boring parts as well. He chose to be counted among us. To be part of the census. Just one more child among thousands.

Because though Jesus is extraordinary, he’s also ordinary. Like us. Like any one of us.

God is closer than you think, and more like you than you know. And that is wonderful.

As the Advent Season draws to a close, and Christmas comes ever closer, may you know that God is with you. That God chose to be counted among you. And that God has promised to never leave or forsake you.

Holy night

 

Blue…

“It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”
‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭13:6-7‬ ‭NLT

This evening was the Blue Christmas service at St. Andrew’s. I found myself sitting in the midst of people longing for hope, for comfort, for healing. And I realized I am one of them. 

Sometimes life just gets hard. Things don’t work out the way you thought they would, a terrible diagnosis comes, pain is dealt out by someone you trusted, or for reasons you cannot fathom you find yourself feeling a little lost and alone. 
And all of this happens in the midst of a season that is – almost manically – focused on joy. 

So we hold this service. To take a deep breath, to focus and reflect, to pray and to think, to admit before God that sometimes life is just hard. And somehow, in the songs sung and the words spoken – we find a peace that passes understanding, a bit of healing, a tender brush of the Holy Spirit. 

I do not find the service an easy one – generally, joy comes to me much more easily than sorrow – but I do find it meaningful. 

Perhaps Geoff said it best when he reminded us that we are not alone. We go through all of these emotions together, as a family of faith and as children of the King. 

What a blessing that is – to know you are not alone, to know others share your pain and grief, to know you are not forgotten or insignificant.  

This Advent, may you find some time for silence and reflection in the midst of the hustle and bustle. May you know peace that passes understanding. May you find yourself surrounded by the people God has given you to travel this road. And may you know that you have never been alone. 
   
   

Fulfilled…

“Praise the Lord,
the God of Israel,
because he has visited
and redeemed his people.
He has sent us a mighty Savior
from the royal line of his servant David,
just as he promised
through his holy prophets
long ago.”
‭‭Luke‬ ‭1:68-70‬ ‭

This is part of the praise song of Zechariah, father of John the Baptist who would prepare the way for Jesus. Zechariah hadn’t been able to speak for months as Elizabeth carried John, because he hadn’t believed that God would give them a son in their old age. 

But now, at the naming ceremony for John, Zechariah’s voice is restored and he immediately begins to praise God. His joy is complete. His faith is unshakeable. His hope has been redeemed. 

Sometimes we wait, through a long silent period, through a season of bitterness, through days of darkness. Sometimes it seems that the promise will never be fulfilled. But God is steadfast. His promises are true. His timing may be incomprehensible to us – but ultimately his timing is perfect.  

This Advent, may you know the joy of a promise fulfilled. May your silence turn to praise. And may you proclaim the joy found in the Saviour.  

 

Mary…

“Mary responded,
“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
How my spirit rejoices
in God my Savior!
For he took notice
of his lowly servant girl,
and from now on all generations
will call me blessed.”
‭‭Luke‬ ‭1:46-48‬ ‭NLT‬‬

These are Mary’s words upon hearing Elizabeth’s declaration that the baby on Elizabeth’s womb recognized the baby in Mary’s womb.

Her joy is found in the promises and actions of God. She is overwhelmed that God has called her to be the mother of his Son. She says that all generations will call her blessed. 

And she is right. 

All because she chose to accept God’s plan for her. As daunting as it must have been to her, as frightening as the future must have looked. She must have had her moments of doubt, of exhaustion, of wondering how it would all work out. But her first impulse was to say yes to God’s plan. And that carried her through all that would come afterward. 

Mary has a lot to teach us in this story. She shows a pure and simple faith. She shows love and devotion. She shows humility and grace. 

And because of all those things, she is called blessed – even after 2000 years have passed. 

This Advent, may you learn from Mary. May you have a heart that is pure and devoted to God. May you know what it is to be overwhelmed by God’s plan, and choose to say yes to it, anyway. May you know joy that is rooted in the promises and actions of God.